If you had to guess, how long do you spend on average waiting for a traffic light to turn from red to green?
Two minutes? Three minutes? What about five minutes or more?
Let’s go with three minutes.
And let’s say you’re traveling on busy arteries, such as Tampa’s Hillsborough Avenue or St. Petersburg’s Fourth Street North, with several traffic signals in a short distance. Those three minutes you spend waiting on one light can turn into 20 minutes or more if you get stopped at every light along the way.
As I peruse my emails, it seems many readers take issue with the timing of various lights across the Bay.
Michele Donley said that St. Petersburg generally has well-timed lights that move traffic efficiently and save fuel by eliminating lots of stops and starts. But that does not include the lights on Fifth Avenue North, heading west between Beach Drive and Fourth Street.
She calls it “a mess.”
“They used to be timed well," Donley said, "but now cars have to stop again and again and again as each light turns red in sequence instead of green.”
Another roadway in St. Petersburg was brought to the Doc’s attention by Vincent O’Brien, who thinks conditions have gotten worse on eastbound First Avenue South at 22nd Street.
“I used to be able to travel from 66th Street to the bay in 10 minutes without getting stopped by a light, 'til maybe Ninth Street,” he said. “Now I get stopped every morning at 22nd and multiple lights the rest of the way. What gives?”
It turns out, the City of St. Petersburg has been replacing hardware at all of its 300-plus signals, so that could account for the changes many of you have noticed.
“Our system was utilizing 3G modems to talk to the signal controllers, both of which are at life expectancy,” said Dianna Rawleigh, the city’s stormwater, pavement and traffic operations director. “This past fall, 4G modems were installed."
The controllers need replacing, as well, she said. The city is scheduling these, so expect more changes soon.
But concern about traffic signals exists outside of St. Petersburg, too.
The final complaint comes from reader Emily Singley, who has problems with the Walsingham Road and Hamlin Boulevard intersection in Largo.
“I use this intersection almost every day and when heading north on Hamlin Boulevard to turn left onto Walsingham Road, and the light is three minutes long,” she said. “I realize many lights in Pinellas County are three minutes, but the mentioned intersection is way too long.”
All of these complaints boil down to one question: Why do the traffic lights appear to last so long, and who determines how long a light will remain red or green?
And the results are in folks ...
Officials consider multiple traffic conditions when setting signal timing, according to Kris Carson with the state Department of Transportation — traffic volumes, roadway characteristics, congestion, delay, safety for all road users and intersection geometry.
But the second part of that question, regarding who determines how long a light will remain red or green, is where the lines start to blur.
“The Department provides guidance for the local agencies regarding signal timing,” Carson said. “However, as they are the maintaining agency and are most involved in the day-to-day operations, we give them leeway to adjust as they see fit. The Department still retains the rights over the overall operation of the signals and can requests timings be reviewed and/or adjusted.”
But many of Pinellas County’s roadways are on an adaptive traffic system, which means signals can adjust the timings in real-time through algorithms based on traffic volume.
So does the Walsingham Road and Hamlin Boulevard intersection signal qualify as one that the DOT would review?
The department looked into the timing and signal operations at this intersection and determined it is running as optimal as possible, Carson said.
“On corridors like Walsingham, we coordinate the signs to ensure progression on the main street while also considering overall delay,” she said. “We also need to keep the signals green long enough to cover the pedestrian timing interval. On roadways with larger intersections, this drives up the signal length.
"Also, when the side street volume is low, the signal will give the time not used by them back to the main street. This can also increase the side street delay.”
So sorry Singley, but this one is a no-go.
TRAFFIC UPDATES AND CLOSURES:
- Intermittent lane closures continue at State Road 50 (Cortez Boulevard) widening from Windmere Road/Bronson Boulevard to U.S. 301 through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Roadwork continues on Linden and Drysdale:
- The Hernando County Department of Public Works is performing scheduled drainage improvements at the intersection of Linden Drive and Drysdale Street through Jan. 27. This work requires a single, westbound lane closure on Linden Drive from Drysdale to Elmore Drive during this time. Both Linden and Drysdale will remain open to motorists, but slight traffic delays may be possible.
- 24-hour lane closures continue through Saturday for U.S. 98 new bridge construction of Suncoast Parkway 2, half-mile on each side of Suncoast Parkway (SR 589)
- Nightly lane closures continue for Interstate 75 repaving from Manatee County Line to north of County Road 672 (Big Bend Road) through Friday from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
- Intermittent lane closures continue for U.S. 41 repaving from Bullfrog Creek to Denver Street through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Expect 24-hour lane closures (northbound only) for Nebraska Avenue drainage and roadway improvements just south Hillsborough Avenue through Saturday
- Closures associated with the Hillsborough Avenue (U.S. 92) repaving project
- Lane closures continue at State Road 60 under I-275 through Friday from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
- SR 582 (Fowler Avenue) median improvements at 12th Street causes lane closures through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Lane closures with flagging operations continue through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for CR 580 (Sam Allen Road) widening from east of Paul Buchman Highway (SR 39A) to Park Road
- Lane closures continue on CR 587 (West Shore Boulevard) at I-275 through Friday from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
- CR 672 (Big Bend Road) bridge replacement from Dickman Road to Wyandotte Road causes 24-hour lane closures through Saturday.
- Lane closures continue through Friday from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. from State Road 56 (diverging diamond interchange) from Wesley Chapel Boulevard (County Road 54) to east of Interstate 75
- Lane closures continue through Friday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. at State Road 56 entrance ramp onto southbound I-75
- Intermittent lane closures with flagging operations continue at State Road 699 (Gulf Boulevard) drainage improvements from Walsingham Road to Fourth Avenue North through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Intermittent lane closures continue through Friday for Alternate U.S. 19 (Myrtle Avenue) repaving from SR 60 (Chestnut Street) to Mohawk Street from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- SR 688, SR 586 and SR 580 intersection lighting improvements cause intermittent lane closures through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at various locations:
- SR 688 (Ulmerton Road) between Hamlin Boulevard in Largo and Feather Sound Drive in St. Petersburg
- SR 586 (Curlew Road) between Alt 19/Bayshore in Dunedin and Tampa Road in Oldsmar
- Gateway Expressway updates:
- Lane closures continue through Saturday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Interstate 275 from south of Gandy Boulevard (Exit 28) to Fourth Street (Exit 32) and on I-275 northbound Exit 30 ramp to westbound SR 686 (Roosevelt Boulevard) and westbound CR 296 (118th Avenue)
- Lane closures continue through Saturday from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on U.S. 19 Frontage Roads from 110th Avenue N to 126th Avenue N, SR 686 (Roosevelt Boulevard) from SR 688 (Ulmerton Road) to 49th Street N, SR 686 (Roosevelt Boulevard) entrance ramp to the Bayside Bridge, SR 686 (Roosevelt Boulevard) from 28th Street N to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N, and County Road 611 / 49th Street from 145th Avenue to Bayside Bridge
- Lane closures continue through Saturday from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. on 118th Avenue North from U.S. 19 to 34th Street North
Monique Welch is a staff writer at the Tampa Bay Times, and the voice behind Dr. Delay. Send your traffic concerns, questions, and pictures of roadway troubles you spot in your travels around the Tampa Bay area to email@example.com. Follow @AskDrDelay.