Red lights and traffic line Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat Springs on Monday afternoon. Colorado Department of Transportation crews will run fiber-optic cable below Lincoln Avenue on Tuesday.

Photo by John F. Russell

Red lights and traffic line Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat Springs on Monday afternoon. Colorado Department of Transportation crews will run fiber-optic cable below Lincoln Avenue on Tuesday.

CDOT to run fiber-optic cable to address Steamboat traffic signal issues remotely

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— Colorado Department of Transportation crews will be running fiber-optic cable below Lincoln Avenue on Tuesday to link the downtown traffic signals, but that won’t change how they work, city engineer Ben Beall said.

Beall said a Denver traffic engineering firm contracted by the city coordinated the signals shortly after the Lincoln Avenue construction project was completed in October. He said the city has worked with the firm to tweak the timing of the signals.

“It’s a complex setup with a lot of different inputs,” he said. “I’ve been assured it’s the most efficient system we can have.”

The $5.6 million construction project replaced the asphalt on Lincoln Avenue with concrete from Third to 13th streets, upgraded underground utilities and the drainage system and added a stoplight at 11th Street and sidewalk bump-outs at signaled intersections.

Beall said the installation of fiber-optic cable, which won’t impact traffic downtown, would allow CDOT to remotely fix issues instead of traveling to Steamboat from Craig.

The timing system allows drivers heading east through downtown from 7 to 11 a.m. to catch green lights for most of their commute, Beall said. He said drivers should have the same experience heading west from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

But Beall said factors, such as left-turn signals and pedestrian crossings, could impact that. He said the city’s most problematic area is between Third and Fifth streets, where the double left turn lane from Third to Lincoln is located. He said significant pedestrian traffic across Lincoln also takes place there.

New left-turn signals on Lincoln at Third, Fifth and 11th streets also impact that traffic progression, as do pedestrian crossing buttons at other intersections, Beall said.

He said there’s an issue with pedestrian crossing signals at cross streets ending too quickly before the light on Lincoln Avenue changes from green, which the city has been working to correct.

Beall said the city had contracted to work with the Denver traffic engineering firm through the end of the month and is trying to extend the contract to next month. He said the signal timing could change.

“It’s never set in stone,” Beall said. “Depending on how traffic flows go, these things can be updated over time depending on the goals of the community, where people are diving and how many people are driving.”

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

RPG 2 years, 9 months ago

So when are they going to remove those stupid bump-out so we can make right turns again?

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Oshkoshgirl 2 years, 8 months ago

Are they going to fix it so that the green arrows don't come on when there is no one in the turn lane? And that the 3rd street light does not turn green on the Healthy Solutions side of the street when there are no cars there? Are they going to make the lights flash after midnight so that you don't have to sit at a red light for 5 minutes at 3am when there is not another car in sight? Sure would be nice!

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rhys jones 2 years, 8 months ago

You used to be able to set your watch by when the stoplights started flashing -- I think it was 11 PM. And I remember driving down Lincoln, downtown, full daylight, when mine was the only vehicle I could see moving. Ah, the good ol' days...

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Brant McLaughlin 2 years, 8 months ago

All I can say is; it's about time. I work at Stewart Title and use the 5th Street intersection crosswalks multiple times every day on my trips to the courthouse.

A few items I'd like to point out. First, I beg to differ on the button issue. Ben is quoted above;

"New left-turn signals on Lincoln at Third, Fifth and 11th streets also impact that traffic progression ( I agree with that), as do pedestrian crossing buttons at other intersections" (I disagree with the statement about the buttons)

I can't say for certain about any other intersection, but the 5th Street intersection buttons don't work and they haven't worked since they were installed. In the current configuration the buttons can't impact any traffic flow. I've been watching pedestrians banging on the buttons for nearly 10 months now. It doesn't matter how many times you hit the button, the light just switches from green to red on a set timer about every two minutes even if no pedestrians or cars are waiting to cross Lincoln Avenue.

Second, as for the crosswalk signals, tourists have been standing on the corner of 5th Street waiting on the malfunctioning crosswalk signals since last October. After a couple of minutes they get impatient and figure out it's not working correctly. They usually decide to walk against the signal and step off the curb just in time for the stop light to send some traffic through the intersection.

Finally how do the "goals of the community" get passed along to the people in charge of the system? I'm a bit confused about who is really in charge of the issue. The article quotes Ben Beall saying that the city has been working on fixing the issue. When I called the city to voice my concerns a couple months ago they said it was not their responsibility. They said CDOT was to responsible for the lights and the timing. I voiced my opinions to the person at the city offices and it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

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rhys jones 2 years, 8 months ago

The buttons are just to make you feel good, now you are in line. Wouldn't want to mess with CDOT's system. I try to be ruled by common sense more than CDOT's lights, and have even been known to jaywalk, heh heh.

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Brant McLaughlin 2 years, 8 months ago

You can't help but jaywalk when the stoplight stays green for over two minutes but the crossing signal only gives you 5 seconds to cross. I just shot this video about 5 minutes ago from the window in my office. All the action happens between 27 and 33 seconds.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=FofWdRiYWIs

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weststmbtres 2 years, 8 months ago

RPG,

You do know that when you were passing on the right where the bumpouts are now located that you were doing so illegally right?

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weststmbtres 2 years, 8 months ago

Great video!!! The first car on Lincoln Ave. had barely passed through the intersection and the crosswalk indicator was already signaling for pedestrians to stop crossing. Love it!!!

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Brant McLaughlin 2 years, 8 months ago

Glad you guys like the video clip. YVB, what street are they tearing up that was just paved by CDOT?

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exduffer 2 years, 8 months ago

Maybe CDOT can do something really nice for "Light Up the Night" this year.

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Brant McLaughlin 2 years, 8 months ago

The story didn't mention the conduit, so If you only read this story you did miss something. They aren't going to dig up the concrete. They laid conduit under the concrete last year when they repaved.

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weststmbtres 2 years, 8 months ago

Which begs the question, why did it take this long to string some cable and adjust the lights? Seems as if April ,May and June when traffic and tourists were lighter would have been a much better time to get things connected and adjusted.

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trafficman 2 years, 8 months ago

A few points of clarification of how a coordinated signal system operates. In order to maintain progression, the signals must operate on a fixed cycle length. For Lincoln Avenue this is 110 seconds not over two minutes as has been mentioned. If you want the signal to immediately change when you press the ped button you will not be able to maintain progression. Therefore, there is a set point in each cycle in which the main line traffic is stopped to allow the side street and pedestrian traffic to be served. If you push the button once or 100 times makes no difference, it should come up at the same point in each cycle.

Since I haven't observed the operation late at night I don't know for sure, but my guess is that the signals have been programmed with the side street pedestrian phases on recall during most times of the day for the intersections other than 3rd Street. That makes sense for an area like downtown that has a decent amount of pedestrian activity throughout the day. Late at night the signals could be programmed to be in free operation without coordination and in those cases if the ped button is pushed or a vehicle detected on the side street, the signal could change immediately so long as the minimum time programmed for the main street had elapsed. Don't know if that is being done now or not.

Because of the two separate phases for 3rd Street, all movements can't be accommodated within the 110 second cycle length. If the pedestrian button is pushed for someone to cross the east side of Lincoln, the intersection goes over the cycle length, gets out of synchronization with the rest of the signals and then must transition back into synchronization. Despite the disruption this may cause, in my professional opinion this is the best alternative given the limited amount of activity that pedestrian crossing receives. The alternative would be to run a longer cycle length for all of Lincoln Avenue, probably at least another 25 seconds, meaning longer waits for the vehicles and pedestrians on the side streets.

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trafficman 2 years, 8 months ago

(cont.) When in Steamboat over the 4th of July I noticed that the ped signals along Lincoln for crossing the side streets were only giving the initial 5-7 seconds of walk rather than resting in the walk interval until near the end of the Lincoln Avenue phase. This should be an easy fix to change the programming to have the signals rest in walk for the main street phases.

The installation of the fiber should have no impact on the signal timing and it doesn't really matter when it is installed. The timing is all controlled locally at each intersection controller through the internal time clocks. The fiber will most likely provide connections to a master controller that will ensure that all of the controllers have the correct time and synchronization is maintained. This will also allow CDOT to remotely access each intersection and to easily make the programming changes I mentioned from their office rather than sending a technician to the intersection.

Based on my observations of the new timing plans that have been installed during my visits to Steamboat in February and earlier this month, the plans appear to be providing as good of a progression that can be achieved on a two way street and with the existing conditions. Having optimized timing for thousands of intersections around the country, I think the work that has been done in Steamboat was done as well as the community could hope for. I have had no involvement in the project and only offer my professional opinion as someone who owns property in Steamboat.

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Melanie Turek 2 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the detailed explanation, trafficman. In your assessment, does this mean there is really no point in pushing the ped button if one is waiting to cross Lincoln, at least during normal daylight hours? On my bike, I assume I won't trip the "vehicle recognition" sensor, so I usually push the ped button... but maybe I am wasting my time?

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Brant McLaughlin 2 years, 8 months ago

I stand corrected. When I estimated 2 minutes or more for the lights to complete a cycle I was watching the light and counting in my head one day while waiting to cross. I just officially clocked it with my watch and it is about 110 seconds.

Anyway, 5 or 6 seconds to cross a side street when the light takes "exactly" 110 seconds to cycle is a bit short. Seems like a problem that could have been fixed sometime in the last 10 months but the attitude at the city offices when a resident calls is; "It's not our problem"

I haven't had any experience with night operation either and I've had little or no experience with any intersection other than 5th Street. I do know that during the day the vehicle sensors and buttons at 5th Street do not appear to have any functionality whatsoever. Even when no pedestrians have pushed the button and no cars have moved over the sensors the light still cycles every 110 seconds.

Melanie, you are correct. If you pull up to the intersection on your bike during the day, the light will change for you even if you don't hit the button or set off the road sensor.

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weststmbtres 2 years, 8 months ago

trafficman, where are you coming up with such details as the specific cycle timing right down to the second? Surely you didn't spend your vacation sitting on the roof of the Rio sipping margs and timing our lights with your stopwatch. :) lol!!!

Is there more info out there in cyberspace about our stoplight and crosswalk system that we have not been privy to?

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trafficman 2 years, 8 months ago

weststmbtres, Any good traffic engineer has a stopwatch handy so yes I did time the signals to see what cycle length they are running at, not from the Rio however. Mahogany Ridge happy hour is the preferred location. My wife can tell you about the many "interesting" vacation pictures we have of traffic control devices around the world.

I see the comments that are often in the Pilot forum about how bad traffic is so I wanted to observe and see for myself. Coming from the Washington DC area I see nothing to complain about, but traffic is all relative to the local population. I thought the basic progression patterns that were implemented worked fairly well. Also for a downtown area with significant pedestrian traffic you want to try and keep the cycle length as low as possible while still serving the traffic. You could have a much longer cycle length that could move the traffic along Lincoln more efficiently but that would mean longer waits on the side streets and people more likely to jaywalk. Signal timing is always a balancing act of competing demands and trying to achieve a happy medium.

I agree the signals should be programmed to rest in the walk mode for people on Lincoln to cross the side streets and then change to the don't walk only at the end of the Lincoln phase. That would provide much greater opportunity for people to cross and it would be safer since when it does transition to the don't walk with the count down timers you would know when the green phase was actually going to end. As it is now, the flashing don't walk and count down interval times out and it rests in the steady don't walk for probably close to 50 seconds. People tend to ignore the don't walk and then are susceptible to be caught in the middle when the light changes.

As I understand it, since Lincoln Avenue carries the US 40 routing CDOT has responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the signals so even though the City has to live with the operation, CDOT staff are the only ones that can make changes to the timing. This is common across the country where there is split responsibility between the state and local jurisdictions.

To Melanie's question about pushing the button, those between 5th and 11th are most likely programmed to bring up the ped indications each cycle. Therefore you wouldn't need to push the button at those locations, but at other intersections outside the downtown you will need to push the button. Even if there is a vehicle present to actuate the signal, it is safer to push the button as it will give you the full pedestrian timing to cross whereas if it is only a single vehicle you are likely to only get the minimum green time of around 5 seconds.

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Brant McLaughlin 2 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the input trafficman. My first post was really more about the unwillingness of the city employees to help out. In the article Ben makes it sound like he and the city are personally working on the issues and he says;

"Depending on how traffic flows go, these things can be updated over time depending on the goals of the community”

Currently there is no way for the goals of the community to be communicated with the people in charge at CDOT. I'd still like some answers to my original questions from someone locally.

It's just that we live here in a local economy driven by tourism dollars. When I stand on the corner of 5th street every day and hear the visitors cursing the people in charge of timing the crosswalks and see motorists honking at pedestrians who got tired of waiting and ended up in the middle of the street during a green light, I can't help but think we are leaving a bad taste in their mouths and nobody seems to want to remedy the situation.

We need to try our best to make every visitor who comes to town feel like this is a place they want to return to over and over again. When they end up nearly getting hit by a car or in a road rage incident with a motorist honking at them, they are not having the kind of travel experience we promote in our marketing of Steamboat.

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exduffer 2 years, 8 months ago

All this is a moot point when cars stop in the crosswalk (note car on right).

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weststmbtres 2 years, 8 months ago

I've seen more problems with people walking in front of traffic this past year than any other. The problem is the walk signals are training people to walk when it is unsafe.

Here's the first scenario. A pedestrian walks up to the side street crosswalks at 7th, 8th or 9th. They realize the stoplight on Lincoln is still green so they have plenty of time to cross even though the crosswalk indicator only gave them 5 seconds before it started flashing "don't walk". In their mind it is safe even though the walk signal says don't walk. At those intersection it is fairly safe except for the situation in scenario 2 below.

Then they arrive at the 5th street intersection. The light on Lincoln turns green and because it is typically safe to do at the other intersections, they decide to walk against the crosswalk signal not realizing there is a new green arrow sending turn lane traffic across the intersection toward the rodeo grounds. They find themselves in the middle of the crosswalk in front of a honking motorist because we've conditioned them to think it is safe.

We can't expect visitors who may only be here for a few days each year to get to know the intricacies of our traffic and stop light patterns. Whether it safe or unsafe to walk, the lights need to signal appropriately and not leave the guesswork up to the pedestrians.

trafficman says this should be an easy fix but the lights have been malfunctioning since last October and nothing seems to be changing.

Here's the second scenario. The other issue is motorists turning on side streets seeing the don't walk signal and assuming pedestrians will not be in the crosswalk. The pedestrians know the crosswalk lights are malfunctioning and they decide to walk against the signal. The motorist who has not been waiting on the street corner watching the light for the last 60 seconds doesn't know the crosswalk should still be in walk mode and again we end up putting the two of them in harms way.

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Brant McLaughlin 2 years, 8 months ago

I couldn't agree more westsmbtres.

They strung the fiber optic cable over a week ago but I still have yet to see any change in the signals. Not sure about the other intersections but at 5th street pedestrians are still getting only 5-6 seconds of walk time on the side street crosswalks.

In addition, I still have yet to see anybody give an answer to my original question. How do the "goals of the community" get relayed to CDOT? My personal goal for the community is to get the crosswalk signals working correctly and hopefully avoid someone getting hit by a car.

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Brant McLaughlin 2 years, 8 months ago

Finally!!! Nearly 3 weeks after the new cable was run the crosswalks at the side streets are giving a walk signal longer than 5-6 seconds.

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