Installation of new traffic lights is worth long wait

If only solving our troubles were as easy as plugging in a new traffic signal, or posting a stop sign, and then watching everything work out according to plan. ...

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Controlling traffic is complicated. Stuff breaks, or it’s harder to install than just plugging it in, or maybe simply getting new stuff isn’t such a good idea when you give it a little more thought.

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Dan’s question got me thinking about this. It’s similar to a question I answered last week about a new traffic light at Charleston Boulevard and Apple Drive.

Here’s Dan’s question: “The traffic light on northbound Durango at Gowan is short timing for the left turn lane and the flashing yellow (indicated by a sign) does NOT come on.”

Well, it’s not really a question, but you get the point.

I checked with the city of Las Vegas, as well as with the Regional Transportation Commission’s FAST, the traffic signal timing department.

Guess what? That’s one of those fancy new flashing yellow left turn arrow signals. But the installation isn’t all the way done yet.

Diana Paul, a city spokeswoman, said a couple of parts still need to be installed. It might take a few weeks.

But like hundreds of other signals around town, it’ll soon be a whole lot better than it used to be. The flashing yellow turn signals, in case you haven’t noticed, allow drivers to turn left when no one’s coming, whereas the old lights made you wait forever for a green signal.

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Speaking of waiting forever, my son’s preschool teacher, Ms. C.C., told me about a problem heading north on Buffalo Drive and turning left onto Vegas Drive.

The left turn light lets only one car through during the morning rush hour before it turns red, she said. Lots of preschool teachers were complaining about it.

I checked in with the RTC. Brian Hoeft, the director of FAST, said they took a look and adjusted the timing.

Sometimes, the people who fix things need to be told they’re broken.

But sometimes, what’s broken depends on your definition.

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Phyllis wrote in with a long complaint about the intersection of Grand Canyon Drive and Elkhorn Road, which happens to be a few blocks from my house in the northwest part of town. I drive through the intersection almost every day.

Phyllis’ complaint amounted to this, in a nutshell: It’s really hard to see when you’re on Elkhorn and you want to turn onto Grand Canyon.

This is true.

And she pointed out that Elkhorn was recently paved on the west side of Grand Canyon, which will make traffic worse. This is also true.

Phyllis wants a four-way stop there, but I don’t like the idea. Grand Canyon, as far as I can tell, is far busier than Elkhorn.

The west side of that intersection is in Clark County’s jurisdiction, while the east side is in the city of Las Vegas. Paul, the city spokeswoman, said they’re going to do a traffic study there after school starts. They’ll wait until school starts, because that’s when traffic is heaviest.

In the meantime, she said, they’ll take a look at the intersection and see if there’s anything they can do.

This got me wondering: What, exactly, are they looking for when they decide whether an intersection deserves a four-way stop?

Paul said they follow the guidelines in the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which I’ve called the bible for traffic engineers.

The guidelines say traffic studies must take into account speeds, traffic volumes and crash history.

The manual, which you can look up online, notes that “multi-way stops” are used when traffic volumes on the two roads are roughly equal.

It’s really complicated, by the way. But the basics are this: If a whole bunch of cars use the intersection, and if it causes delays, or if it’s too hard to see to make a left turn (we hear you, Phyllis), you can put up a four-way stop sign.

The city does studies like this for several reasons, such as a complaint like this one, or maybe a traffic officer will alert them to a problem, or someone in the traffic department will notice an increase in traffic.

Development affects traffic, too, so they often will look at an intersection near new developments. Sometimes, they’ll require the developer to put in traffic control devices.

So anyway. Simple it ain’t.

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