Timing is Everything

Stop light Brighter

Mayor’s proposed budget seeks $300K to update traffic light timing for more efficient driving, cleaner air and increased pedestrian safety

In a perfect commuting world, we would all be driving electric cars to work in Salt Lake City, humming along a busy thoroughfare at the posted speed limit and hitting every green light along the way.

No sweat.

Of course, the commuting world isn’t perfect, but Salt Lake City traffic engineers would love to make it so. Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s FY17 proposed budget includes a $300,000 recommendation to adjust and update traffic light synchronization in Salt Lake City—which should improve the commuting experience while cutting air pollution because of less stop-and-wait engine idling.

“My air quality action plan has always included better timing of traffic signals,” Mayor Biskupski said. “A smoother commute for drivers also signifies that Salt Lake City embraces technology in making this a more welcoming and accessible community for everyone.”

Salt Lake City and the state of Utah already share a completely integrated and computerized traffic light control system, said Robin Hutcheson, Director of Salt Lake City’s Transportation Division.

“It’s a state-of-the-art system that has generally been well-maintained,” she said. “But the goal is to retime traffic signals periodically to achieve better travel time, fewer stops and better vehicular emissions for drivers while negotiating Salt Lake City streets.”

The system needs revisiting every few years for periodic adjustments due to changes in travel patterns, heavier use, and new developments along travel corridors.

The Mayor’s budget request would support updating synchronization of 164 traffic signals among the city’s most heavily traveled streets and at the busiest drive times. These signals would be retimed with a common cycle length and time-of-day schedule, all of which would help accomplish the following:

  • Safer street crossings for pedestrians
  • Better timing between automobile traffic waiting for light rail trains
  • Greater harmony between east-west traffic vs. north-south traffic
  • Less conflict between left turns and through traffic
  • Proper balance of heavier commuter traffic and local circulating traffic

Besides smoother commuting and safety, studies show that synchronized traffic signal timing provides significant air quality benefits. These include:

  • Travel times can be reduced 10 percent to 30 percent
  • Number of stops for intersections drop 10 percent to 30 percent
  • Stops in general are reduced up to 20 percent
  • Overall driving delay is reduced 5 percent to 20 percent
  • Emissions are reduced up to 15 percent, which improves air quality
  • Fewer and shorter TRAX stops at traffic signals, so quicker commutes and more incentive to take public transit

The benefits vary depending on time of day, weather and other variables. But Salt Lake City traffic engineers agree that regular adjustments to the light timing system absolutely save hours of travel time and reduce air pollution.

If you would like to register your opinions on budgeting for the cost of city traffic light timing, the City Council will hold public hearings on Mayor Biskupski’s recommendations May 24 and June 7, prior to adopting a budget, which state law requires by June 22.

One comment

  1. Yes! Finally. I’ve always though the stop and go in salt lake was rediculous and there must be a better way to time the lights. 6th south is my go to when downtown because it seems to be the ONLY reasonably timed street. Happy to hear about this. Thanks Jackie. It’s about time.


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