Engineers fine-tuning traffic lights in Steamboat |

Engineers fine-tuning traffic lights in Steamboat

City, state engineers create temporary traffic patterns downtown

Traffic lights in Steamboat Springs control the flow of cars Thursday afternoon.
John F. Russell

— When the project is complete, the downtown Steamboat Springs traffic lights are designed to work like one connected computer, with fiber optic cables running from intersection to intersection, orchestrating all the cars.

Until those cables are in­­stalled in the spring, however, the lights still are controlled by a timing program that city and state engineers are trying to fine-tune with new intersections and new features.

“We’re in an interesting period where there’s enough cooperation going on right now as whose fault is it? It’s all of our faults,” city engineer Ben Beall said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation owns, maintains and is responsible for the lights and the timing patterns in downtown Steamboat Springs, but city workers are providing advice and a study on the lights to help the state engineers get the kinks worked out of the system. The lights will remain on a timer throughout the winter but are triggered by sensors under the road at each cross street.

CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said any time a problem is brought to CDOT, the engineers will review it.

Jim McVeigh, a driver for Go Alpine who regularly crosses the downtown area, said the light timings have been frustrating enough for him that he has started to use Yampa Street and avoid Lincoln Avenue as much as possible.

“I do that to avoid it because, yeah, they should have some timing,” he said. “It seems that they’re long. Like a lot of times I’ll come up Yampa to 11th (Street) … going west, and I can tell you the lights on the cross are very, very long.”

Beall said the wait to turn from a cross street onto Lincoln Avenue could be long if the cars don’t trip the sensors under the road. He said the maximum wait time should be about two minutes, and in a news release he said drivers could make an effort to hit the sensors by knowing where they are.

The car sensors are 3 feet wide and 20 feet long, installed below the intersections in the middle of the lane between the colored crosswalk and the asphalt street.

“If a vehicle does not pull up to the white stop bar, pulls too far forward, or is too far to the side near the curb, the signal will not detect the car,” he said. “If a vehicle is waiting at the intersection and the signal does not change, then most likely the car is not being detected.”

The side street lights are triggered only when there is a car waiting.

Steamboat Springs Transit Operations Manager Jonathan Flint said bus drivers also are getting used to the new timing system. He said anticipating when a light will change can be helpful for bus drivers, especially in slick weather, so they ensure the bus stops in time.

With the old timing system, drivers knew there were 13 flashes of the walk sign before the light changed, he said.

“They definitely are relearning,” Flint said, but drivers are adapting and have to be ready for anything as the traffic pattern changes. “As the roads get icy and slick, they’re really going to be looking to learn that type of stuff.”

Flint said drivers also have to be more careful to not get caught in intersections. With the new light timing, he said some drivers have found themselves with a green light but unable to drive forward because traffic is backed up at the next intersection.

Beall said the crews have noticed a few missed timings in the past week, including at the busy Seventh and Eighth street intersections, that city crews will pass along to CDOT workers as they come to town in the coming weeks to tweak the settings.

— To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail

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