Tweaks to Steamboat’s traffic signals aim to make drivers spend less time at lights |

Tweaks to Steamboat’s traffic signals aim to make drivers spend less time at lights

A Steamboat Springs Transit bus makes a stop in heavy traffic downtown.
Scott Franz

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Engineers with the Colorado Department of Transportation are working behind the scenes to help drivers in Steamboat Springs spend less time sitting at red lights.

A recent collaboration between the city of Steamboat Springs and CDOT resulted in a much smoother travel experience for the people who were trying to escape the downtown area following the evening fireworks show at the Winter Carnival.

In previous years, the lights downtown would go into the lighter traffic mode in the evening just like they do on every other night. But when traffic would leave Howelsen and the lights weren’t in sync, it would result in gridlock and long waits.

“Half of the lights would be red while the other half were green,” city engineer Ben Beall said.

So this year, the city approached CDOT with a request to test changing the light schedule to anticipate the higher traffic.

Beall said the result was less traffic jams and quicker trips downtown.

“We noticed a big improvement,” he said. “CDOT went above and beyond to implement that at the city’s request.”

CDOT is now planning to tweak the traffic light schedules during other big events, such as the Fourth of July fireworks show at Howelsen.

Beall said city bus drivers have reported in the past it can take up to 40 minutes to get through the downtown area after the July Fourth fireworks show. During the test of the coordinated signal schedule after Winter Carnival, he said a city bus reported it took only six minutes to make the trip.

The state is also using the results of recent traffic counts to adjust the timing of the traffic signals on U.S. Highway 40 from Elk River Road to Pine Grove Road.

The updated signal timing schedules are expected to be rolled out sometime this spring.

“We’re hoping that we can reduce the number of times you have to stop,” said Mark Bunnel, who works for CDOT’s traffic operations office.

The new signals can take into account traffic events such as school letting out and clogging the intersection of Third Street and Lincoln Avenue.

As another example, Bunnel said new schedules could prevent southbound drivers who make a left onto U.S. 40 from Third Street from encountering a red light at Hilltop Parkway and Trafalgar.

As part of the traffic signal study, CDOT is also considering implementing new adaptive traffic signals that could adjust their timing on the fly in real time.

Detecting bikes

Bunnel said CDOT is also considering adding new bicycle detectors at intersections downtown.

Cyclists currently have to push pedestrian crossing buttons or wait for a heavier vehicle to trigger a green light at side streets on Lincoln Avenue.

Bunnel said locations of the bicycle detectors haven’t been finalized, but CDOT is working on a plan to introduce them.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.

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