Traffic has nearly vanished while people stay home.
But signals controlling the flow of vehicles mostly are on their old timing. It can mean long waits with little to no through traffic at some intersections on busy roads.
John Lindstrom, an Everett resident, was stuck in that scenario recently at 19th Street and Broadway in north Everett.
“I waited for over one minute at a red light while NOBODY was going thru on the green,” he wrote to Everett city officials. “This shows the ineptitude of the traffic algorithm which computes the changing of the traffic lights.”
Even though vehicles aren’t clogging or cruising the north-south arterial these days like they normally would, the same reasons the roads are clear are why most traffic signal timing won’t change.
City employees, including those in traffic operations, only perform “mandatory-essential functions” to reduce their exposure to the new coronavirus and COVID-19.
“Traffic volumes are changing daily in reaction to the various restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we are not actively adjusting signal timing on our coordinated corridors,” Everett traffic engineer Tim Miller wrote in an email.
The only instance a signal’s timing could be adjusted is if staff are working on it because the signal was damaged or malfunctioning, or one was being or recently installed.
“If a crew member is called out to a signal normally timed to handle higher traffic volumes, they will adjust the signal timing to operate ‘free,’ on a first-come, first-served basis of operation where coordination is suspended,” Miller said. “The signal will be placed back into coordinated operation when normal traffic patterns resume.”
As of last week, Everett had adjusted about 20% of its signals that were timed for large traffic volumes. But 19th and Broadway wasn’t among the locations.
Across Snohomish County, the plummet in traffic is obvious, Snohomish County Public Works engineering manager and county traffic engineer Mohammad Uddin said in an email.
Of the 200-plus signals managed by Snohomish County, 80% don’t have a fixed duration and instead automatically adjust to demand at each location. About 20% of the county signals along major urban corridors operate in a coordinated mode during peak traffic hours.
“With reduced traffic volumes, Snohomish County does not see a need to make any adjustments to signal timing for those signals,” Uddin said.
Several factors determine how an intersection flows. Some of the main considerations are pedestrian use, street network, traffic volume and transit priority. Normally, Everett traffic engineers regularly gather vehicle, pedestrian, truck and bus volumes, evaluate traffic patterns, and change signal timing.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been tracking the reduction in volume on select arterials, which currently stands at 35 percent less than pre-COVID volumes,” Miller said. “We expect traffic patterns to return to normal volumes soon, and we are not planning any timing revisions until traffic stabilizes.”
Boeing is back to work, more construction is under way, and other activities and industries are set to open in the weeks ahead, so we’ll be back to waiting at a light and watching the traffic zip by soon enough, like normal.
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