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There's a reason why you're seeing more red than green at certain intersections

New legislation wants to change traffic light laws in Colorado
Posted at 8:22 AM, Mar 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-09 10:37:27-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — We've all been there. You're at an intersection, stopped on red. You keep looking at the clock, wondering why it's taking so long for you to get a green light!

Several viewers have brought concerns about seemingly faulty traffic lights in our area. News5 spoke to the city's traffic department, to find out why some lights are in sync and others aren't.

The City of Colorado Springs uses cameras to detect vehicles at each intersection. The camera is set up with a T.V. screen. A traffic light technician then draws a detection zone on the screen that's connected to a controller. As a vehicle pulls up, the pixels on the computer screen change, sending a signal to the controller, telling it that a vehicle needs to get through the intersection.

Different intersections have different time cycles. It may take longer to get through the light at a busier intersection, because the streets with a higher volume of traffic get the most green lights.

"We don't want to give a green light to a side street when there is nobody there," said Traffic Engineer, Todd Frisbie. "During those off-peak times we keep the main streets green. The flow only changes when there is a vehicle detected on that side of the street."

News5 tested that theory. One crew drove through the intersection of Powers Boulevard at North Carefree Circle twice. It took over a minute and 30 seconds each time to get through that light.

The same crew conducted two left turns on streets that weren't as crowded; One from Rio Vista Drive onto North Carefree Circle, and Bloomington Street onto North Carefree Circle. It took less than 30 to 40 seconds both times to make those left turns.

According to the city's traffic light department, there are several factors that can cause you to have to wait several seconds longer at a red light.

"If there is a failure in a traffic signal it has to do with detection," said Frisbie. "The camera can get dirty, there's a change in pixels, and the camera isn't picking it up, and they even get hit by lightning."

Frisbie says it's important for drivers to go when they get a green light. Don't try to beat a yellow light, and stop on red.

We've all been behind that person who is on their phone instead of paying attention to the road, causing a delay when the light turns green. Frisbie says that can also mess up the flow of traffic at that intersection.

Get ready to pump your brakes if you think pulling up closer to the intersection will get you through faster. The City of Colorado Springs does not use a wire embedded in the road to detect cars at an intersection.

"People have even thought if they flash their lights at an intersection that our system will detect their lights and that will get them a green light faster. That's not the case," Frisbie said.

What if you're at an intersection and you get a green light, and then seconds later, it turns yellow?

Traffic engineers say the traffic light computer probably detected your vehicle. If you were the only person at that intersection, the computer changed the light to green quickly, to clear that intersection to get you through it.

Have an issue you want Driving Change to address or a question about this story, contact us at driving change@koaa.com.