Milwaukee Magazine - - Content - - MATT HRODEY

What’s wrong with the Down­town stop­lights?

Is there some­thing wrong with the

Down­town stop­lights?

IN TERMS OF GRID­LOCK, Mil­wau­kee has it way bet­ter than most ma­jor cities around the coun­try. But still we com­plain. One of the most vit­ri­olic top­ics in re­cent months? The traf­fic lights Down­town. “Has any­one no­ticed that the stop­lights Down­town are not in sync any­more?” says a re­cent post to the Mil­wau­kee Subred­dit. “It’s like a damn maze now!” Which begs the ques­tion: Are traf­fic lights sup­posed to be syn­chro­nized? Tra­di­tional wis­dom holds that, go­ing the speed limit, one should be able to pass through al­most all green lights, bar­ring in­ter­fer­ence from traf­fic.

Ac­cord­ing to Joseph Blake­man, se­nior traf­fic engi­neer for the city of Mil­wau­kee, that’s the ideal state for traf­fic lights and one that’s of­ten re­al­ized on the city’s qui­eter streets and av­enues. Down­town, how­ever, the traf­fic lights are way too close to­gether to line up in the way peo­ple are want­ing. Mak­ing a daisy chain out of east­bound Wis­con­sin Av­enue’s green lights, he says, “is go­ing to make west­bound mis­er­able, and pos­si­bly cause is­sues go­ing north and south.”

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the pic­ture is that all traf­fic lights Down­town are set to 90-sec­ond cy­cles (as op­posed to the stan­dard 60 sec­onds used in most other ar­eas), partly to al­low more time for pedes­tri­ans. That means catch­ing a yel­low and sit­ting all the way through to green can seem like a “long [ex­ple­tive] light.”

The city could look into ex­pand­ing its use of au­to­mated sen­sors to con­trol traf­fic lights (it al­ready uses some), but the ad­van­tages are “van­ish­ingly small” and could cost as much as $25,000 per in­ter­sec­tion, ac­cord­ing to Blake­man. Lights are al­ready pro­grammed to cycle through a.m. and p.m. rush pat­terns and to adapt to the amount of traf­fic as­so­ci­ated with dif­fer­ent days of the week, which can be re­mark­ably pre­dictable. “A Mon­day is go­ing to act like a Mon­day,” he says.

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