Denver Direct: Traffic lights – they come and they go

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Traffic lights – they come and they go

From Life on Capitol Hill:

… representatives of Public Works were asked if traffic lights could be installed at 16th.
Initially the city said that there wasn’t enough traffic at the intersections to justify the lights. However, Public Works officials said if 20 children per hour crossed the streets the lights might be allowed. They were informed that more than that number of students cross the street going to and from East High School and installation of the signals was therefore added to future plans for the corridor.

I can add to the history of that corner, as I’ve lived on the block since 1971 and actually at the corner of 16th and York from 1977-1993. That intersection then had a full set of stop lights. I eventually got used to an accident at that intersection at least once a week. And they tended to be pretty serious, with a loud crash as someone drove full-speed into the side of a car racing through the yellow light – or just running a red light. At first I would jump up to see if anyone was really hurt, and sometimes even go out, but eventually I got so used to it that I would just phone 911.

At some point – I can’t remember the exact year, a study indicated that 16th Ave needed to be calmed. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but the main effect was the REMOVAL of traffic lights and the installation of stop signs to replace them. So the traffic lights at 16th and York, my corner, were removed and replaced with stop signs. If you drive west on 16th Ave toward downtown you’ll go through a number of intersections where they removed the stop lights. Later, flashing red lights were added to the stop signs on 16th at York.

I was told that this would result in fewer accidents, but I didn’t believe it – until it came true. The number of accidents at that corner was drastically reduced, but not eliminated. I’m guessing that there were 5 or 6 last year. Obviously, these are just my anecdotal observations, and I’d be interested to see the actual data.

As regards school kids crossing York – mostly on their way to and from East High, I would make two points. One, many of the kids don’t cross at the lights, especially when they pour off of the RTD bus at mid-block. Two, a woman was killed at the corner of 17th and York while she waited on the sidewalk for a light to change. A violent crash in the intersection sent a car directly at her, and I believe she died instantly, crushed against the heavy-duty pole holding up the traffic lights.

Interestingly enough, I just happened upon this video, instructive in the matter of removing traffic lights.