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Stephen Joersz envisions a day when he can adjust the timing of traffic signals at any of Minot’s 49 signalized intersections from his office.
Joersz, the City of Minot’s traffic engineer, currently can remotely change the timing on only about half of the traffic signals in the city. To change timing at the remaining signals, someone from the traffic department must manually program the change on site.
The signals at many of Minot’s intersections were installed 25 to 30 years ago, with a couple of signals installed more than 45 years ago, Joersz said, adding that the timing on many of them has rarely – if ever - been updated.
“Because of their age, many of our signals operate individually rather than as part of an overall system,” Joersz said. “That’s where we run into issues with drivers hitting red lights too often on our busiest streets.”
But there is a plan to make things better. The City will soon submit a plan for review by the North Dakota Department of Transportation. The changes, Joersz said, will accelerate the process of standardizing Minot’s traffic signals.
“We could update one intersection at a time, but we’re submitting our changes as a group,” he said. “We have a good working relationship with the DOT, and they’ve been supportive of the positive changes we’re trying to make.”
Once the DOT reviews and approves the plan, Joersz said the City will take the next steps. First, the clearance intervals will be updated to improve safety. Clearance intervals are the amount of time between the start of red in one direction and the start of green in the opposite direction. Second, all the data will be entered into modeling software to provide a baseline of signal timing. Last, the timing on all of Minot’s signals will be changed and better coordinated. This work is anticipated to happen throughout this fall and winter.
“We have a good plan to address our signal timing issues, and we’ll continue to make progress on that plan in the next few years,” Joersz said. “Retiming the City of Minot’s signals will be a really good return on investment for us and for the drivers in our community.”
When Minot’s system is completely updated to a central traffic management system, there will be several benefits other than coordinated signals and improved traffic flow. For instance, the system could adjust signal timing to help reroute traffic for road construction, or use Emergency Vehicle Preemption to automatically turn the appropriate signals green when an emergency vehicle is en route to an emergency. The central system is slated to be completed in 2022.
Joersz said coordinating signal timing on major roadways like Broadway and Burdick Expressway will have other tangible results, too.
“Improving timing can not only reduce traffic delays, but have proven safety improvements, such as reducing crashes, especially rear end crashes,” he said. “It also saves gas and cuts down driving time, which is ultimately helpful in reducing emissions.”
Better timing can also reduce the amount of frustration drivers feel when they, seemingly, hit every red light when driving on Broadway.
“Most of our old signals are running off the same timing since they were installed, but a lot of things have changed in regards to managing traffic,” Joersz said. “The timing used to be done using blanket numbers, but now timing is based on travel speed, intersection width, approach grade, distance between signals, and many other factors.”
Minot’s busiest intersections all present timing challenges. Broadway sees approximately 30,000 vehicles daily and roughly 10,000 vehicles travel on Burdick Expressway daily, making the Burdick/Broadway intersection the most challenging one in the City.
“That’s the hardest intersection to time in our community, not only because it’s the busiest but also because of how the intersection is designed,” Joersz said. “Left turn lanes can back up pretty far, so we recently made a small change to give them more time to clear out. Most notably, we tied the westbound Burdick left and through signals together, with the intent of clearing out that approach. But every change can affect traffic in all directions, so it’s always a balance to make it work for everyone.”
While the goal is to create better traffic flow on Minot’s major roads, traffic engineers also know that they must take into consideration the time it takes to cross those busy roads. Joersz said when the new system is fully integrated, drivers in Minot likely won’t notice much of a difference when trying to cross Broadway or another busy road.
“Through coordination studies, we’ve seen that traffic on main routes will benefit, which is the ultimate goal,” Joersz said. “Traffic at smaller crossings may be delayed slightly, but we’re taking about a few seconds; 99 times out of 100 you won’t notice any difference.”
Joersz said the city will eventually be divided into different zones for traffic signal timing; Broadway signals will have their own timing, 16th Street will have its own timing, and other areas will be part of the overall system.
“There will be separate zones for timing, but they will all work together much better than they do today,” he said.