Broadway Lights: Why Not Change the Timing of Traffic Signals to Increase Safety Right Now?

A Denver police car on Broadway Street. Image: Flickr.
A Denver police car on Broadway Street. Image: Flickr.

On Broadway, one of Denver’s busiest pedestrian areas has become a zone frequented by emergency vehicles attending to severe injuries because the city allows drivers to speed wantonly — and isn’t moving fast enough to fix a problem it has already identified.

Which raises a question: Should Denver time red lights to slow the flow of cars?

“That’s an obvious yes,” says Jill Locantore, executive director WalkDenver. “It’s so quick and inexpensive to implement it, why not?”

Broadway’s sidewalks bustle with people going to a growing number of restaurants, bars and shops. But just a few feet away, traffic can approach speeds of 50 mph, dramatically higher than the speed limit of 30 mph. Since 2013, traffic collisions have injured 33 people and killed one person just on the stretch between Speer and Alameda, according to data from the police department.

The city is currently designing a significant upgrade to the corridor. Known as Denver Moves Broadway, it will add a bike lane and other pedestrian safety enhancements. But construction, which won’t start until late next year, could take years to complete and neighbors don’t want to wait for safer streets.

Last month a car crashed into the Hornet Restaurant for the third time that year. Photo: The Hornet.
Last month a car crashed into the Hornet Restaurant for the third time that year. An employee of the restaurant stepped out of the path of the car moments before the incident. Photo: The Hornet.

 

“I’d like to see them react in whatever way they reasonably can,” says Sean Workman, owner of the Hornet, the restaurant on Broadway that three drivers crashed cars into last year. More than a decade ago the city talked about changing traffic signal timing to help slow traffic, he says, but nothing happened. However, Denver has already used signal timing to enhance safety elsewhere.

In 2017 the Denver introduced more frequent red lights on Federal Boulevard as part of a plan to reduce high-speed drag racing and crashes at night. The city’s Traffic Management Center, which controls nearly all of Denver’s roughly 1,300 traffic lights, changed the signal phases remotely.

“We made a couple of planned stops along that corridor, so it wasn’t a big tarmac that people were street racing on,” says David DiGiacomo, the city’s senior transportation safety engineer and point person for the Vision Zero program.

The police department also stepped up enforcement along Federal, and the city says early results from the two efforts look like they are reducing crashes in a meaningful way.  

So why not do the same on Broadway right now?

Officials in the Department of Public Works say that slowing down one corridor can have consequences that ripple across side streets and other parts of the city, which is why they need to study potential changes first, a process they say will start this spring and could take several months.  

“We want to make sure we don’t introduce any new conflicts,” says DiGiacomo. “We certainly could cause more harm than good if we’re not careful about it.”

This rendering shows potential elements of Broadway's redesign, including a two-way protected bike lane.
This rendering shows potential elements of Broadway’s redesign, including a two-way protected bike lane.

 

But given the growing number of people injured and killed on Denver’s streets, why can’t his team move faster?

“I take it very personally when I look at those crash reports, DiGiacomo says. “On our end, it’s a resource issue right now.”

Before Public Works completes its signal timing analysis, the city says it will make other changes at First and Broadway near the Hornet, including putting up more signs, increasing police enforcement, and changing the walk signals to give pedestrians a head start before traffic starts to move. But these measures don’t address the deeper problem: People drive at highway speeds because they feel like they’re on a highway.

“The design of Broadway today invites you to go at a speed that’s higher than the speed limit,” says Locantore. “On a lot of Denver roads, you really have to concentrate if you want to go the speed limit because without even thinking about it, the road inherently encourages you to go very fast.”

Other temporary traffic calming measures may be more effective than those the city plans to install, like using paint and plastic posts create pedestrian refuges. But ultimately the city needs to ensure its long-term updates to the street will create a safer place for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders.

“Let’s get it right for this pedestrian thoroughfare,” says Workman. “There are so many options to keep pedestrians safe, let’s make sure we’re including all of them.”

 

  • TM

    One problem that may finally be getting some help is the stretches that don’t have signals, from 6th to 3rd has none and that’s where you consistently find people going 50+. They are working on installing a light at 5th, which has now taken a couple years apparently because of lack of funding.

    You can see the difference between Bayaud and 1st where there is a light every HALF block. That frequency of signals really does keep the speed down despite the super wide roadway, and not coincidentally has the highest concentration of businesses and people on foot. Outside of those couple blocks you see higher speeds, fewer people, and more crashes.

    But, yeah, installing a traffic light every 200 feet is not the best solution. Narrow the lanes, reduce the number of lanes, widen the sidewalks, add the bike lanes, make it uncomfortable for drivers to go fast. And do it ten years ago!

    • TakeFive

      You need something for between 9:00 pm and 4:00 am. That’s when the damage typically happens.

      They already have a dedicated bus lane that’s moderately used and a bike lane this is lightly used.

      https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/broadway-mobility/_jcr_content/content/columncontrol/col-2/denver_gallery.gallery.940.381.high.3.jpg

      It’s the bike lane that look like a speedway to me.

      • AnonymousHippopotamus

        Maybe they should install speed bumps in your brain so you have to think before posting idiotic drivel like this?

        • TakeFive

          Hah… hilarious… Go Nuggets

          Let me guess; it didn’t cross your mind that my (last) statement was tongue-in-cheek (feasible); you have no sense of humor; or both?

          • TM

            Poor comedian that blames the audience for not getting his jokes.

          • TakeFive

            Obviously it went over your head as well. 🙂

      • TM

        The bike lane is only 5 blocks long, it’s a test section. It’s “lightly used” because it doesn’t go anywhere yet.
        Guess where the crashes are happening, the rest of Broadway where cars still get 4 wide lanes.

        It looks nothing like a speedway, it’s far too narrow to be two directional, a third of it is in the damn gutter. What is your problem?

      • TM

        Both traffic lights and fewer, narrower traffic lanes work at all times of the day.

        Gotta say, you don’t make much sense these days. Being contrarian to people who are honestly trying to do some good gets old pretty fast.

      • TM

        The “moderately used” bus lanes have buses coming every 5 minutes during peak hours.
        They just look less busy because they are so much more efficient at moving people than the lanes jammed with cars. Same goes for bike lanes.

  • TakeFive

    For those who are ‘fresher’ to Denver much of So Broadway was totally rebuilt thanks to the Better Denver Bond funds. From tearing out old streetcar tracks to utilities, the street and sidewalks and in some cases from building edge to building edge. This expensive project was between Mississippi and Yale avenues.

    https://www.concreteworksofcolorado.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/broadway4-590×360.png

  • JZ71

    The lights are timed sequentially. Traffic flows smoothly when the people respect the timing (as most local drivers learn to do). Go “too fast” and you still have to wait. Speed is also just a small part of the problem. Driver inattention, texting and cross traffic are all much bigger problems, but harder to “solve”, since it takes actual police enforcement, not just retiming the traffic signals.

    • garbanzito

      the lights are timed for something like 35-37mph; i frequently drive a steady 30 down Broadway, and before long i fall behind the sequence; if we want Broadway to be a complete street and a safe street i think traffic should go 25mph, and not timing signals ahead of the speed limit is an important part of that

      • TakeFive

        Let me ask a question of the dumb variety. That So Broadway is a key arterial out of downtown that feeds into 6th ave, Speer Blvd and I-25 is a fact.

        Isn’t So Broadway much less inviting during ‘rush hour’? Slowing traffic to 25 mph would presumably extend by another hour nasty congested traffic. That feels like a fake fix that would only make things even worse.

        • TakeFive

          If you want a real fix then a light rail line from Civic Center Station south to Speer Blvd, then along Speer through Cherry Creek and along Leetsdale Dr to the intersection with Parker Rd, Mississippi and the High Line Canal bike trail PLUS an extension down So Broadway to the I-25 Station is your answer.

          If “urban” light rail can work in Portland, Phoenix and Minneapolis then why not Denver?

          • garbanzito

            many of us were disappointed when, after considerable study, the “Central Connector” light rail was quashed in the aughts; this would have been the Broadway part of what you describe; eventually i came to understand that light rail is for commuters, and street cars are a better fit for active commercial streets; the vision is still simmering — Denveright calls for very frequent transit service on both Broadway and Speer, and the Denver Moves Broadway project may break ground next year

          • TakeFive

            The ‘Central Connector’ is a totally different animal.

            Near term Denver Moves on So Broadway is all about the bike lanes. Yes, Broadway/Speer/Leetsdale is considered a high priority corridor for potential enhanced bus service – some decade. They’ve been studying the Colfax Corridor for a decade, have two more years of study and then pending FTA grants, it could be an exciting project.

          • garbanzito

            i see Denver Moves Broadway as a complete-streets program; the bikeway is prominent, but the goals include pedestrian safety, traffic speed control, transit efficiency, better bus waiting and boarding experience, prep for Denver supplementing RTD’s service, hopefully also reducing the congestion and chaos produced by “car-share” traffic

        • garbanzito

          during rush hour, this stretch of Broadway is usually so backed up that average speeds are subjectively well below 25mph; to back this up, i checked using the figures from the 2015 baseline study (before the bikeway pilot) — average peak-hour travel time from Colfax to I-25 (about 2.8 miles) was about 12.5 minutes during peak-hour, which comes to approx. 13.5 mph

          https://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/Transportation-Mobility/documents/broadway/BroadwayLincoln_Phase1-Report.pdf

          • TakeFive

            Good point; I should have thought of that on my own.

            I had resisted reading that study… so I took a look at it. I was already pretty familiar with the bike lane stuff. (Other than poking a little fun) I really don’t care one way or the other

            I did learn what ‘Salmoning’ means. I didn’t realize the dramatic differences in traffic counts between Broadway and Colorado Blvd until thought about it.

  • garbanzito

    Denver Public Works is doing an NMTP process for Baker focused on near-term improvements which cost relatively little; as part of this process, i have already asked them to time the Broadway signals to the speed limit, but the more who say so, the more likely DPW will hear it; the latest survey has just closed, but there are more feedback opportunities pending:

    https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/transportation-mobility/neighborhoods/baker.html

  • jcwconsult

    FIRST do speed studies at points away from the lights to find the speeds at or below which the slowest 85% of the cars travel when traffic is free flowing under good conditions. Round that to the nearest 5 mph to post the safest speed limit that tends to produce the fewest crashes. THEN time the lights for that speed so most drivers will hit a long string of green lights and drivers way over the limit will hit red lights. ALSO post clear signs on the stretch that the lights are timed for XX mph. The smoother more even traffic flow should please all users.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

    • Sincerely

      That PE that corrected you one of the times you spouted this misinformation could have a full-time job countering your fringe-group propaganda.

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