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Houston Traffic Signal Timing Is Atrocious


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Has anyone else thought our city has exceptionally poor light timing? I am at my wits end trying to get someone to fix a few intersections that cause giant clogs on my morning and evening commute. They require some realllllly simple fixes that would save all the commuters 5-10 minutes if corrected, each day. Why is it impossibly difficult for the city to figure out? Have they just said "screw it" with COVID? The recent freeze only seems to have made the bad turn into ugly. 

I drove down Westheimer from the Beltway to 610 last weekend, Saturday about 8pm, and I kid you not, hit a red light at every intersection but 2 the entire distance. That is A LOT of intersections. It was a painful experience knowing the light immediately ahead was going to turn red as my current intersection light was turning green. After awhile it became almost comical how poor the timing is. What could have been a 35 mph cruise the whole way down turned into a 45 min nightmare. 

I experienced a similar feat driving San Felipe between Voss and the loop. Hit almost every light without fail. Driving the speed limit only seems to make it worse. It appeared some people had outsmarted it and knew if they went 50 in a 35, they could make every light!!! Dangerous as heck.

 

Anyone know how to program some traffic lights? Hit me up. :)

 

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I honestly do not think the city is capable of timing the lights on such long stretches of roadways. What you can possibly do is group certain intersections. For example, with San Felipe, Voss and Winrock can be grouped, Briar Ridge and Potomac could be grouped. Fountain View would stay the same. The main group would be Augusta, Bering, and Chimney Rock. (Hope that makes sense). Submit a 311 comment or email the planning department for each group. It is easier for them to work on 2-3 intersections than the entire stretch. Don't know if they'll do much, like you said, they have been lacking recently with response to service requests. 

My own few cents on the matter is that we need to be careful when trying to promote faster travel times. With the stretches of Westheimer and San Felipe, the lights allow traffic to naturally slow down. If all lights are green, it will just increase the speed for vehicles to travel down these roadways. Not the best environment for pedestrians and cyclists. I think a better solution would equip all METRO buses with transit signal priority devices. This would allow faster travel times for riders on the 32 and 82, which are both brutally slow at the moment. METRO's Boost has TSP in their plans and there will be a Westheimer Boost so that should help! 

Edited by Justin Welling
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Back during Bill White's terms as mayor he had a project that improved the light timing fairly well.  I recall it made a big difference during rush hour on Westheimer at the time.  There was a document put out that went into detail and supposedly the timing was going to be maintained into the future.  I guess that fell by the wayside after he left office.

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6 hours ago, august948 said:

Back during Bill White's terms as mayor he had a project that improved the light timing fairly well.  I recall it made a big difference during rush hour on Westheimer at the time.  There was a document put out that went into detail and supposedly the timing was going to be maintained into the future.  I guess that fell by the wayside after he left office.

I remember that. It was mostly downtown and Midtown and it was kind hard to pull off at the time since some of the traffic light control cabinets were the old electromechanical type from the 50s and 60s and couldn't communicate with the new cabinets. I imagine the addition of the east-west light rail lines has made it a bit harder to synchronize traffic light timing too in later years.

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8 hours ago, JLWM8609 said:

I remember that. It was mostly downtown and Midtown and it was kind hard to pull off at the time since some of the traffic light control cabinets were the old electromechanical type from the 50s and 60s and couldn't communicate with the new cabinets. I imagine the addition of the east-west light rail lines has made it a bit harder to synchronize traffic light timing too in later years.

Wasn't the City installing networked signal controllers? Those can be updated remotely, and don't get out of time like the electromechanical boxes, which was the reason the timing didn't stay synchronized.

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the information that is online for Houston's "Smart City" initiative is pretty thin.

https://houstontx.gov/smartcity/#showcase1-3

since I'm in the automation industry, and a subset of that is smart cities, I'm intrigued to know more details, but there's just not much out there.

https://www.houston.org/news/mayor-turner-creates-smart-cities-council-speed-tech-adoption

it doesn't help that we just started this process, which in my mind (probably because I'm in the industry) is a bit behind the curve on adoption.

 

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  • 5 months later...

Way back when my mother worked at the then Hermann Professional Building one could travel from downtown to the medical center along Fannin and make all the lights if 19 mph +/- was maintained. It seems slow but it was no slower than stopping and starting every few blocks and preferable to stirring the gearbox. Automatic transmissions were available then but optional on almost every vehicle except maybe Cadillacs and the like. Mother had a Nash Rambler with a recalcitrant 3-speed manual so she was more than happy to maintain the slower speed and avoid all the shifting. Of course, there will always be some jackass who stomps the throttle at every green light and crams on the brakes two blocks later (again and again) not to mention the jerks who simply run red lights. There should be a special place in Hell for them because they will probably get there eventually.

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1 hour ago, Specwriter said:

Way back when my mother worked at the then Hermann Professional Building one could travel from downtown to the medical center along Fannin and make all the lights if 19 mph +/- was maintained. It seems slow but it was no slower than stopping and starting every few blocks and preferable to stirring the gearbox. Automatic transmissions were available then but optional on almost every vehicle except maybe Cadillacs and the like. Mother had a Nash Rambler with a recalcitrant 3-speed manual so she was more than happy to maintain the slower speed and avoid all the shifting. Of course, there will always be some jackass who stomps the throttle at every green light and crams on the brakes two blocks later (again and again) not to mention the jerks who simply run red lights. There should be a special place in Hell for them because they will probably get there eventually.

and depending on who's coming from the other direction, they might get there sooner than they intended.

anyway, yeah, there are still streets in downtown that are timed if you go a specific speed that you catch green the whole way. on LaBranch you can green from McKinney to St. Joseph, if you go a bit over 25. Jefferson, from Louisiana to where it enters 45 is the same. I think Louisiana is still timed too.

anyway, for anyone who likes HIIT and bicycles (and you live close enough to downtown), downtown on a weekend morning is the best way to get the workout, specifically LaBranch. no one is on it at that time, and you can mash the entire half mile stretch it stays green, then over one street to take the bike lane on Austin back to Rusk, by that time your HR will be back down again, then mash down LaBranch again. do that about 10 times, throw up and go home.

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On 3/10/2021 at 10:15 AM, WestUdweller said:

Has anyone else thought our city has exceptionally poor light timing? I am at my wits end trying to get someone to fix a few intersections that cause giant clogs on my morning and evening commute. They require some realllllly simple fixes that would save all the commuters 5-10 minutes if corrected, each day. Why is it impossibly difficult for the city to figure out? Have they just said "screw it" with COVID? The recent freeze only seems to have made the bad turn into ugly. 

I drove down Westheimer from the Beltway to 610 last weekend, Saturday about 8pm, and I kid you not, hit a red light at every intersection but 2 the entire distance. That is A LOT of intersections. It was a painful experience knowing the light immediately ahead was going to turn red as my current intersection light was turning green. After awhile it became almost comical how poor the timing is. What could have been a 35 mph cruise the whole way down turned into a 45 min nightmare. 

FWIW, TXDOT maintains Westheimer west of 610. Pretty sure that includes the lights as well. 

On 8/23/2021 at 3:29 PM, samagon said:

anyway, yeah, there are still streets in downtown that are timed if you go a specific speed that you catch green the whole way.

A bunch are timed for North/South travel. Makes it pretty shitty for local residents and anybody else not starting their commutes to Fort Bend or wherever they live. 

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On 8/26/2021 at 2:24 PM, wilcal said:

FWIW, TXDOT maintains Westheimer west of 610. Pretty sure that includes the lights as well.  

The City of Houston maintains just about all traffic signals within the city limits, including those installed by TxDOT and those on TxDOT maintained roads like Westheimer, Almeda, and feeder roads. Exceptions would be ramp meter signals and HOV signals.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hmm another question I have after driving San Felipe this morning. Some lights are flashing, some working, and others are completely off with no flashing (SO DANGEROUS). 

 

Are all lights in the city supposed to be equipped with battery backups to keep them flashing red in the event of a power failure? San Felipe at Fountainview and San Felipe at Augusta were just totally off today with no backup flashers. Someone's gonna get killed like that. 

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2 hours ago, WestUdweller said:

Hmm another question I have after driving San Felipe this morning. Some lights are flashing, some working, and others are completely off with no flashing (SO DANGEROUS). 

 

Are all lights in the city supposed to be equipped with battery backups to keep them flashing red in the event of a power failure? San Felipe at Fountainview and San Felipe at Augusta were just totally off today with no backup flashers. Someone's gonna get killed like that. 

If a traffic signal is out, it's supposed to be treated as a 4-way stop. But this is Houston we're talking about, where many drivers think nothing of blowing through a light that's been red for 15 seconds at 40 mph. 

Battery backup systems for traffic signals do exist, but I'm almost certain that COH signals do not have them.

Old discussion from Reddit about this:

Why don't stoplights have battery backups so that if the power goes out, they don't default to flashing red? 

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12 hours ago, mkultra25 said:

 

Battery backup systems for traffic signals do exist, but I'm almost certain that COH signals do not have them.

 

They have them, but they operate in a flashing red mode to save power and operate for a few hours or days before going dark if power is not restored.

Edited by JLWM8609
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22 hours ago, mkultra25 said:

If a traffic signal is out, it's supposed to be treated as a 4-way stop. But this is Houston we're talking about, where many drivers think nothing of blowing through a light that's been red for 15 seconds at 40 mph. 

Battery backup systems for traffic signals do exist, but I'm almost certain that COH signals do not have them.

Old discussion from Reddit about this:

Why don't stoplights have battery backups so that if the power goes out, they don't default to flashing red? 

to be fair, I don't know that many people understand how to handle an intersection with the lights out completely simply because it happens so rarely.

and I've actually been in this situation, I stopped at a signal that was out, cross traffic that I could see had stopped, when I entered the intersection the one lane of cross traffic I couldn't see didn't stop, and they smacked my car pretty hard. the girl driving had no idea she was supposed to treat it as a 4 way stop, the cop (that showed up an hour later) still gave her a ticket, lack of knowledge doesn't absolve you from having broken the law, it sucked, but it's just not a common occurrence. 

these days, when I see an intersection with all lights out, I will take a turn, or cut through a parking lot to avoid the intersection. if I have no other option, I will get in the right hand lane and turn right, rather than attempting to cross the intersection.

9 hours ago, JLWM8609 said:

They have them, but they operate in a flashing red mode to save power and operate for a few hours or days before going dark if power is not restored.

a lightning strike, or power surge can fry the electronics, or take out a battery backup, just as easily.

Edited by samagon
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2 hours ago, samagon said:

to be fair, I don't know that many people understand how to handle an intersection with the lights out completely simply because it happens so rarely.

and I've actually been in this situation, I stopped at a signal that was out, cross traffic that I could see had stopped, when I entered the intersection the one lane of cross traffic I couldn't see didn't stop, and they smacked my car pretty hard. the girl driving had no idea she was supposed to treat it as a 4 way stop, the cop (that showed up an hour later) still gave her a ticket, lack of knowledge doesn't absolve you from having broken the law, it sucked, but it's just not a common occurrence. 

these days, when I see an intersection with all lights out, I will take a turn, or cut through a parking lot to avoid the intersection. if I have no other option, I will get in the right hand lane and turn right, rather than attempting to cross the intersection.

a lightning strike, or power surge can fry the electronics, or take out a battery backup, just as easily.

More evidence that there are just too many people driving who should not be.  If one does not know that one is supposed to treat such intersections as 4-way stops, one should not be driving. We are not nearly strict enough with drivers licenses.

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9 minutes ago, Houston19514 said:

More evidence that there are just too many people driving who should not be.  If one does not know that one is supposed to treat such intersections as 4-way stops, one should not be driving. We are not nearly strict enough with drivers licenses.

It shouldn't be too much to ask that obtaining a driver's license should require demonstrating some level of proficiency in operating a vehicle instead of just barely adequate competence. This is the case in many other countries. But that ship sailed when the majority of people began regarding driving as a right as opposed to a privilege. Combine lowest-common-denominator licensing with selective amnesia when it comes to the responsibilities associated with rights, and you have a recipe for disaster. 

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9 hours ago, mkultra25 said:

It shouldn't be too much to ask that obtaining a driver's license should require demonstrating some level of proficiency in operating a vehicle instead of just barely adequate competence. This is the case in many other countries. But that ship sailed when the majority of people began regarding driving as a right as opposed to a privilege. 

Take into consideration that in a car centered city like Houston, driving is sometimes the only option in areas where transit is non existent or sparse. In that case, it's not a privilege when you're forced into it. 

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On 9/13/2021 at 1:56 PM, WestUdweller said:

Y'all are both wrong because no one is maintaining them currently haaaa

The City of Houston has actually been pretty responsive in fixing damaged signal equipment in a timely manner. When I report most traffic signal related issues to 311, they're fixed within 24 hours, unless it's a bigger issue that requires more work. 

Edited by JLWM8609
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