Timing is everything on Aspen’s Main Street
City takes control of traffic signals for better pedestrian crossings
Pedestrians can breathe a sigh of relief when they cross Main Street knowing they have more time than before to get to the other side without getting run over by a car.
After more than a year working with the Colorado Department of Transportation, the city of Aspen engineering department is now in control of four traffic signals on Main Street.
In taking over the operational responsibilities of traffic signals at Galena, Mill, Monarch and South Aspen streets along Main Street, the city is able to respond to the community’s needs with daily oversight.
Having control of the traffic signals also allows city staff to refine the timing plan over time to meet immediate needs and future ones.
“Our community and (Aspen City Council) asked that the city’s traffic signals place more focus on the pedestrian friendliness of our downtown core,” said Carly McGowan, project manager in the city’s engineering department. “CDOT does a great job at looking at a regional picture of vehicular movement and meeting standard intersection requirements, but we can now implement a local signal timing plan that embraces Aspen’s ideals.”
One significant change is giving pedestrians the walk signal three seconds before the traffic light turns green for vehicles.
That lead time provides pedestrians enhanced visibility to turning cars as they will be further into the intersection when vehicles may be coming through the pedestrian route.
The intergovernmental agreement with CDOT became effective Oct. 1, which is when the city’s engineering department started realigning the signals.
The signals recently were re-timed according to a plan developed based on travel data, in-field timing runs and consultant Kimley-Horn’s recommendations from national standards.
While the city’s initial timing plan highlights pedestrian safety for crossing, several changes are mutually beneficial for vehicular traffic, according to McGowan.
People will experience what officials call the “green wave,” which is coordinating adjacent signals to provide a smooth traffic progression along Main Street.
Morning traffic flowing into town will hit the green wave at South Aspen Street and move through to Galena Street. Vice versa, evening traffic flowing out of town will hit a green light at Galena Street and take the wave through to South Aspen Street.
McGowan said the timing aids in reducing stops and delays and also benefits pedestrians walking with the flow of traffic.
Additionally, traffic intervals have been shortened from 80 seconds to 70 seconds.
That alteration allows turning vehicles and pedestrians more opportunities to move through the intersection.
The city also has automated traffic cycles during the day with fixed times, set for average conditions which change at predetermined intervals.
As a result, pedestrians no longer need to push the walk button to activate the indicator during the day. Instead, the indicator will turn automatically whenever the pedestrian is allowed to cross.
However, the signals switch to traffic-activated during the night, so people will need to push the walk button between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to trigger the signal change.
The evening switch allows pedestrians to adjust timing to optimize flow at the intersection and be responsive to their presence when vehicle traffic is reduced.
The city will monitor how the initial timing plan works and adjust accordingly in the future.