WHY GREEN LIGHTS TURN YOU RED; Jacksonville's Trend to Add Time for Drivers to Go through Intersections to Ease Traffic Lines Means a Longer Wait for Others

By Bauerlein, David | The Florida Times Union, June 14, 2004 | Go to article overview

WHY GREEN LIGHTS TURN YOU RED; Jacksonville's Trend to Add Time for Drivers to Go through Intersections to Ease Traffic Lines Means a Longer Wait for Others


Bauerlein, David, The Florida Times Union


Byline: David Bauerlein, The Times-Union

Every afternoon like clockwork, motorists on Florida A1A in Jacksonville head toward Mayport Road and line up to play a waiting game -- if game is the right word for a red light that lasts 3 minutes and 28 seconds.

Impatient drivers make their own rules. They peel off from the outside and fill an inside lane that has a shorter backup. From there, they make illegal right-hand turns in droves, sparing themselves the plight of waiting two or three light cycles before getting through the intersection.

Most drivers cope grudgingly. Atlantic Beach resident B.J. Kleman chills out by singing along with radio songs. On a seven-minute trip from the supermarket to home, she said more than half the time is spent stopped at signals while turning on and off Mayport Road.

"It's undesirable," she said after using saltier language to describe the traffic signals. "That's the cleanest way I can put it. It's just a pain."

The long red light on Florida A1A and Mayport Road is a poster child for a trend that's been taking place for years in Jacksonville. Faced with worsening congestion, traffic engineers have been stretching the amount of green lights allotted to the heaviest flow of traffic. That benefits the horde of commuters exiting, for instance, the Navy base on a beeline down Mayport Road.

The flip side is longer red lights for other drivers. Take the case of Argyle Forest Boulevard at Blanding Boulevard in southwest Jacksonville. Blanding drivers get long green lights while Argyle Forest drivers stew at a red light that lasts 3 minutes and 15 seconds in the morning rush hour.

"People put up with it," said Henry Mooneyhan, president of the Argyle Area Civic Council and a daily commuter through the intersection. "But they hate it."

With 967 signalized intersections in Jacksonville, there are lots of places where motorists can forge a love-hate relationship with a traffic light. When zipping down State and Union streets in downtown, drivers hit one green light after another and ask why signals on every street can't click in the same fashion.

But traffic engineers say State and Union streets are one-way thoroughfares that don't pose the traffic conflicts that most roads do for signal timing. Two-way roads that come together at intersections have drivers heading in every direction, depending on the time of day, said Jim Scott of the state Department of Transportation.

To keep pace with the rising traffic, engineers have been adding time to green lights at intersections, which means red lights are lasting longer, too. Engineers call that increasing the light cycle, which is the time it takes for traffic signals to rotate around an intersection with a green light for every traffic movement.

In the 1970s, the longest cycle at a Jacksonville intersection was two minutes, said Don Fullerton of the Jacksonville Traffic Engineering Division. For a while, increasing the cycle was a traffic congestion problem-solver.

"The change would be dramatic," Fullerton said. "The [traffic] issue would disappear. Now, you kind of lessen the pain and spread the misery around. You can't eliminate the issue."

Of Jacksonville's major intersections, Florida A1A at Mayport Road has the longest cycle, clocking in at 4 minutes and 10 seconds on weekday afternoons. Think of the light cycle as a pie. Each turning movement gets a slice of the pie. For instance, the slice for eastbound Florida A1A drivers serves up 42 seconds. Then those drivers get 3 minutes and 28 second of red time.

The light cycle for Argyle Forest at Blanding is close behind at 3 minutes and 50 seconds in the morning rush hour. The slice of the cycle for Argyle Forest drivers amounts to 35 seconds of green light, followed by 3 minutes, 15 seconds of red.

Parts of Beach, Southside and Atlantic boulevards have intersections with traffic cycles lasting three minutes or more. …

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