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Troublesome traffic lights, and tragedy strikes again on 24

Posted by Nichole Davis  July 29, 2012 11:56 PM

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Happy Monday again to you... hope your weekend was restful and you weren't stuck in too much of that pesky beach traffic. (Although it was kind of a lousy beach weekend, wasn't it? All that rain makes for some not-so-great sunbathing.)

There's a variety of stuff in today's post. We'll talk about some traffic light annoyances sent in by a reader from Abington ... I've got some more slowdown spots for you to watch out for (mostly on the downtown Boston side of things) ... and it was another deadly weekend on Route 24, this time in Randolph -- this, despite the State Police saying they were kicking up the patrols. What happened?

Let's jump into the mailbag...

Does MassDOT have any standards they apply to traffic light timings? I feel like they just fly by the seat of their pants. Example - Route 53 in Hanover was recently rebuilt/widened from the area of the Hanover Mall south to Old Washington Street. Great. The traffic light at Target clearly has some kind of timer on it so it doesn't trip everytime there are cars waiting to enter Route 53, they have to wait about 2 minutes in between cycles. This helps keep traffic on 53 moving smoothly. However the next light south on 53 at Old Washington Street seems to have no such timer. The instant there's a car waiting on Old Washington and there's not a car immediately atop the sensors on 53 - boom - red light. I know this is long winded but I really scratch my head as to why the light at Target works so efficiently and yet the next light down, installed around the same time just encourages stop and go traffic insanity - it's a new intersection, they should get it right. Thanks.
Brian, Abington

We've all been stuck behind that light that seemingly WILL NOT turn. You look around, see nobody coming, inch up a bit, notice a line growing behind you, get nervous, and so on. Finally, after what seems like forever, it'll change - but only for all of what seems like twenty seconds... before you know it, you're just getting to go, and it's already yellow.

Sara Lavoie at the DOT gave me a very detailed answer on this seemingly universal frustration, Brian. Sara tells me that, when they originally program the traffic lights, there's several factors involved, but the biggest factors are the number of cars that usually travel on the road and the number of lanes at the intersection that they have to work with.

Some intersections may get more of what they call "max green time" on the main road for various reasons, including a previous history of crashes at that intersection, private driveways for shopping centers versus a public road, and the popularity of left turns at that particular spot.

So what's "max green time"? Sara tells me that's the most amount of time one turn of the light will receive. Some lights are programmed without automatic traffic detection, so those are the lights that will always run their cycles, no matter what (which may explain those occasional more-than-frustrating lights). As you probably imagined, the main street will usually get more time than the side roads in order to keep things moving through the area without too much of a traffic buildup.

Sara notes:

There are two typical scenarios that occur that will cause a phase to not get its Max Green time.

1. Early Termination. If the traffic signal no longer detects any cars on the phase that currently has a green light, it can end the phase early in order to service other approaches sooner.
2. Dwell. If the traffic signal does not detect any cars on the side streets it will hold the green light for the main street, allowing the main street approach to actually exceed its Max Green Time.

You may be noticing one or both of these scenarios on Route 53. If there was a large enough gap in traffic on Route 53, the signal may terminate its green phase early in order to service the side street. Or, more likely, if the side street has low traffic volumes and the green light is dwelling on Route 53 a single vehicle approaching on the side street may cause the signal to react immediately.

Are there any overly frustrating lights that really bug you? Faithful reader beer812 has noticed a couple in Boston that may need a tweak...

Among ones that I have personally experienced are Surface Road at State Street (which is one of the reasons why the O'Neill North Tunnel backs up at the Government Center off-ramp), and Purchase Street, near South Station (which causes the O'Neill South Tunnel to backup at Exit 20).

Leave your least-favorite-seemingly-laggy lights in the comments. (And I can tell you that I'll be trying to figure out the "max green time" more often when I'm bugged by a light.)

Troubles continue on 24

Just days after State Police announced they would be stepping up patrols on weekends on Route 24 and Interstate 195, tragedy struck again on a stretch of road that's become more deadly as the weeks go on.

A Needham man, 29 year old Adam Trudeau, was reportedly struck and killed around 1:15 in the morning early on Sunday. According to officials, Trudeau was walking in the travel lanes of 24 in the Randolph stretch when he was hit by a red Hyundai. That car fled the scene before police could interview the driver, or get the full story.

There's still no word on why Trudeau was standing in the middle of the road at the time. Trudeau is the seventh person to die this year on Route 24. That, compared to last year's five deaths overall on the road, provides for some troubling speculation.

So what of the heavier police presence on the road that authorities announced only days beforehand? Officials at the state police say the Randolph area is not one that's included in their new patrol area. They've been focusing on the Brockton area south to Fall River, where they've seen most of the serious incidents.

State Police spokesman David Procopio:

“We are investigating why the victim in the overnight crash exited his car and stepped onto the highway in front of oncoming traffic... Regardless of his motive, it is hard to prevent a crash when someone does that, especially at night.”

Full story here.

What do you think is the cure for the troubling trend on 24? Should the increased patrols - 11 extra cars on the road each Friday and Saturday night - be a year-long thing? I'm interested to hear your thoughts in the comments. One thought on my end: those patrols should be increased on the entire stretch of 24. It's a notorious road for speeders and erratic driving. The extra seven miles in coverage could save a life.

You'll find slowdowns here...

Mass Pike Westbound:

Arlington Street ramp to I-90 WB closed Monday through Tuesday from 9 PM to 5 AM.

Copley Square ramp to I-90 WB closed Monday through Tuesday from 9 PM to 5 AM.

The ramps from Congress St. to I-93 and the Ted Williams Tunnel to I-93 will be closed Monday through Wednesday from 11:30 PM to 5 AM.

The ramps from the Sumner Tunnel to the Surface Artery, as well as the ramps from the Sumner Tunnel to I-93 NB will be closed on Wednesday from 11:30 PM to 5 AM.

Mass Pike Eastbound:

The ramps from exit 20 NB to I-90 EB/Airport and the ramp from Northbound Frontage Rd. to I-90 EB/Airport will be closed on Monday and Tuesday from 11:59 PM to 5 AM.

The ramp from the South Boston Bypass Road to I-90 EB will be closed on Thursday from 11:59 PM to 5 AM.

Boston Tunnels

The ramps from exit 26 to I-93 NB and the Sumner Tunnel to Storrow Drive will be closed Monday and Tuesday from 11:30 PM to 5 AM.

Surface Artery NB ramp to I-93 NB will be closed Monday through Wednesday from 11:30 PM to 5 AM.

The ramp from Leverett Circle to I-93 NB will be closed Monday from 11:59 PM to 5 AM.

The Exit 23 ramp to Government Center will be closed on Wednesday from 10 PM to 5 AM.

The ramp from Atlantic Ave. to I-93 NB will close Thursday from 10 PM to 5 AM.

The ramp from Leverett Circle to I-93 SB will close Monday through Wednesday from 11 PM to 5 AM.

The ramps from the Surface Artery at New Chardon St. to I-93 SB, as well as the Surface Artery SB at New Chardon St. to the Callahan Tunnel will close Monday and Thursday from 11 PM to 5 AM.

The ramp from I-93 SB to Purchase St. will close Monday from 11 PM to 5 AM.

The ramp from Rutherford Ave. to I-93 SB/Storrow Drive will close Tuesday from 11:30 PM to 5 AM.

The ramp from Purchase St. at Congress St. to I-93 SB/I-90 WB will close on Thursday from 11 PM to 5 AM.

Storrow Drive Tunnel will be closed in both directions each night Monday through Thursday from 11:30 PM to 5:00 AM.

The ramp from Route 128 to the Burgin Parkway will close Monday through Thursday from 9 PM to 5 AM.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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