Cathy from Arvada writes, “What is driving you crazy? Every morning for the last few weeks, southbound Speer backs up from Auraria, sometimes as far back as Federal. They need to give more time on the lights for Speer.”
Speer is one of my favorite streets in Denver. It can be such a great way to get from I-25 across downtown to or from Cherry Creek. It can also be a terrible drive when you don't catch the lights just right or it is clogged with drivers trying to escape I-25.
I think the majority of the delays for drivers on Speer are now due to the longer time given to people who are crossing the street. Everyone can see that there are many more people living and working in downtown Denver than ever before and many of those people walk or ride bikes. The specific problem with Speer is that it is a wider than average road. It is over 100 feet across along most of it and means it takes longer for people to walk across the street.
Heather Burke, Communications Specialist with Denver Public Works tells me, “Denver Public Works has specially timed the traffic signals along Speer, so pedestrians have enough time to cross safely, especially at Wewatta Street. Per federal requirements, we’re giving people more time to cross the street, as studies have found Americans are walking more slowly than we used to!”
Wewatta Street is right across from Pepsi Center. That walk from sidewalk to sidewalk is about 139 feet. The typical person walks around 2.5 mph to 3 mph so doing the math, that crossing should take 32 to 39 seconds to cross, at a minimum. But just because that is the minimum crossing time, that doesn’t mean thats how long you will wait at the light in your car. Heather Burke tells me, at most traffic lights in Denver, signal cycle lengths run between 90 and 120 seconds.
“Cycle length is the total signal time provided to accommodate all users of the intersection and the movements that are occurring, including people walking, biking, and driving. Signal timing involves deciding how much green time the traffic lights provide at an intersection and how long the pedestrian WALK signal should be,” Burke says.
When you add that two minutes to the time you sit at the traffic lights at Auraria Pkwy, Larimer, Lawrence, Arapahoe, Champa, Stout, Colfax and all the rest, you are sitting in traffic longer and longer than ever before.
The challenge for traffic engineers is deciding how much green time the traffic lights should provide at an intersection for vehicles and how long the pedestrian walk signal should be. DPW tells me, the timing of signals in Denver are fixed to anticipate traffic and formulate the best possible progression.
Major corridors, like Speer Blvd, are looked at every three years. There are some cases where the city retimes a traffic signal or group of signals sooner than every three years, if the city determines there are major developments or changes along certain streets or neighborhoods.
The next time that section of Speer, from Federal to the Denver Country Club, is scheduled to be retimed is 2019. Maybe by then the timing will be changed in yours, and other drivers favor, but my gut tells me the timing will probably continue to favor people outside a car rather than inside one.
Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Podbean.