Driving You Crazy: What in the world is going on with the traffic light at 18th and Broadway?

The light is set so far ahead of the crosswalk
Posted at 6:39 AM, Jun 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-15 09:09:44-04

Molly K from Denver writes, “What in the world is going on with the light at 18th and Broadway?! The light is set so far ahead of the crosswalk and into 18th so at EVERY. SINGLE. LIGHT CYCLE some poor South Broadway bound soul finds themselves marooned in the intersection blocking the lanes of those traveling 18th. The horns honked at those stunned souls is merciless when really their only mistake is missing the small "stop here on red" sign half a block back. As a native this has always been a problem and it's common knowledge that you never drive in the right lane of 18th as you prepare to make the curve so to avoid this very thing. Seems like an easy fix?" 

That intersection Molly is a unique one for sure. I find it quite fun when the light is timed right and traffic is light to go west on 18th Ave down the hill and make the right curve to 18th Street. 

The problem with this intersection really starts with how the downtown streets are aligned compared to the rest of Denver. When downtown Denver was founded, the early miners aligned their streets with Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. Both flow in a 45 degree angle to north, south, east & west. Years later as Denver started to grow, the rest of town was aligned in a north/south/east/west grid in accordance to the federal government surveying standards at that time. The intersection of Broadway, Tremont and 18th is one of many where angled conflicts make navigating these intersections a challenge.  

Westbound 18th Ave has more of a jog to the right as it crosses Broadway transitioning to 18th Street in front of the Trinity church than going left onto either Tremont or Broadway. Because of that angle, Denver Public Works created the large open space on Broadway between the traffic light and crosswalk so there would be enough room for drivers making the turn from 18th Ave to 18th Street. When I talked to Denver Public Works about your complaint they told me they realize this is a problem intersection but there isn’t much they can do at this point.

“To try to minimize the number of vehicles stopped in the intersection at Broadway and blocking travel lanes on 18th Avenue, Denver Public Works traffic engineers continually monitor the intersection and make signal timing adjustments if needed, especially during peak travel times. In addition, there are also two signs installed on both sides of Broadway that state “Do Not Block Intersection” to warn drivers,” said Heather Burke, Marketing & Communications Specialist with Denver Public Works.  

To accommodate the vehicles transitioning from 18th Ave to 18th Street, the stop bar and crosswalk on southbound Broadway is more than 100 feet back from where the traffic lights hang over the road. That no-man’s land is where many vehicles get stranded when the light turns red, especially during the lunch and evening rush. Denver Public Works tells me there is a reason they set up the intersection this way.

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“This is to ensure pedestrians can safely cross this large intersection, no matter which street they are trying to access. Despite the complex layout, our goal is to always strike a balance between mobility and safety for drivers, people on bikes and pedestrians,” said Burke.

My gut tells me that if another set of traffic lights were hanging over Broadway at the crosswalk, fewer drivers would get marooned in the intersection to use your words. The lights could even hang over Broadway at the same angle as 18th. I think drivers would feel compelled to stay back where the overhead lights hang until the intersection is clear. I think it might also help to have the lights downstream stay green a bit longer to allow for some of that trapped traffic to clear that dead zone and then wouldn’t block 18th. Until I become the director of transportation for Denver Public Works, which will be never, unfortunately it seems that you will have to keep spreading the word to all of the newbies that arrive in town seemingly every day how to do it right.  

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 and Twitter or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunesSoundCloudStitcher or Google Play