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Hawaii News

Traffic-light patterns based on formulas that fit volume

A parkway is a two-way street, and so is this column.

I’ve received a lot of encouraging e-mails during the first month of this column from a lot of people who needed to let off some steam.

I’ve decided to dedicate each first Friday of the month to answering some of your questions and concerns.

If there’s anything on your mind, don’t hesitate to ask, and I’ll try my best to respond, either by e-mail or through this column.

So without further ado:

QUESTION: I often find it hard to believe that it’s 2011 and I’m sitting at a red light with literally no one crossing the intersection on the green light. I know there is a traffic command center, but are there enough people to man it?

ANSWER: Machines dictate traffic light patterns.

Traffic lights around Oahu are managed at the Traffic Management Center, but all run on a formula unique to each light and intersection.

There are also patterns for different times of day or week, says Wayne Yoshioka, director for the city Department of Transportation Services. At night some intersection lights are triggered by motion sensing a vehicle or pedestrian.

So why does it seem like you can get lucky (or unlucky) with the lights?

Well, for areas with heavy foot traffic like in downtown, the pedestrian lights are fixed.

Also, should an ambulance pass through an intersection, the light will be reset to accommodate the emergency vehicle. Once it does that, it starts the light cycle all over again, throwing off the normal routine for some time.

City employees have the ability to override the programmed signal, but do so on rare occasions like when accidents require lane closings.

"It’s clear that would cause all sorts of pandemonium, so we give them more green time and they’ll make the adjustments," Yoshioka says.

Traffic-light timing is a perpetual work in progress, and the city is doing studies in various parts of the island to re-jigger the patterns. This analysis takes into account many factors, including the number of pedestrians, time of day and roads that might funnel vehicles to the light.

Q: What are the estimates for the price of a ticket to ride rail? Will this be included with the bus ticket fee?

A: We probably won’t see a price estimate for rail tickets for a long time. The yet-to-be-formed 10-member Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation will set those fares.

But if you go by the city’s word, expect the fares to be comparable to what you pay for TheBus. And yes, if it all goes to plan, bus transfers will be valid. So you can ride a bus to a rail station, then transfer to the rail.

And there will likely be a universal transit pass for using the bus or rail. All of that, of course, is still subject to approval of the rail authority somewhere down the road.

Gene Park can be reached at gpark@staradvertiser.com or on Twitter as @GenePark.


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