SPECIAL REPORT | WDRB investigates timing of downtown Louisville - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SPECIAL REPORT | WDRB investigates timing of downtown Louisville traffic lights

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Traffic lights control how tens of thousands of drivers get in and out of downtown Louisville each day. But lately, how smooth that drive is depends which direction you're heading.  

If you're going east or west, signals are in almost perfect sync. However, when you try to go north or south between Main Street and Broadway, things can really go south. The lights seem to be completely out of sync.

"Between here and there, you're going to stop every time coming up this road," one downtown driver said. "I think it sucks."

"It used to be you could, you know, get out of town," another driver said. "And now, it seems like you stop at every light on the way home."

"So, how much time is this costing you? Well, that depends on which street you're talking about and how out of sync the lights are.  

Let's just take Sixth Street for example, starting at Main St. and going south four blocks to Muhammad Ali Boulevard. If the lights are timed and you don't have to stop, that should take just over a minute. But we figure out how long it actually takes.

The light turned green, and keep in mind, timed lights should turn green when you get to them. But, one block later, the light at Market Street actually turns red.  

A minute after that, we got through the light at Jefferson Street, but at Liberty Street, we get stopped again. And that is repeated one block later at Muhammad Ali Boulevard. When it turns green, we stopped the clock, and it showed 4:04.

That's about four times what it should take. You've lost three minutes in just the span of four blocks.

Fifth Street was about as bad. Four minutes and 20 seconds to go five blocks from Chestnut Street up to Main Street.  Seventh Street seemed relatively fast compared to those, at just over 2:30 to go from Muhammad Ali Boulevard to Main Street. Still, that's more than twice what it should take if lights were properly timed.

So what is going on?  Believe it or not, this is all part of a plan aimed at addressing what has become a big problem in Louisville -- pedestrian safety.  

This year, there have 251 incidents where cars have hit pedestrians, 194 of which have involved injuries, and 13 people have died.  

The numbers have steadily jumped, up from 225 at this point in 2010 and 206 in 2005.

Earlier this year, the city decided to put a four-second delay in the green lights at each intersection to give pedestrians that much extra time to cross the street.  

But that means that each direction sits in red for that four seconds, completely throwing a wrench in the timing. City officials knew they had a choice to make, and they decided to favor the much more heavily-traveled east-west streets.

"Main, Market and Jefferson, depending on the time of day, can have (up to) five-times the traffic as the north/south streets," said Pat Johnson, Louisville's traffic engineering manager.

Johnson says it's too early to tell how much that delay, known as the LPI, or leading pedestrian interval, is improving safety, but he says it's proven to be very effective elsewhere.

"Nationally, those cities that have introduced this LPI, (and) the results have been really good as far as reducing the crashes and fatalities," Johnson said.

Johnson also said his department has slowed the timing of the lights on east-west streets, forcing drivers to stick closer to the downtown speed limit of 25.

He says the retiming has actually caused traffic to move more smoothly east and west. But what about the folks who do most of their driving on north and south streets?

"We knew there were glitches there, but the priority was introducing the LPI and slowing the cars down, again, for mainly pedestrian safety purposes," Johnson said.

"The focus here was pedestrians over cars, and we feel like we've accomplished that."

Relief maybe coming. Johnson says that after so many complaints, they're going to try tweaking things.

But they want to wait until 3rd Street closes for the Convention Center renovation to put the new plan in place. That is expected to happen in September.

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