CARLSBAD — The city of Carlsbad is ringing in the new year with new state-of-the-art upgraded traffic signals. Drivers will notice their wait times at the busy intersections of El Camino Real and Palomar Airport Road reduced, especially during peak hours.
“A significant amount of Carlsbad’s 65,000 employees work within a 1.5-mile radius of the intersection of El Camino Real and Palomar Airport Road,” said Doug Bilse, senior traffic engineer. “These two corridors not only serve the Carlsbad community, but they provide vital links for our regional transportation network.”
Bilse pointed out there are 36 traffic signals along the El Camino Real and Palomar Airport Road corridors. On average, nearly 100,000 commuters travel those corridors on a daily basis, which is why the locale was a primary target.
“Another reason why these two roadways were selected as part of the first phase of this project is because they will form the backbone of the communications network needed for future phases to link all 170 traffic signals in Carlsbad to the new Traffic Management Center,” Bilse said.
Looking ahead, other traffic signal upgrades beginning as early as March will be happening along Rancho Santa Fe Road, Cannon Road and College Boulevard.
The first phase, however, began as a pilot program in 2010. The intelligent transportation system, and its central computer and communications system, Traffic Management Center, are the nuts and bolts behind the technology.
Bilse said the wireless connections between the controller at the traffic signal and its Traffic Management Center feed real time information to staff managing the signals.
“The new software will send out an automated alarm when the controller senses a problem with the signal operations,” he said. “By performing this work in the Traffic Management Center, not only are travel times reduced but maintenance costs go down as well.”
Other in-house maintenance includes scheduling new signal time plans, equipment diagnostic testing, restoring traffic signals and more.
The pilot program gave staff the opportunity to fine tune the wireless equipment and the Traffic Management Center. Additionally, its close-circuit television camera provides live video feeds of traffic conditions.
While final equipment upgrades to the intersection are under way, Bilse said, staff is developing new “traffic signal timing plans” to improve traffic flow at peak times. Commuters will start noticing them by February.
“We are anticipating 20 to 30 percent improvements in the peak hours,” he said. “The biggest benefit will be seen in the morning and afternoon peak periods by commuters to the Carlsbad Research Center because there is a clear traffic pattern that can be efficiently served.”
So far, the city of Carlsbad has spent $1 million on the pilot project, Traffic Management Center, and first phase. A SANDAG grant funded the central software system for the Traffic Management Center.
Recent advances in technology and price reductions in wireless technology enabled the city to pay a fraction of the cost for this project as compared to other cities who invested in fiber optic technology.
Another benefit with this new traffic signal is its upgraded sensors. Current traffic signal detection sensors don’t fare well with fog and sun glare, which cause longer wait times. The new upgrades will change all that.
“These detection devices will now be sent to the Traffic Management Center so that we can look at traffic conditions without making costly trips out in the field,” he said.
Bilse describes the “controller” as the equipment that functions as the brain of each traffic signal that determines which movement gets the next green light and how long it will stay on.
“Imagine the recent advances that have been made in home computers, networks and video feeds and you’ll understand why our staff are so excited about this project,” he said. “Our new equipment upgrades are like trading in your first computer from more than two decades ago to the latest new computer — they are faster and smarter.”