CARLSBAD — It’s easy to pinpoint the troublesome stretches along Carlsbad’s streets: the streets that get clogged during the holidays or the places where it seems to take forever for the light to turn green.
In a discussion following the Feb. 18 city council meeting, Mayor Matt Hall mentioned the congestion along Carlsbad Boulevard during the summer caused by the slow light at Carlsbad Village Drive.
Planning Commissioner Velyn Anderson brought up the slew of red lights she once faced trying to get from La Costa Avenue to California state Route 78 during a meeting on Feb. 19.
The answers to how and when lights turn in Carlsbad are found in tucked away behind offices and cubicles on the second floor of the Faraday Avenue city building. That’s where — the troubleshooters of traffic, the supervisors of signals — Carlsbad’s traffic management team makes their moves.
Standing before a wall of flat screen televisions displaying video feed from numerous traffic cameras, senior traffic engineer Doug Bilse revealed how establishing the traffic management center has drastically changed traffic management in the city for the better.
A few years ago, the city’s traffic specialists had to rely on complaints from the public and travel to a problematic intersection to fix traffic issues.
The traffic controllers used at the city’s approximately 170 traffic lights were designed in the 1970s and lack several intelligent features.
“Our watches today are likely more technologically advanced than these controllers are,” said Brian Wagner, the city’s traffic systems operations specialist. “They’re not computers.”
So the city created a wireless network between the city’s traffic cameras, controllers, and signals and connected it to the traffic management center.
Now the city’s traffic division is able to monitor and control all of the city’s traffic controllers remotely at any time, Bilse and Wagner explained. Operators can add in information about current traffic conditions and past traffic patterns to implement the best traffic signal light patterns at any given time.
So if there is a back up at an intersection on El Camino Real during evening rush hour, traffic operators will be able to observe the problem in real time and change the traffic signal’s plan to better suit the cars on the road at that time.
Aside from being able to resolve traffic signal problems within minutes, the traffic division also has the capacity to collect a range of data about traffic trends and how traffic signal patterns impact traffic flow.
The city recently began collecting information about the timing of green and red lights at each intersection to figure out which traffic patterns work best during different times of day during different times of year. Bilse said the city plans to develop a more extensive range of signal patterns to help traffic flows outside of established rush hours, including during holidays.
The city does not keep recordings from its traffic cameras for legal reasons, said Kathy Dodson, Carlsbad’s economic development manager. But doing so might be a discussion for City Council in the future since the information could be used to track cars in an emergency situation and collect information about traffic accidents.
Despite the advancements, the traffic division still has some challenges to hammer out.
Though traffic controllers can now send information to the traffic management center and receive commands, the devices still are unable to identify traffic patterns or communicate with other controllers.
“We used to be dumb and blind. We’re still dumb, but we’re not blind,” said Bilse.
He went on to explain that ultimately there is no way to implement green lights for every car. Ultimately traffic management is a balancing act between the needs of cars going in different directions as well as pedestrians.
He said a common joke in the traffic division is, “As long as everyone is complaining equally (about red lights), then we know we are doing our job.”