You asked: Why can’t our traffic lights be more efficient?

Published 11:06 pm Saturday, September 7, 2013

You asked: Why can’t our traffic lights be more efficient? An example is the traffic light at Turlington Road and Carolina Road. Why is this traffic light even there? — B.H., Suffolk

City Traffic Engineer Robert Lewis said traffic lights in the city are frequently reviewed to ensure they are operating at maximum efficiency.

“Every year, we will pick a couple of corridors and re-time the signals in a coordinated fashion,” Lewis said. “We try to figure out how we can meet everybody’s needs with the least amount of delay.”


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Lewis said the city is looking into software that would automatically adjust the timing of lights based on the amount of traffic, which would be especially helpful in cases like on Bridge Road, when there’s a wreck on Interstate 664 and traffic leaves the interstate to try to get to the James River Bridge.

Some drivers might think signals are inefficient during times such as when a wreck has been cleared but the backup remains, or when a light temporarily malfunctions, Lewis added.

As for why lights are installed in the first place, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the standard for the United States, lists 12 different situations, such as traffic volume or a high number of crashes, that can warrant a traffic signal. However, engineers use their own judgment, Lewis said.

In the case of the signal at Turlington and Carolina roads, traffic volume in that area used to be higher than it is today, Lewis said. It is harder to take down a signal than it is to put one up, he added.

“There’s a lot of vested ownership in a signal once it’s up,” he said, adding he uses the intersection frequently. “I haven’t noticed any real inefficiencies in it.”

Even so, he said he would try to put the intersection on the study schedule for the near future.

“You Asked” is a new feature in the Suffolk News-Herald, and we want you to submit ideas for it. Ask a question about something you’ve always wanted to know, and we will track down the answer. Submit your ideas to with “You Asked” in the subject line.