Signal Synchronization

As a driver it can be frustrating to stop at multiple signals along an arterial street. No sooner do you get your speed up and into the flow, and another red light brings you to a stop. To assist drivers in Elk Grove, the City has synchronized the signals along several streets. The goal is to synchronize the signals so that drivers receive a green light before they arrive at the next signal, reducing the number of times they have to stop.

What exactly does this mean?

  • Groups of signals are working together to allow drivers to get mostly green lights when traveling along a major street
  • By driving near the speed limit, signal lights are timed to turn green at the intersections ahead before you get there
  • This should save you time, the further you drive – and be less stressful as there is no need to speed up

Why do I have to “wait” so long on the side street or left turn lanes when no one is coming?

  • Because the signals are working in a group, the vehicles on the major street receive priority
  • And once you turn onto the major street, you should easily be able to save more time than you waited

How long should the “wait” be?

  • Typically the maximum time does not exceed 90-100 seconds, depending on the time of day and when you arrived

What happens if an emergency vehicle goes by?

  • The signals are equipped with special devices to give various emergency vehicles ( PD, Fire, and Ambulance ) priority at an intersection
  • The signal will change to green for the direction the emergency vehicle is traveling, and red for all other directions for their safety

This may cause the “wait” time to be longer, to clear the emergency vehicle

Sometimes I get stopped on the major street and delayed a long time, and don’t see an emergency vehicle; are there other reasons for this delay?

  • There can be several reasons for delays - pedestrians crossing, signal trying to get back in step with others in the group, or even a malfunction that holds the signal after the cars have all passed

Can I speed up along the street and make all the lights?

  • The signal knows how long it takes to drive from the previous signal, and won’t change the lights to green until it is programmed to. The lights are programmed for drivers to travel at or near the speed limit. If you drive faster, you will arrive at the next signal too soon and the light will still be red.
  • By speeding up, you will actually stop more, so better if you drive with the flow near the speed limit for which the signals are timed

What are the benefits of synchronization – why are we doing this?

  • Signal synchronization is a low cost, very effective way to increase the capacity on a street and improve the flow, and avoid or delay much more costly widening projects
  • There are many other benefits from signal synchronization:
    • Reducing the number of times you have to stop at a signal
    • Saving you time in your trip across town
    • Reducing the amount of gas you use
    • Saving you money to use otherwise
    • Reducing vehicle emissions in Elk Grove
    • Improving air quality in Elk Grove
    • Reducing stress, frustration and aggressive driving
    • Improving safety and reducing accidents
    • Rewarding drivers for staying close to the speed limit
    • Reducing congestion and improving the flow
    • Reducing response times for emergency vehicles

Are all routes synchronized?

  • No.  Currently there are only two streets synchronized:
    • Laguna – Bond Road between Harbour Point to Emerald Crest
    • Elk Grove Blvd. between Harbour Point-West Taron to Williamson
  • By the end of this year? the following streets will be synchronized:
    • Franklin between Elk Grove Blvd and Big Horn Blvd
    • Bruceville between Elk Grove Blvd. and Big Horn Blvd.
  • Next year we are hoping to add 4 more major streets (Sheldon, Big Horn, Elk Grove Florin and Whitelock)

When is the signal lights synchronized?

  • Currently the signals start synchronizing in the morning about 6am and they stop in the evening after about 8pm
  • They primarily work Monday to Friday, but in some areas also on the weekends from 9:30am to 8pm

Does it matter what direction I am driving?

  • Generally no, the lights are programmed to give the priority to both directions on the major street

What happens at other times, late at night or weekends for example?

  • Late at night, when traffic volumes are much lower, the lights will turn green for the side streets or left turn lanes much sooner, as signals are not synchronized
  • This will reduce the “wait” for these directions, but traffic traveling along the major street may stop more often

Are there any enhancements to the signal system that the City is pursuing?

  • Yes, the City received a grant to add a few new features to the signal network including:
    • Traffic responsive signals – which means that the signals will adjust automatically as the volumes go up or down. This is especially a benefit when an incident on the freeway causes traffic to divert, or a special event lets out at night; whatever the situation, signals will respond  accordingly
    • More closed circuit television cameras to verify traffic conditions and for monitoring the performance of the signals, allowing Traffic Management Center personnel to make adjustments quickly in response to changing traffic patterns
    • Improved website whereby drivers can view traffic conditions on a map to plan their route

Who can I thank or call if I have questions?

  • You can call the City of Elk Grove Public Works Department at (916) 478-2256

“While I won’t always get all green lights, I should get several in a row along major streets and reduce my overall trip travel time. By doing so, I will also save gas, money and produce less emissions. The City is constantly adjusting the signals to compensate for the ever changing traffic patterns that Elk Grove experiences. I know if I drive close to the speed limits, my chances of stopping less improve greatly, and I will have a safer, less stressful drive in the process. I like synchronization !! “

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