City of Kent may replace old traffic lights to decrease congestion

Dave Yochum

New traffic lights could have drivers and the City of Kent seeing more green.

Acting City Engineer Chris Tolnar said Kent has applied for funding from the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study to replace outdated traffic signals and actuators. Current traffic lights are nearly 20 years old, making them problematic and inefficient compared to new signaling technology. New traffic lights should help decrease congestion around the city and stop bottlenecking, said city council member Wayne Wilson.

Tolnar said believes upgrading the lights will curb pollution levels and increase safety. New lights could also lower the City of Kent’s electricity and maintenance costs.

“Our hope would be that we can better configure lighting with the side streets to keep traffic flowing,” Tolnar said. “That way, we can also minimize emissions from cars constantly stopping and starting.”

Tolnar said signals on East Main Street could be replaced with camera actuators and more intelligent traffic lights.

Drivers, such as Jessica Riley, graduate student in architecture and environmental design, have experienced problems using the older traffic signals when turning onto East Main.

“If you’re coming out of one of those back neighborhoods near the White Hall intersection, it can be dangerous turning at the light,” Riley said. “There are no turning lanes or arrows.”

Riley also voiced frustrations about the lengthy red light on Midway Drive. Other students and faculty agreed the Midway light “takes forever” to turn green, even when cars are sitting on the light actuator.

However, Tolnar said the city hasn’t received any reports of an actuator malfunction on Midway. As of Monday, the traffic signal’s actuator was functioning, because waiting time decreased when cars rolled over the actuator.

While adding signals with camera actuators could help accommodate side traffic, new energy-efficient LED (light emitting diode) traffic lights could save Kent money.

LED traffic signals power numerous tiny lights to create the illusion of a single light; whereas Kent’s older traffic lights rely on a large halogen or incandescent bulb to signal traffic.

Energy Star, a government-backed program promoting LED traffic signals, advertises the lights as being environmentally friendly, using 90 percent less energy than conventional signals. The program also claims LED lights rarely fail, reducing the risk of intersection accidents and liability costs.

The city of Mesa, Ariz., praised LED lights for lowering the city’s electric bill by $260,000.

Though the city of Kent has already requested federal funding to help purchase new traffic signals, Tolnar said light replacement may not be financed until 2010.

City council approved funding applications last February.

Contact transportation reporter Dave Yochum at [email protected].