LIMA — Need to head east or west across the City of Lima? Better plan for a 20-minute drive dotted with plenty of red lights and stop signs.
“It shouldn’t be like an adventure to go from one side of town to the other,” Lima resident Tyler Hawk said during a forum to discuss regional issues. “(Lima) is not that big.”
The talk of vibrancy has been trending in Lima in recent years as city and business leaders work to push the region out from under the aftereffects of the Great Recession, but if it’s the energy of the city that needs accelerated, the city could lose some stop-lights. Literally.
In total, Lima has 104 traffic lights within city bounds running on a coordinated system, and about 25 could probably be removed to shuffle traffic more quickly without hampering public safety, Lima Public Works Director Howard Elstro said.
“When you have too many signals in the system, it comes at a cost of efficiency,” Elstro said. “It costs money to operate signals. It costs drivers time and fuel, and it adds to the degradation of our environment by emissions.”
But would it come at the cost of safety?
Both Elstro and City Engineer Kirk Niemeyer agreed that traffic signals don’t always equate to a safe intersection and unwarranted lights may actually increase rear-end collisions.
“There are people who misunderstand traffic signals and think that a signalized intersection improves safety, which is not true,” Elstro said.
In fact, Niemeyer said the city is currently eyeing a few on Market Street that may be unwarranted and clogging up traffic near downtown. Whatever the case, the final decision will be guided by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices — a six-inch wide three-ring binder issued by the Federal High Administration.
Niemeyer said most cities and transportation agencies tend to rely on the document, and its use is intended to create a uniform system across the nation so someone from California will know, for the most part, how to drive on Ohio streets, or vice versa. When it comes to deciding which lights go where, the MUTCD can tell you the answer.
Niemeyer said the basic process of deciding whether to light or re-sign an intersection is to gather the traffic data associated with the intersection and then give a recommendation, which is often referenced by Lima’s traffic commission.
But it’s Lima City Council who has the last say, and Elstro said efforts to remove lights have been both approved and resisted in the past. Either way, knowing exactly what an intersection may need or not need isn’t always so simple as reading from a book when populations and politics can shift.
“We have newer traffic counters, and some of the speeds are high,” Niemeyer said when asked about past councilor requests to add signage to intersections. “Those are the ones that people notice. A majority of the traffic is driving sensibly and driving the posted speeds in our residential areas. Some are driving way in the excess of that.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.