Upgrades shrink Hiawatha delays

Minnesota's first light rail line got some deserved criticism for the auto traffic delays it caused along its Hiawatha Avenue corridor in Minneapolis. Some drivers had to wait as much as 11 minutes to get a green light at street crossings when passing trains scrambled the traffic signals.

Now, after eight years of these glitches, a multi-agency project has upgraded the signal system to where the maximum wait is 4 minutes and the incidence of delays over 2 minutes has beem cut in half, according to a city engineering study of the improvements.

When the line opened in 2004, technology wasn't available to smooth out the traffic conflicts. Every time a train passed an intersection, signals restarted, often leaving motorists on cross streets idling for what seemed like forever. (I know. I live in the neighborhood.)

Since then, vehicle sensors in pavement and signal software specifically designed for light rail-street interfaces have been improved to cut down the wasted time at seven intersections from 50th Street and 26th Street. For example, green lights now skip a spot if no cars are waiting there, meaning that drivers with the longest delays get the right-of-way sooner.

The project, a partnership of the City of Minneapolis, Metro Transit, Hennepin County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, shows that a multimodal transportation system can operate without undue conflict between trains and cars if government teams up to solve problems.

(Photo credit: Meet Minneapolis)

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Conrad deFiebre's picture
Conrad deFiebre

Conrad deFiebre is a Transportation Fellow at Minnesota 2020.