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Driving You Crazy: Can the traffic lights along Arapahoe Rd. be timed better to not be red all the time?

'One day I hit a perfect 25 red lights all the way to work,' Dave from Aurora says
Arapahoe Rd Red Light
Posted at 4:52 AM, Jan 24, 2023

Dave from Aurora writes, “What’s driving you crazy? Hi Jayson. The red lights along Arapahoe Road are terrible. I drive in from the far east side of Arapahoe Rd. to I-25. This drive has an eye-watering 25 lights from Powhatan to I-25. This wouldn't seem like such an issue if the lights flowed directionally with traffic, west in the morning and again east in the evening. Nearly every morning, approximately 17-20 of the intersections will be red. I have hit a perfect 25, all 25 lights red on the way to work. Someone is clearly in cahoots with the dark brake and transmission industry, not to mention the gas station managers dancing to the sounds of hard breaking and heavy acceleration by weary commuters just hoping for a single green light off in the horizon. 

Most people may just leave it at that and accept that Arapahoe Rd. is terrible, but no, this affects me deeply. I have timed this egregious delay on several occasions and have found added wait times ranging from 15-22 minutes, from red lights alone, no accidents reported by our intrepid traffic announcer on the morning news. With us working class having to return to the office for a grueling 5 days a week, this quickly adds up to 2.5 hours to 3.7 hours per week just waiting at red lights. 

Now, I have heard.... from a friend, that at various speeds... exceeding 80-90 mph, that you can hit several green lights in a row.... but, my friend, thinks that may be a bit excessive. Please, is there any other way to avoid daily start-stop whiplash of this horrendous commute?”

My first thought when it comes to driving from A to B Dave, is that when flowing freely, highways are a better option than even major arterials. While I cannot recommend that you drive Arapahoe Road at 85 mph, I can suggest at least one faster option, E-470. However, this quickest option in your case would also be the most expensive option. I calculated your daily trip on the tollway from Smoky Hill to I-25 both ways and figured it will cost you about $40 a week. I’m sure you are thinking, 'I’m not paying that!' I too would hate paying a toll to drive to work knowing I could spend that $160 a month on so many other necessities.

Back to Arapahoe Road, the problem with standardizing all of those traffic signals is they are managed by four jurisdictions. From east to west, the following agencies control the signals: Aurora - 9 signals, Centennial - 3 Signals, Arapahoe County - 2 signals, back to Aurora - 1 signal and finally CDOT - 10 signals. The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) led a signal coordination study with regional transportation planning groups to help coordinate signal timing along this major corridor. Since 1989, DRCOG has led these multijurisdictional partnerships with the goal to achieve optimal signal timing and coordination on major roadways in the region.

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“In general, traffic signal timing plans are holistically re-evaluated every five to 10 years, or as conditions change,” Carlie Campuzano, the Traffic Manager for the City of Aurora tells me. “Signal timings on Arapahoe Road were updated by the city of Aurora in spot locations two years ago and they were updated more significantly in December of 2022.”

Campuzano tells me the pandemic had a significant impact on previous traffic flows and traffic signal timing needs and adds that the city of Aurora regularly monitors their signal timing and makes minor adjustments as needed based on staff observations and resident requests.

One of the complicating factors with smooth traffic flow from southeast Aurora to the Denver Tech Center is the explosive growth around Southlands. Campuzano tells me development and growth east of E-470 has caused intersection operations to degrade in the Aurora section of Arapahoe Road.

“As a result, the city updated signal timing on Gartrell Road back in November and updated signal timing on Arapahoe Road from Smoky Hill Road to Powhaton Road in December. Other smaller signal timing adjustments have been made over the last few years as conditions have changed.”

As far as timing the lights to flow directionally with traffic as you mentioned, while each of the four separate agencies are individually responsible for the operations and maintenance of their own signals, they also have a joint plan for maximum efficiency to pass traffic volume downstream.

I’ve been told that the “bandwidth of signal coordination efficiency”, or in other words, the flow to arrive at a green light at each signal can get complicated the more signals, the more traffic volume, the more major roadways for cross coordination, and for unexpected variations in traffic volume or pattern. In fact, the USDOT has a manual all about traffic signal timing.

In the book, “Intersection Capacity Utilization: Evaluation Procedures for Intersections and Interchanges” written by David Husch and John Albeck, they advocate dividing a large system like that along Arapahoe Road into smaller subsystems, a technique called system partition. They say that speed variation due to drivers’ behavior and traffic flow conditions, most notably queuing and congestion, can significantly reduction in travel speeds.

I’ve been racking the unofficial GPS in my brain to find you a faster alternate way to work for your situation that won’t cost you tolls but it’s tricky because you have Foxfield, Centennial Airport, and the Cherry Creek Reservoir in your way. You also only have four nearby roads that cross over Cherry Creek (Arapahoe, Broncos Parkway, Cottonwood, E470). Going north on Smoky Hill to Orchard forces you back south to Arapahoe from Parker Road. Using E-470 costs mortgage money. Rolling through Foxfield puts you on a windy, neighborhood road with torqued-off residents if you zip past their home every day.

I like using the roads south of Arapahoe like Broncos Parkway and Easter. They are easier to navigate than Arapahoe but getting easily from where you start to where you end is a bit of a problem and you still have to deal with traffic signals.

Maybe for one week try the Orchard to Parker to Arapahoe to Potomac/Peakview option. Or try Arapahoe to Ireland to Long through Foxfield to Parker/Broncos Parkway to Easter/Clinton/Arapahoe. Or not eat for a few days and try E-470. Or you could tell your boss that you need to work remotely because the commute is causing you mental anguish.

I really wish I had better options for you other than learning how to fly a helicopter or getting a Star Trek style transporter which, I think we would all like to have.

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Spotify or Podbean.