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Driving You Crazy: What are these special traffic signals with bars instead of round lights?

It is either a horizontal or vertical line and seems like they are for buses only
Bus Priority Signal
Posted at 4:30 AM, Feb 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-27 09:25:54-05

Jill from Parker writes, “What’s driving you crazy? I'd like some direction for the traffic signals that relate to buses. There is one at 6th and Havana. It is either a horizontal or vertical line and is for buses only. I have never seen anything like that. I have looked but don't find any good, reliable information.”

Those bus only signals, also known as queue jumps, have been in place for years at select intersections around metro Denver. The one I know best is on northbound Lincoln Street at 13th Ave. There is another on Lincoln St at 18th Ave. The specific queue jump signal you mentioned is for buses going northbound on Havana Street at 6th Ave. It was installed by the City of Aurora in partnership with RTD in late 2022. A second queue jump signal was installed along northbound Havana Street at Colfax at the same time.

These queue jumps are usually placed on a traffic signal where a bus stops before an intersection, also called a near side stop. The bus only signals allow the bus driver to get a head start at the light, mainly so they don’t have to compete with general traffic to get into the flow of traffic, especially on busy roads. The signals are also instrumental for bus drivers who need to merge across all lanes to make an upcoming left.

MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

The signal is usually a vertical bar that comes on for about 3 to 5 seconds before the green signal illuminates for all vehicles. The vertical bar acts basically as a green light for buses. The horizontal bar acts as a red light for buses, although I’m told by RTD that bus drivers can still merge into the through lane to proceed if they have the horizontal bar.

The queue jump at Havana and 6th is especially useful for buses that need to merge into traffic because their lane is ending. The queue jump on Havana at Colfax is helpful as it allows bus drivers to bypass waiting traffic to more quickly serve the far side stop. Typically for far side stops, ones that are located after the signal, there is no need for a queue jump, however, RTD has a system along part of Colfax and along Havana from Parker Road to Montview called Transit Signal Priority (TSP). TSP allows buses to electronically request a longer green signal, usually 5-10 seconds, or shorter red signal as they approach an intersection. It is designed to keep bus transit moving faster to reduce delays with a minimal impact to other vehicles. TSP is also active along U.S. Route 36 in Westminster.

Major roadways aren’t the only place where queue jump signals are used. They will be used at several intersections in Boulder County along Highway 119 between Boulder and Longmont. When a bus approaches one of these special intersections, it will pull into a dedicated bus-only lane. The bus will receive a special traffic signal that allows it to proceed while the general traffic remains stopped at the red light. Because buses have the special traffic signal, they can get a head start, jump ahead of the traffic, and merge more safely back into the general traffic lanes. Along the Highway 119 corridor, all queue bypass lanes will be on the left side of the intersections, closest to the center median between northbound and southbound Highway 119.

RTD tells me there are a few other major queue jump signals including one along westbound Colfax at Lipan and one along westbound 60th Ave. at Dahlia in Commerce City. By the way, here is a link for a story I previously wrote describing the differences between near side and far side stops and why they are important.

What are these special traffic signals with bars instead of round lights?

Denver7 Traffic Expert 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 any podcast app including iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Podbean.