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Driving You Crazy: Why is the turn light from 1st Ave. to University Blvd. in Cherry Creek North so short?

It lasts only long enough for one, maybe two cars to get through without running the light!
First & University turn
Posted at 4:44 AM, Sep 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-06 11:48:34-04

Katie from Denver writes, “What's driving you crazy? The left turn from 1st Ave onto University drives me absolutely insane. The turn light is so short. It lasts only long enough for one, maybe two cars to get through without running the light! It drives me crazy and I would love to know why the left turn light is programmed so badly.”

I receive complaints all the time about poorly timed traffic lights or lights that seem to not change for a long time. In general, traffic signals in Denver are set to allow for more traffic to flow into downtown in the morning and out of downtown in the afternoons. You also have to know that the most recent philosophy for Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure is to set traffic signal timing to help all the alternate forms of transportation other than vehicles.

That intersection of 1st Ave. and University Boulevard is a busy one. According to the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), on average more than 50,000 vehicles use 1st Ave. at University every day and over 45,000 vehicles use University just south of 1st Ave. every day. With such high traffic volume, the city timed the lights to allow for the most amount of traffic flow possible while also allowing for people to have the time to cross as much as 200 feet of distance.

“Pedestrians are prioritized, first given the time they need to safety cross the street on foot, and then time is given to the various vehicle movements,” Vanessa Lacayo with DOTI told me. “This intersection is a busy one, supporting high volumes of people traveling by car in multiple directions- going through the intersection, turning in multiple directions- and must provide time for people to safely cross on foot, all in about the span of two minutes. So that two minutes is divvied up between all the different movements at the intersection.”

Unfortunately, the time allotted to make that eastbound to northbound turn onto Josephine Street is short. When I went to the intersection after the morning commute to time the signals, I found the overall signal timing was set to allow one minute for University Boulevard traffic and one minute for 1st Ave. traffic. Your turn light was on for about 12 seconds of the 60 total seconds allotted for 1st Ave. traffic. That time could be a few seconds shorter in the heart of the morning commute. One of the problems I noticed was if the lead driver isn’t paying attention and gets off the line late, everyone in the cue will be delayed and only three or four vehicles will get through. Five or six cars can make it if they blow through the yellow and red light.

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The city tells me the light timing in the morning is designed to allow for more traffic to flow heading into downtown and prevent backups on Speer Boulevard and University Boulevard. It is just the opposite in the afternoons with more time allotted for eastbound traffic out of downtown.

As for getting through there quicker, I would try for a couple days going past that turn, down a block to Clayton Street or Detroit Street and make the left there, then come back to Josephine Street using 2nd or 3rd Ave. I believe you will make the left turn faster and save time and aggravation rather than waiting to turn at 1st. You could also turn early at Gilpin Street and then go up to 4th and then over to University or Josephine. Of course, watch your speed through those areas. Give those a shot and see if they work better for you and lower your blood pressure every morning.

Why is the turn light from 1st Ave. to University Blvd. in Cherry Creek North so short?

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.