Dig Baton Rouge

Traffic Tradeoffs

By Randee Iles

“I’d rather stop at a red light than ever go through this nightmare again.”

Kody Washington found out for herself that traffic flow and safety don’t always go hand in hand.

As Washington, an LSU alumna, approached East Boyd Drive from Burbank Drive on August 9, she noticed a vehicle not following the right-turn only sign, and drove straight across Burbank Drive. She said she realized the next driver was about to try the same thing.

“I noticed him slow down as if he was going to stop, then he shot out in front of me,” said Washington. “I had no time to react, I slammed on my breaks and held my breath. Bang! Crash! I was in shock.”

Busy Burbank

A crash like Washington’s was definitely not the first or last at the intersection, where the light was removed in July 2014 to increase traffic flow on Burbank. And replacing the traffic signal is not the most recent activity on Burbank Drive. The Department of Transportation and Development recently announced the installation of a red light at the intersection of Ben Hur Road and Burbank Drive.

Lauren Lee, DOTD Public Information Officer, said the new signal will be installed by the developer through a permit, because of increased traffic from the Arlington Creek subdivision. Many wrecks have occurred at this intersection as well.

When the new signal is installed there will be five traffic lights along Burbank Drive heading to LSU’s campus, and as seen with West Parker Blvd., East Boyd Drive and Jennifer Jean Drive, too many signals close to each other can cause congestion.

Out of Sync

The city’s Chief Traffic Engineer, Ingolf Partenheimber, said even though these signals do decrease the flow of traffic, it is not cumulative as long as the lights are coordinated. Partenheimber explained that when a signal is put up, roadway capacity goes down based on the percent of time the light is green.

“It’s common sense but that’s how its done,” Partenheimber said. “It’s literally a percentage of how much green time you have, and your green time is the total cycling minus all the yellows, reds, and side street time.”

He said the more phases in a signal – for example left turn arrows and pedestrian signals – the less green time available. When the lights do not sync up is when most traffic will occur.

City Grows, Traffic Slows

Traffic signals are certainly not the only contributor to congestion around LSU. Partenheimber said there are many factors that add to traffic in Baton Rouge.

There has been speculation that after Hurricane Katrina the people who moved to Baton Rouge brought traffic with them. Partenheimber said this is only somewhat true, and that while initially there was about 100,000 extra people, that number tapered off. Some did stay though, and on top of that the city continues to grow at an average of two percent per year.

Partenheimber said traffic also becomes heavier when school is in session. All of students, faculty and staff coming to the same area are likely to increase travel times.

These are not the only contributors to congestion in the city, but with a steady population growth and the priority of safety for drivers there is no real solution to eliminate traffic.

Wheel Solutions

There are plans, however, that attempt to combat some congestion. Individuals can expect to see changes to popular roads like Nicholson Drive and Government St., not only to help increase the flow of traffic, but to be more bike-friendly as well. More travelers on their bikes means less sitting in a line of traffic.

Another project that will help alleviate congestion around LSU is the plan to build a tram between LSU and downtown so that individuals can travel between the two more easily. Partenheimber said construction on this project should happen after Nicholson Drive has been resurfaced.

Even though there are projects underway to help the flow of traffic, Partenheimber said congestion will not change much due to the steady population growth in the parish. Traffic is a trade off for citizen safety.

Congestion was the reason the signal at East Boyd Drive and Burbank Drive was removed, and the results were gruesome. When the new light is installed at Ben Hur Road, some drivers may become frustrated, but individuals like Washington who have suffered the consequences of an intersection lacking a traffic signal may not mind waiting a little longer.

“I’d offer someone who argues against the light the chance to go through what I went through,” said Washington. “Having your car totaled, having to go to physical therapy three times a week, and still attempting to live your life. I’d rather stop at a red light then ever go through this nightmare again.”

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