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Traffic studies to determine trouble spots

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Safer streets: Greenfield Police Maj. Derek Towle checks out new equipment that will be used to collect data on speed, time of day and type of vehicle. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
Safer streets: Greenfield Police Maj. Derek Towle checks out new equipment that will be used to collect data on speed, time of day and type of vehicle. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Traffic congestion and safety on city streets will be monitored more accurately this year now that the city has four new traffic counters, Greenfield Police Maj. Derek Towle says.

The city’s board of works approved the purchase of the new technology last week. By Friday, Towle, the city’s traffic safety officer, was opening boxes and sorting through the new items.

While the black tubes and metal boxes might not look like much, city officials say they are the key in figuring out how to manage traffic congestion and make the city’s streets safer.

Two tubes are set on a street and are connected to a box full of electronics, where speed, time of day and even type of vehicle is recorded.

“As the vehicles go over it, it sets off a puff of air to the traffic counter,” Towle said.

The puffs of air determine what type of vehicle passed by measuring the distance between the front and rear tires. Speed and direction are also recorded.

And with four traffic counters, Towle said he will be able to study all four legs of an intersection at one time, cutting to one week the monitoring that used to take a month.

The equipment, valued at about $4,000, replaces one traffic counter that the city has had on hand about 20 years. The old traffic counter was no longer compatible with the city’s computers, whereas the new traffic counters can be plugged in easily to pull data.

Analyzing the data can tell Towle all sorts of things, from whether more police patrols are needed to target speeders to whether a long-term solution is needed at a constantly congested intersection.

Starting this spring, Towle said, he will begin putting the traffic counters at key intersections to determine whether there should be more police presence. The counters cannot photograph license plates, he said, but he can tell if a certain type of vehicle is speeding through an intersection daily.

“It’ll tell me which direction it’s traveling, and it’ll also tell me the speed of the vehicle,” he said of the technology.

Greenfield City Council President John Patton said that’s good news for local residents, especially because he hears concerns from the public. For example, Patton said officials are concerned about vehicles speeding in the neighborhoods around Greenfield-Central High School.

“If we have a complaint from one neighborhood that says there’s a dump truck speeding through the neighborhood, we can identify the dump truck, how fast it’s going and what time it’s going through the neighborhood,” Patton said. “We can direct police resources at the appropriate time. Before, we didn’t have the ability to do that.”

Patton, who served on the city’s traffic safety committee last year, said he’s also concerned about pedestrian traffic crossing State Street throughout the commercial part of the city.

“I’ve seen people crossing between the stoplights at night, and the traffic goes in there at a high rate of speed,” he said. “I’m just concerned someone’s going to get hit one of these days.”

While local residents in the last few years have suggested putting pedestrian crosswalks on State Street, any changes to state highways must be approved by the Indiana Department of Transportation. Gary Pence, who’s been on the city’s traffic safety committee 25 years, said problem spots in the city are often at State and Main streets. It will be helpful to have traffic counts to determine whether signals or turn arrows need to be adjusted to improve safety, he said.

“We can find things out that we never knew about an area, say in an area in a neighborhood that might have some speed (problems),” Pence added.

Overall, Towle said the safety of the city’s streets is improving. There were 81 accidents with injuries in 2012, the lowest rate since records were kept in 1976. Problem intersections have also been improving, such as Franklin Street and New Road, where Towle said an increase in patrols led to fewer accidents in recent years. Last year, a roundabout was built at the intersection.

One intersection that is seeing an increase in accidents is State Street and McKenzie Road. In 2005, there were nine accidents at the intersection; in 2012 there were 33, an increase of 272 percent. Towle said he wants to use the new equipment to determine why accidents are on the rise there.

Greenfield is no stranger to traffic studies. In the 1990s, a bypass study was administered by INDOT to determine whether a new route should be built around the city off Interstate 70. Mike Fruth, city utility director, said the study suggested Greenfield should make improvements to its existing streets to encourage local traffic to utilize those routes.

That led to another study. The city’s 2007 thoroughfare plan listed improvements that could be made throughout the city, including the construction of several roundabouts. It also stated turn lanes should be added on Boyd Avenue so the traffic signal on State Street could be green for a longer period.  Those turn lanes are set to be added this year.

While those large traffic studies and plans were performed by consultants, the equipment purchased by the city will allow for studies to be done in-house. Karla Vincent, city engineer, said her office will work with Towle to see whether changes need to be made in the city’s streets.

She said stop signs may be added at intersections that do not have them, for example. High volume of traffic may warrant new traffic signals.

Vincent said traffic studies may even help secure funding for projects in the future. If a traffic study warrants a major change that needs to be made at an intersection, the data could be used in applications for federal grants.

That happened with a joint city/county project at CR 300N and Fortville Pike, Towle said. A traffic study 12 years ago showed that the hilly intersection had an obstructed view, which led to accidents. It took years to notice the trends and then secure the federal money for the project, but last year the intersection was leveled to improve visibility.

Towle said the new traffic counters may work in the same way. While some problems may be fixed quickly, other times it may take years to notice trends, identify a solution and find the money to fix the problem.

Patton said regardless of whether the new equipment leads to traffic solutions now or several years down the road, the new counters were a good investment for the city.

“As with everything in city, county and even state government, the limiting factor is money and time,” he said. “It’s one thing to identify a problem; it’s another thing to be able to afford the solution. We hope it will lead to changes that will improve safety.”

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