Amazing what happens without traffic lights


As with many thunderstorms, traffic signals are sometimes knocked off line by power failures or other damage. With Gustav, we had massive failures of traffic signals. During the first week post-storm, it wasn’t a big problem. People knew to approach unlit intersections as four-way stops. Not a lot of people on the road, because they were either at home cleaning up, or waiting in line somewhere for food, fuel and tarps.

But on Monday, when much of the city tried to get back to work, it was a different story. The major intersections near the house (Acadian/Perkins, College/Perkins, College/I-10) were complete disasters. It took me 50 minutes to go about 1 1/2 miles along a two-lane road, bumper-to-bumper. And the worst part was that the city police felt they couldn’t do anything about it (i.e. put traffic cops at these critical intersections to keep traffic moving). Tuesday was even worse. And then about mid-day Tuesday, the city got wise and starting placing traffic cops all over town to help traffic move along. Lo and behold, the traffic problems were greatly reduced, and based on what I saw, the lines at the intersections were cut significantly.

And then the power came back to the signals!

The issue with traffic signals, though, was not limited to power. The city is in the midst of replacing wire-hung signals at major intersections with steel poles and standards which are much more stable and resistant to damage from things like hurricanes. As part of the safety features, these standards will actually allow heavy winds to turn them (kind of like wind vanes) so that they don’t blow over or fall down. At both College/Perkins and Acadian/Perkins, the signals were turned almost 90° by the hurricane. So before the city could completely re-automate the traffic signals, they had to come with cranes and turn the standards back into place.

Still, the power is on, the signals are working and traffic has returned to its normal level of congestion.

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