AUSTIN (KXAN) – The constant, crazy congestion on Austin streets can seem like a distant memory, and the city is having to make some adjustments.
“Roads in particular near schools, near campus are (at) much much lower traffic levels than they were pre-pandemic. I would say around half,” says Jennifer Duthie, the managing engineer at Austin’s Mobility Management Center.
The MMC oversees more than 1,600 traffic signals and beacons across the city. “We can see what the status is of the traffic signal, how its performing and make changes remotely,” Duthie says.
For instance, in the last week of January, average commute times were down 21% from the same week in 2020.
When the city sees a change this big, hundred of traffic signals are adjusted to reduce wait times and keep traffic moving smoother. “That means lowering the cycling. Which means the amount of time it goes through a green-red cycle… By lowering the cycling, we’re reducing the wait time.”
While a typical signal light cycle takes between one to three minutes, the MMC may reduce this by 10 or 30 seconds depending on what’s needed.
The department isn’t just changing the timing of signals. They’re also paying attention to school schedules, whether classes are not in session or not in person. “We would change the schedule of the school zone flashing beacon so it wouldn’t be flashing at that time.”
While traffic levels are on average at about 80% of what they were pre-pandemic, some parts of town have returned to near normal. The city says that traffic on RM 620, Parmer and Slaughter Lanes have returned to pre-pandemic levels, especially in the evenings.
Finally, the city says that if you see a traffic signal that might be poorly timed, you can report it to 3-1-1. Signals that may be a safety hazard will be addressed that same day, while others would undergo a more detailed study.