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Know Your Traffic Signals

Public Operations’ Road Maintenance Branch looks after 50 traffic signals in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo: Six pedestrian signals; one pedestrian flasher; 35 full signals, and eight full Alberta Transportation signals along Highway 63 corridors. It is also responsible for various roadway signs (stop, yield, parking control, speed and street name) and road markings (such as crosswalks, stop bars and lanes).

  1. How do I report a burnt-out street light?

    Report the burnt-out bulb pole number to either ATCO Electric or the Municipality's Road Maintenance Branch. ATCO can be contacted at: 1-800-668-2248. Road Maintenance can be reached at roads@woodbuffalo.ab.ca or (780) 743-7859.

  2. How do I report a traffic signal light that isn't working?

    If you notice a malfunctioning traffic signal, please report it immediately to Road Maintenance at roads@woodbuffalo.ab.ca or (780) 743-7859.

  3. How can I get a traffic signal installed at a particular intersection?

    To warrant a traffic signal, an intersection must meet certain minimum criteria specified by the Canadian Traffic Signal Procedure, which takes into consideration pedestrian and vehicle volumes, intersection characteristics and adjacent land uses. The Municipality uses Transportation Association of Canada guidelines for assessment. For this purpose, a six-hour pedestrian and vehicle count is undertaken. The typical count hours are 07:00 a.m.-09:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. A minimum score of 100 points is necessary. If the intersection does warrant a traffic signal, it will be installed as soon as funding permits.

  4. How are vehicles detected at traffic signals?

    The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo uses three vehicle detection methods.

    Performed loops sense variations in the magnetic field influenced by the presence of a vehicle. They are usually located about one metre short of the stop line, which is a pavement marking indicating where vehicles are to halt when the traffic signal is red. When a vehicle fails to stop behind the stop bar, it is likely that the traffic signal does not sense its presence and, therefore, does not display green for it. Most performed loops in the Municipality are diamond-shaped; common locations are the side streets of Thickwood Boulevard and Confederation Way.

    Microwave detectors, which are mounted above the ground, beam a cone-shaped field to an approaching vehicle that then reflects some of the microwave energy back. This provides a momentary contact closure (pulse) indicating that a vehicle has been detected. This method is suitable in areas where detector pavement installation is not possible because the pavement is in poor condition or the right-of-way is limited. Common locations of microwave detection in the Municipality are: King Street and Franklin Avenue; Loutit Road and Eagle Ridge, and the Confederation Way overpass.

    Video camera detection involves a microprocessor-based CPU and software that analyzes video images. Using a mouse and interactive graphics, the user places virtual "detectors" on the video image displayed on a monitor. Each detection zone emulates an inductive loop. Common video detection locations in the Municipality are: Paquette Drive and Powder Drive; Paquette Drive and Parsons Creek Drive; Mackenzie Boulevard and Gregoire Drive, and Signal Road and Tundra Drive.

  5. What do I do if all of the signal indications are blank?

    When a traffic signal has gone dark due to power failure, the intersection is considered as operating the same as a four-way stop. Drivers must stop and yield according to the four-way stop rules before entering the intersection.

  6. Why does the signal turn green for a side street when no one is there?

    There could be a problem with the vehicle detection technology or pedestrian push button.

  7. Are traffic signals coordinated?

    Traffic signals are coordinated to minimize stops and delays – for instance, at Thickwood Boulevard and Confederation Way. The goal is to get the greatest number of vehicles through the system with the fewest stops. Ideally, every vehicle would proceed without stopping, but this is not possible. Therefore, in signal coordination high traffic areas are given precedence over less busy areas.

    Coordination cycle lengths are determined in order to adequately accommodate the many left-turn phases and long pedestrian crosswalk clearance times required. Traffic flow at signalized intersections is monitored and this information is used to decide optimum signal timing parameters. Precise coordination is difficult due to the varying speeds and congestion of traffic. The distance between signals and differing amounts of green time at each intersection also affects synchronization. As well, perfect coordination for one direction results in stops and delays in the other direction.

  8. If traffic signals are synchronized, why do I have to stop?

    Synchronization is constrained by certain external factors that cannot be controlled by signal timing design. Synchronization can only try to minimize, not completely eliminate, stopping.

  9. How are yellow lights timed at signalized intersections?

    Yellow light times depend upon speed limit, deceleration rates of vehicles and the reaction time of drivers. The length of yellow lights will vary from three to five seconds as the speed limit increases from relatively low to relatively high.

  10. How do traffic signals use LED technology?

    The Municipality uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for traffic signal lights, which reflects its commitment to innovation, economy and environmental sustainability. The average life of an incandescent lamp is only one year whereas an LED lamp can last up to 10 years. All signal displays were retrofitted in 2009. The benefits include:

    • Less maintenance; since the retrofitting, Road Maintenance has received only a few calls about burnt-out displays.
    •  Fewer and briefer traffic delays caused by repair equipment in intersections.
    • Lower electric bills.
    • Reduced risks for technicians and motorists because much less time is spent replacing burnt-out lamps at intersections
  11. Why do some traffic signals go into "flashing" mode?

    A flashing yellow signal means proceed with caution. The side street will flash red and vehicles there must stop. Some signals along Franklin Avenue operate in a flashing yellow mode at night. These include:

    • Main Street and Franklin Avenue
    • Hainault Street and Franklin Avenue
    • Father Mercredi Street and Franklin Avenue
    • Safeway Access and Franklin Avenue
    • Riedel Street and Franklin Avenue
    • Alberta Drive and Franklin Avenue
    • Hardin Street and MacDonald Avenue
  12. What are pedestrian signal indications?

    Pedestrian signal indications are "Walking Person" and "Hand" symbols or countdown timers. When a button is pushed, the signal will be engaged and stop vehicles on the perpendicular street, providing a timed sequence for pedestrians to cross.

  13. Why is the duration of a walk light so short?

    A. The walk light indicates when pedestrians are permitted to begin crossing. In the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the standard duration of the walk light is seven seconds; however, for some directions it may be longer when different modes of signal operation are in effect. The walk light is followed by an orange flashing hand – the "pedestrian clearance" indicator or countdown timer.

    The clearance duration is timed, based on a specific pedestrian walking speed to navigate the entire intersection. If a pedestrian steps off the curb and begins crossing just as the hand starts flashing or the countdown is initiated, there is adequate time to finish crossing. If a pedestrian sets forth after the hand indication begins flashing, there may not be enough time to cross safely.

  14. Do I have to press the button multiple times to get a walk light?

    It is only necessary to press the button once to register the request for a walk light in the controller, which "locks" in the button call until the walk light comes on. Pressing the button multiple times will not make the walk light start any sooner.

  15. Sometimes I press the button and get a walk light very quickly; other times, I press the button and have to wait noticeably longer. Why?

    In order to minimize stops and reduce vehicle delays on high traffic corridors, many traffic signals are coordinated with adjacent traffic signals – for example, the Thickwood Boulevard and Confederation Way traffic signals. A pedestrian must then wait for the point in the cycle that the walk light is displayed. The wait time at coordinated traffic signals depends on when the button is activated during the signal cycle and could range from a few seconds to up to more than a minute.

  16. How do left turn traffic signal arrows work?

    In the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo there is only one type of left- turn signal operation -- protected/permissive. Left-turning drivers are initially directed to turn left in a protected manner during the display of a flashing green arrow. They are subsequently permitted to turn left during the display of a green ball indicator when adequate gaps are available in opposing traffic.

  17. How do I report damaged or missing traffic control and parking control signs?

    To report damaged or missing traffic control and parking control signs, contact Road Maintenance – Traffic at roads@woodbuffalo.ab.ca or (780) 743-7859.

  18. How can I get a four-way stop sign installed at a particular intersection?

    To determine whether a four-way stop is warranted, Road Maintenance must first conduct a traffic study at the intersection, considering a number of factors such as collisions, traffic volumes, roadway geometry and neighbouring traffic control devices. If the requirements are met, staff will typically recommend installation.

  19. How can I get a crosswalk created at a particular intersection?

    To warrant a crosswalk, an intersection must meet certain minimum criteria specified by the Pedestrian Crossing Control Manual Canada. An engineering study of the intersection must be performed, taking into account traffic and pedestrian volumes, posted speed, stopping sight distance, accident history, crossing opportunities, road alignment, etc. If a crosswalk is justified, it will be installed as soon as possible.

  20. How can I have a reduced speed sign installed on my street?

    Before the Municipality considers implementing a reduced speed zone on any given street(s), Road Maintenance carries out a study to determine the volume of traffic as well as the prevailing vehicle speeds. Other factors include operating speed, collisions, roadway geometry, adjacent land uses and pedestrian activity. If the requirements are met, staff will typically recommend the change, which must then be approved by the local Community Council.

  21. What does "traffic calming" mean?

    Traffic calming is a term most commonly associated with physical features placed on a roadway to influence the speed of vehicles. There are many factors to be considered before traffic calming devices are installed.

  22. What are "special" crosswalks?

    Special crosswalks consist of overhead illuminated signs with downward lighting and pedestrian push-button activated amber flashers. They are installed to increase motorists' awareness of the presence of pedestrians by improving their visibility to approaching traffic.

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