CHOKEPOINTS

What’s the deal with Lynnwood’s new traffic signals?

Jun 14, 2016, 6:41 AM

Lynnwood is known for having some of the most congested streets in the region. It’s caught between Highway 99, I-5, and I-405, and the streets just can’t handle all the volume. But the city is wrapping up a project that should help things flow a little better.

If you’ve driven in Lynnwood lately, you know it can be incredibly difficult. Sometimes the line of cars waiting at a traffic light can be more than two dozen deep. To combat that issue, the city is upgrading the signals at 28 of the city’s 61 intersections. The biggest change is the addition of signals that feature a flashing yellow arrow for drivers wishing to make a left turn.

Related: The new type of traffic signal showing up around Puget Sound

The old signals simply went red after the green arrow. The new signals, with the flashing yellow arrow, will also give those drivers the ability to take a left during gaps in oncoming traffic.

“That can help to dissipate some of our longer left-turn cues in Lynnwood,” said City Traffic Engineer Paul Coffelt. “We are taking advantage of a tried-and-true — and approved — method of eking out a little bit more capacity in our lanes.”

Coffelt wants drivers and commuters to get where they want without unnecessary delays.

“The longer you wait, the more willing you are to make that risky maneuver,” he said. “It’s just part of our nature. It’s my job to help you not have to wait so long.”

Such risky behavior is running a light or speeding up behind the car ahead of you assuming that they are going through — and you end up with a rear-end collision.

These signals are not new. They are in use all over the region, but they are being used more frequently.

But there is one unique feature with these lights. Washington requires that they go to red before switching to a flashing yellow. So you just can’t barrel through the intersection. You must stop. And in Lynnwood, that red is going to be much longer than most cities.

“Some of the other agencies will hold it for maybe a second,” Coffelt said. “But I’m holding it for five seconds so that the car ahead — that doesn’t quite know what’s going to happen — isn’t going to get barreled on because the car behind thinks it’s going to flashing yellow … and things happen.

“Things happen” is Coffelt being polite. That’s an accident, a crash, a collision.

And if you wonder why all of the intersections aren’t being retrofitted with these new signals, it’s because some supports can’t handle the heavier weight. Those will be upgraded in the future.

Lynnwood, traffic, signal

Lynnwood’s new traffic signals use a flashing yellow arrow for left turns. (City of Lynnwood)

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