Winnipeg’s higher-speed intersections now have longer amber light times

By | September 10, 2020

One of Winnipeg’s most contentious and long-standing civic traffic debates has nearly been put to rest.

The duration of amber lights at all of Winnipeg’s higher-speed intersections are now extended, to account for greater road speeds, a new city report says.

On Friday Sept. 4, the city’s public works department increased the amber light times for approximately 110 intersections. Those with a posted approach speed to 70 km/h now last 4.3 seconds while those at 80 km/h last 4.7 seconds. Intersections with roads speeds of 60 km/h or less remain unchanged at four seconds across the board.

Previous to this change, the city’s traffic engineers stood by the practice of using what is called the “uniform value” method using a four-second amber light regardless of road speed or other factors such as the incline or length of the intersection.

This practice, over-time, drew the ire of several local advocates who believed the fixed-amber timing was not only a safety issue, but also a cash grab at photo-enforced intersections.

Todd Dube, founder of local advocacy group Wise Up Winnipeg, has been urging the city to bring about this change since as far back as 2011. At the time, University of Manitoba supply chain management professor Berry Prentice was also behind calls for change.

Todd Dube and his group, Wise Up Winnipeg, says the change is a step in the right direction, but falls short of his expectations. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“They acknowledged, they conceded, I say, under duress because we’ve applied a lot of pressure over the years that they made them longer cause they knew that we weren’t going anywhere,” said Dube.

While Dube sees an incremental victory in the adoption of the “kinematic equation” for establishing some amber times — an approach that considers reaction times, approach speed, road incline, size of the intersection, among other variables — he believes the city didn’t quite get it right and believes the times ought to have been further extended.

The city’s report states the approach speed used in the calculation for determining the amber time is the posted speed limit, unless a traffic speed study has determined the posted speed is an inappropriate input.

However, Dube points out that some of the reports consulted by city officials recommend that if a traffic study is not possible, the approach speed used in the calculation should be the posted speed plus an additional 11 km/h to account for the reality that studies generally show 85 per cent of motorists drive slightly faster than the posted speed limit.

The city report also characterized the decision to adopt the new method as due to a general consensus amongst traffic experts in “recent publications.” However use of the kinematic equation has been in practice in the majority of North American cities for years, and the materials cited by the city have been published in some cases as far back as 2012.

The city also says their own informal survey of Canadian cities in 2018 found that all respondents increased amber durations as road speeds increased, in contrast to Winnipeg’s uniform value approach.

Impact of red-light photo enforcement expected

The 80 km/h intersection at Bishop Grandin and River Road is consistently one of the most accident-prone in the city and also is among the top locations for photo-enforced red light tickets, according to figures by MPI and the Winnipeg police.

The intersection at Bishop Grandin and River Road has historically had among the highest accident and red-light traffic ticket rates in the city. (Credit: James Aisaican-Chase)

In 2017, Dube even bankrolled a local man’s court challenge to have his ticket thrown out on the basis that amber lights in the city did not last long enough.

With the majority of tickets being issued in the first 0.5 seconds of the red light according to city data, Dube expects the addition of 0.7 seconds to eliminate a great number of tickets at this location.

“It’s going to immediately eliminate 90 per cent of their [tickets] and we’re going to see that in the data,” he said.

The chair of the city’s infrastructure renewal and public works committee said overall he’s pleased with the change.

“I think … in terms of the photo enforcement program I’m a believer in it. I think people shouldn’t speed and I think this is one of those situations where there was some tweaks required and we’re making them,” said St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard.

The report also states that recent updates to traffic engineering guidelines for left-turning vehicles are under review, which could further extend amber times in some situations.

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