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City gives green light to redesign of Main Street signals
Motorists have long complained about Buffalo's unsynchronized traffic controls

By the end of summer, drivers should spend less time stuck at red lights along Main Street as the city launches the next phase of a long-term redesign of its traffic signals.

Once the Main Street project is finished, crews will tackle Delaware Avenue from downtown to the city line at Kenmore Avenue. Public works officials predicted Wednesday that motorists who use Delaware should see a big improvement by the middle of next year.

For four years, the city has been partnering with the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council to improve Buffalo's widely criticized traffic signal system. For years, motorists have complained about unsynchronized traffic signals that can turn a two- or three-mile drive into a 15-minute ordeal.

"When I come into the city, I hit a lot of red lights," said Samantha Hart, a West Seneca resident. "It can get pretty annoying, to be honest."

Wayne Scaperotta said he's pleased that long-talked-about plans to improve coordination of signals along Delaware will occur.

"In trying to get from point A to point B, you sometimes spent more time sitting than moving," the North Buffalo resident said.

Late last fall, crews started the final phase of a synchronization project on Elmwood Avenue, from Tupper Street to Kenmore.

"We've been able to cut down wait times on Elmwood by about 40 percent," City Engineer Peter J. Merlo said.

The Main Street project will be done in two phases, from Goodell Street to the city line. These phases of the synchronization projects are confined to traffic lights in the city, said Merlo.

Signals along Clinton Street, from the eastern city line to Michigan Avenue, also have been changed to allow for faster commutes, Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said.

City officials credited the transportation council for handling all data collection and for earmarking federal funds to pay for computerized models needed for redesigning signal systems. The federally funded council charts long-term transportation plans and pinpoints priorities.

Buffalo has been overhauling its signals in phases since 2007. Among the projects that have already been completed are traffic lights on William Street, South Park Avenue and Niagara Street.

Mayor Byron W. Brown complained last week that public works officials haven't done a good job of publicizing the schedule for overhauling traffic signals or informing the public about progress already made in synchronizing lights on many streets.

"There's some citizen frustration when people are driving down the street and it's not synchronized," Brown said as his CitiStat accountability panel reviewed the signal projects.

The city, he added, frequently receives complaints from motorists who grow weary of frequent stops and starts.

But not all drivers find Buffalo's signals overly annoying. Gabriel Vidal, who lives on Elmwood Avenue, said he has no beefs with the way city signals are coordinated. In fact, he hasn't even noticed much of a difference since the Elmwood synchronization was completed last month. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said.

Then again, Vidal lived in California before he moved to Buffalo.

CitiStat coordinator Jessica Smith said some motorists take alternative routes to avoid unsynchronized signals, often increasing traffic on smaller streets.

"I'm guilty of it, and I'm sure many other people are. You cut through the residential neighborhoods because of that," she said, underscoring the importance of letting the public know when signals have been synchronized.

Merlo, the city engineer, said he believes traffic conditions are steadily improving and will continue to get better. The city and state have been updating wires and other signal equipment at some intersections.

"No one is ever going to be 100 percent happy with any signal," he said. "However, you're going to see much better flow."

Pedestrian safety also must be a priority, Merlo said, noting that some motorists don't take into account this key component when they grumble about traffic lights.

About 650 traffic signals are located in Buffalo. About 95 percent of the lights are controlled by the city, while the state handles the other 5 percent. A lot of work remains to be done, said Merlo, who estimated that about 80 percent of the signals in Buffalo have yet to be synchronized.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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