Reason number 674 why this “polar vortex” weather is basically the worst thing ever: It’s messing with our traffic lights.
Driver Ron Paulus wrote a couple months ago to say that he had noticed an improvement in the traffic lights at Centre Street and VFW Parkway, directly across from the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale, that lasted a while.
“The lights were converted to ‘smart lights’ some many months ago and really helped the flow of traffic in this heavily traveled area,” Paulus said, referring to the kind of traffic lights that use sensors to detect approaching cars and adjust the timing cycle to minimize the number of idling vehicles.
The lights were working great, Paulus reported, cutting down on the amount of time he spent twiddling his thumbs in gridlock. That is, until they weren’t.
“Since last September they have not functioned as smart lights,” Paulus said, “and simply change on a regular pattern.”
He wanted to complain, or at least get an explanation about what happened, but he said he was given the typical bureaucratic run-around: A call to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation led him to State Police, who said on multiple occasions that they would look into it but never responded, which prompted another call to the secretary of transportation’s office, who punted to the Boston mayor’s hotline, which finally patched him through to the agency responsible: the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
And yet, when he got through to them with his question, he never heard back.
“Maybe there is a simple answer to this, and there is a good reason smart lights aren’t functioning at this intersection, but I feel ineffective in finding the answer,” Paulus wrote. “It is just amazing when one encounters the barriers that bureaucracy builds that prevent the resolution of a simple straightforward problem.”
I talked to Bill Hickey, Department of Conservation and Recreation spokesman, and he had an answer: The light was broken. And it couldn’t be fixed right now because of the cold.
“Our contractors went out to inspect the light in question, and found that there is an issue with a cable that feeds the detection system on one of the approaches to the light,” Hickey said. “As a result, the light defaulted back to being timer-driven rather than sensor-driven.”
Reverting to the default timer setting, Hickey added, does not pose any safety issue to drivers at the intersection.
There are plans to fix the cable so the traffic lights can return to sensory mode, but Department of Conservation and Recreation officials can’t do it yet.
“The cable is underground, and the ground is frozen,” Hickey said. “So we will have to wait until there is a thaw before we can replace the cable.”
In the meantime, Hickey said, DCR will make an adjustment to the light’s timer, to help prevent the extended waits that drivers are experiencing.
Paulus said he was glad to hear that a solution is on its way, but disappointed that a light installed so recently would already be experiencing mechanical issues.
“It just is irritating that we spend so much on these traffic issues, attempting to resolve conflicts, and when we are successful the maintenance of the new technology is lacking,” Paulus said.