Automatic Traffic Signal System Making Roads in West Des Moines Safer

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The city of West Des Moines is saving commuters time and making the roads safer by installing a new traffic signal system.

The new system is called “Adaptive.”

“It is like you are sitting out there with a switch and manually controlling the intersections,” said principal engineer for West Des Moines, Jim Dickinson. “You see an approach with 10 cars on it; you see another approach with one car on it. You’d say ‘I’m going to take care of the 10 cars before I take care of the one car.’ So that is what it’s doing. It is trying to minimize the total delay of the intersections. It’s making some smart decision on how to move traffic.”

Dickinson said the goal is simple; make roads more efficient and safer to travel.

“What we are trying to do is get people from where they live or work to where they want to go more efficiently and more safely,” Dickinson said. “We don’t want people to be involved in crashes. We want people to be able to get there without stopping at every traffic signal. That is what we are trying to do. Get the moms and kids to and from places efficiently and safely.”

West Des Moines has cameras at 44 intersections. The city is planning on adding 18 cameras to University Ave. this summer. In addition to University Ave., they plan on adding cameras to other intersections. The goal is to have cameras at over 70 intersections within the year.

Dickinson said the most common accident in the city is a rear-end crash. He said that by reducing the amount of red lights to stop at, you will have less drivers slamming on their brakes.

A few months after they started the adaptive system on the north part of Jordan Creek Parkway, University Avenue to Aspen Drive, we took a look at the crash data.  Before the adaptive system was installed they averaged seven to eight crashes per month in this section.  After installing the adaptive signal system they have averaged four to five crashes per month, a 38 percent decrease in crashes.

You can expect systems like this to pop up all over.

Dickinson said Des Moines and Clive will be adding it to a couple corridors in the next year. Dickinson also said he has had the cities of Ames and Omaha have come to check out their system.

Below is the travel time data for Mills Civic Parkway.  This is from the intersection of Fuller Road on the east to the Wells Fargo/Mall entrance intersection on the west.  This average data is for the time period of 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. covering the afternoon peak period.


Eastbound traffic

Travel time – 5.7 minutes before, 4.7 minutes after, 1 minute reduction in travel time

Stops – 2.6 stops before, 0.8 stops after, 1.8 stops reduction in stops

Delay – 2.1 minutes before, 1.1 minutes after, 1 minute reduction in delay


Westbound traffic

Travel time – 5.9 minutes before, 5.0 minutes after, 0.9 minute reduction in travel time

Stops – 3.6 stops before, 1.5 stops after, 2.1 stops reduction in stops

Delay – 2.4 minutes before, 1.5 minutes after, 0.9 minute reduction in delay

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