It's inevitable. Whenever we get in our car, the likelihood is we're going to get stopped at a red light.
The problem is whenever we're in a hurry it seems like the stop lights are always changing to red right before you get to the intersection.
Especially on some busier streets in the Heartland like William Street in Cape Girardeau and Route 13 in Carbondale, this problem gets even more blown out of proportion.
"When you get one, you get them all," said Joey Hale. “It don’t matter if one light’s green, the next one’s gonna be red no matter what.”
People along William street understand the problem well. The frustration boils up when start to move you get slow right back down at the next light.
"I mean they turn red indiscriminately,” said Mark Dougan. "They can’t be synced.“
But contrary to what Dougan, Hale, and countless others think, the lights along William Street (officially known as Route K) is actually synced from Seimers Drive all the way to Kingshighway.
“On Route K we run what’s called coordination," said David Johnson, a traffic study specialist for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
As part of his job, he ensures that the lights are synced in such a way that if you're driving along, the green lights should keep coming. But as we know, it doesn't always work that way.
“But the main thing would be the volume of traffic on Route K," said Johnson. “You’re gonna have cues no matter how well you time your system.”
MoDOT estimates that William sees close to 33,000 vehicles driving east or west every day. At times there can be 60% more people on the road than the official capacity of 1,000 vehicles per hour.
“Most people notice signals most often when they don’t function properly," added Johnson. "In general, I’d argue that Route K does function really well for how much traffic we have on it.”
Time of day is another factor that can mess with your daily commute.
I timed the drive from Seimers to Kingshighway 10 different times at two times of the day. On average, eastbound traffic at 3 p.m. took me four minutes and four seconds to travel. Westbound at the same time was four minutes and 18 seconds.
Two hours later during rush hour on William, eastbound traffic took only 20 seconds more for the drive but the westbound was 27 seconds longer. MoDOT takes information similar to this in an official capacity and makes timing plans based on that.
“We don’t just throw together timing plans - there’s a lot of time and energy that gets spent making sure those timing plans are optimized and they’re constantly optimized,” said Johnson.
A similar problem occurs for the Illinois Department of Transportation on Route 13 in Carbondale. Keith Miley is an IDOT operations manager and is in charge of making sure their coordination plans work.
“Our goal is to maintain traffic on Route 13,” said Miley.
But the main difference between the two roads lies in what crosses route 13 - the Amtrak train tracks.
“The traffic signals here in Carbondale are interconnected with the railroad system," said Miley. "We have several different train movements during the day and night in Carbondale.”
Other than that, it runs very similar to the system in Cape.
Johnson also pointed out that the problem of these red lights might lie in the hands of drivers.
"Vehicles that travel above or below the speed limit may come to the signal earlier or later than when the signal down stream is timed to turned green,” said Johnson.
Simply put, this means any time you're speeding you could be causing yourself to hit more red lights. It could be a simple fix, slow down or continue to see red.