With an estimated 20,000 vehicles traveling on Milton Avenue each day, Janesville officials know they can’t please everyone when it comes to stoplight timing.
Engineering Director Mike Payne routinely fields calls from residents upset about stoplights, and the complaints often refer to Milton Avenue. The grievances occasionally find their way into letters to the editor, and they used to pop up in The Gazette’s former Sound Off column.
When people call Payne, they typically grumble over green lights and ask if they can get a few extra seconds at a certain intersection.
The solution isn’t so simple.
Adding a few seconds of green light at one intersection, as many people suggest, would throw off the timing for the entire six-stoplight “corridor,” said traffic management supervisor Matt Gosline.
Milton Avenue from Lodge Drive to Mount Zion Avenue is one of three corridors in the city, along with portions of Centerway and Center Avenue. The corridors are programmed based on traffic counts and other data gathered by computerized signals, and they change timing depending on the time of day, he said.
Milton Avenue’s corridor normally extends to Morse Street, but that section is currently under state Department of Transportation control until the Interstate 90/39 project is finished.
The city coordinates its southbound lights to be in sync and green in the morning when people are coming into town for work. In the evening, synchronized green light privileges flip to northbound traffic as people return home, Gosline said.
Both directions can’t be in sync at the same time—a pattern pushing green lights one way would lead to random red lights in the other.
Midday traffic has mostly neutralized timing for both sides of the road. After 8 p.m. when traffic thins, the stoplights go into “free dial” and are timed based on the computerized signals that sense where vehicles are.
A Gazette reporter driving Milton Avenue around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday (adhering strictly to the speed limit, of course) found the city’s neutral midday timing to be true. This reporter encountered roughly an equal number of red and green lights while driving both northbound and southbound.
Four hours later, rush-hour timing should have called for smooth sailing north out of the city and no clear pattern driving south. But this reporter got stuck at four of the six lights heading north and only one returning south to The Gazette offices.
Payne said exceptions and weird stories do occur. And this reporter’s drive was only one test at two random times on a single day.
Milton Avenue’s stoplights were last re-evaluated in 2016 when the road was resurfaced. The city doesn’t regularly reconsider stoplight timing because of how complicated the mathematical timing calculations can be.
Tweaking anything would cause major changes, Payne said.
“We’re trying to maximize the efficiency for the highest amount of cars,” he said. “We can’t keep everybody happy, so we’re going to try to keep as many people happy as we can.”
As far as keeping everybody happy, there is at least one exception: The city does not time stoplights to please weekend cruisers of the Milton Avenue circuit.