INSIDE LOOK: Keeping traffic moving is complicated

INSIDE LOOK: Keeping traffic moving is complicated
Everybody knows what it's like to get stuck in traffic in Wilmington. What you probably don't know is a lot goes into the complicated process of programming traffic signals to keep traffic moving. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Everybody knows what it's like to get stuck in traffic in Wilmington. What you probably don't know is a lot goes into the complicated process of programming traffic signals to keep traffic moving.

Several viewers voiced concerns about whether the traffic lights are synchronized, or why it seems that only a few cars get through an intersection at a time.

Here's some of the comments we received.

"It seems like the light rotations are shorter at major intersections. Then you have the people up front on their phones not paying attention to the green light. So only a handful of cars get to go." -Audrey

After some digging, here are the answers we got.

Thirty-two cameras monitor 75 percent of the major roadways and the thousands of cars that travel through Wilmington everyday.

Two men watch the cameras to make sure they've programmed the traffic signals to change to keep traffic moving through each intersection. Don't worry, they're not spying on you.

"We're not using the cameras to read license plates, see who's in the vehicles, or see what kinds of vehicles they are," said Denys Vielkanowitz, P.E. Signal Systems management engineer.

Data on the number of cars on the road, the time of day, and the direction traffic is going is used to design more than 60 plans that can be used to program the traffic signals.

"South College Road, for instance, we operate 10 different traffic patterns throughout the weekdays," Vielkanowitz explained.

That basically means the traffic signals, most importantly the green lights, are set to run for different lengths for busier or slower times of the day -and timing is everything.

"It's a balancing act of figuring out what's an appropriate cycle length to service everybody. And we program adjacent traffic signals to run the same cycle length to hopefully move platoons of vehicles through multiple signals at once," Vielkanowitz said.

The lights are synchronized, but whether you get straight green lights depends on where you get onto a major road, how fast or slow you and the drivers around you are going.

"We have start up points along an artery so say, for example, College Road and Oriole Drive. If you pull on red and you're waiting and then you get the green indication, that's a pretty good start up point where you should progress through multiple signals after that," Vielkanowitz explained.

The traffic cameras can be zoomed in or if there's an incident at a intersection where there's a camera, engineers can swing it around and possibly manipulate how the traffic signal operates to help traffic control officers on the scene.

Vielkanowitz says they would like to add more cameras to cover another 10-20 percent of Wilmington's major roadways.

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