Kansas City Scout


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ramp Meters Make For Safer, Easier Merge

I grew up in the Kansas City area and in 1990 at the driving age of 28, I moved to San Diego, CA living there for more than 10 years. Even for the “experienced driver” I considered myself to be, at first driving in San Diego was challenging with its five-lane interstates, busy on- and off-ramps and constant traffic flow.

One of the things that helped me master the busy freeways were ramp meters.
Ramp meters are special traffic signals that regulate the rate at which vehicles enter the freeway from the on-ramps. I had no problems using the metered ramps for the first time. In fact, it was quite simple. Meters in Kansas City, like those in San Diego will include flashing yellow lights near the ramp entrance to alert drivers that the meter is on and they should be prepared to stop. Signs and pavement markings will tell drivers where to stop and how to proceed. A red light means stop and a green light means go. A typical meter cycle is about two seconds of green and two to ten seconds of red, making the wait on the ramp usually about one minute. The minute was well worth the wait once I reached the bottom of the ramp and didn’t have to fight with ten other cars to make my way onto an already congested freeway.

When I moved back to Kansas City and learned of Scout’s Ramp Metering Project for the South I-435 corridor, I was very excited about it. Ramp meters improve safety by reducing rear-end and sideswipe accidents; they also lessen congestion that happens when groups of cars enter the freeway and compete for openings in the flow of traffic. Any time spent waiting on the on-ramps is made up in travel time savings once on the freeway. In addition, ramp meters are Green. They help lower vehicle emissions and fuel consumption by decreasing the time that cars spend waiting in traffic.

I look forward to November 2009 when the meters turn on along I-435 from Metcalf Avenue going east to the Three Trails Memorial Crossing (formerly the Grandview Triangle). Then I will be able to look in my rearview mirror and wave goodbye to all those instances where I was “forced” to suddenly switch lanes or hit my brakes to make room for seven or eight vehicles merging onto the freeway at once.

For more information on Kansas City Scout’s Ramp Metering Project visit our webpage at http://www.kcscout.com/RampMetering, also check out the on-line meeting and watch for dates and locations of public meetings coming soon.


  1. I think it's a decent idea, but i think the location is wrong. I commute 1-35 from South Olathe, to 435 and 63rd St in Raytown everyday. The major points of congestion for me are at Quivira, and where US-69 comes back into I-435. Metcalf through the Triangle are actually the fastest parts of my drive. I also see the Lee's Summit and Grandview/South 71 traffic in the evening, and it doesn't appear to me that the exits at Wornall, Holmes, or State-Line are the congestion points. If you are giong to put in the meters, put them on Quivira (all directions, but especially West-Bound I-435 (becuase they are merging aginst traffic trying to get onto I-35, and then again on the traffic leaving US-69 onto West bound I-435.

  2. Your experiences are far different than mine with ramp metering. In my experience (Portland, OR), the meters simply back traffic up onto the side streets. That means trying to cross I-435 at Metcalf, Nall, Roe, Wornall, and Holmes -- already difficult and slow -- will just get worse with the traffic.

    These meters are a bad idea.

  3. The meetering looks like it is a good idea, but the program is ignoring major traffic issues on west bound I-435 from metcalf to I-35. The I-169 off ramp onto west bound 435 and the west I435 off ramp onto South bound I35 are major issues at rush hour. Is it being considered for the next phase?

  4. There are a lot of reasons why ramp meters are a really, really dumb idea but the main one is that traffic congestion in the south-side I435 corridor is almost entirely unrelated to volume of merging traffic. I don't understand where you guys are coming up with this. What does contribute is (not necessarily in any order)

    1) Notices on the overhead KCScout signs about traffic problems several miles ahead, which cause all the traffic to slow down so they can read what it says. If you really want to help improve traffic flow, don't put anything but "time to reach exit" information like you have up there most of the time except when the traffic is already crawling.

    2) Stalled vehicles and accidents, about which there is really not much you guys can do. Metering on-ramps will not help this in the least.

    3) Inattentive and impaired drivers, which again the on-ramp metering will do nothing.

    4) Large commercial vehicles which when slowed down have a lot of trouble getting back up to a reasonable speed. If you really want to help congestion, tractor-trailers need to be limited to one lane except to exit or to go, for example, northbound on I435 .

    Most of the time when I use I435, around 7 AM and 4:30 PM there is very little congestion, except for the above reasons. On-ramp metering will mean nothing but longer commutes for me during those times.

    As the comedian Ron White puts it, "You can't fix stupid", and on-ramp metering is nothing but an attempt to fix stupid. It won't work and it will make things worse.

  5. What will be the policy(law) concerning when the the ramp meters fail (such as not detecting my motorcycle)?

  6. The ramp meter detector loops are 6'X6' diamond shaped loops designed to sense motorcycles as well as other vehicles. You can actually see where these have already been cut and installed on these ramps along I-435. The enforcement of the ramp meter signals will be as witnessed by a law enforcement officer.

    Thanks for your question regarding ramp meters, we appreciate the comment.

  7. Ramp Meters will not work, they will only create more traffic on side streets. I can only imagine what Metcalf would look like. There is a constant flow of cars from Metcalf going to 435 east. If they were metered it would most likely take 30 minutes to get on the highway, eliminating all time benefits gained. The ramps would also reduce the speeds at which cars enter the highway, making the problem worse. The problem is people do not accelerate on the on ramps and get on the highway doing 45 instead of 65. If people actually got on the highway at the right speed that would eliminate half the problems.

  8. Thanks for posting your comment to our blog, we appreciate your taking the time to provide us with feedback on the ramp metering project. Ramp meters have been successfully implemented in many cities across the country and research and studies indicate they can be beneficial here in the Kansas City area along the south I-435 corridor from Metcalf east to the Three Trails Memorial Crossing (formerly the Grandview Triangle).

    One of Scout's commitment to the cities who maintain the streets that border the corridor is that we will not allow traffic to back up on the side streets so we might have to shut the ramp meters off if backup becomes too bad, meanwhile when ramp meters are activated, they will help smooth out congestion for the period of time the are on however Scout staff will not sacrifice safety along side streets in order to try and help promote safe merging along the interstate.

    Additionally the ramp meters are designed to maximize the flow of the total commute meaning if you only jump on I-435 and get back off within one or two exits your travel time will increase however if you utilize the corridor from one end like from I-35 to the new Three Trails interchange your overall travel time should improve. Unfortunately we cannot change drivers' habits however we can implement strategies to better manage those behaviors which is part of what the ramp metering project will do.

    Thanks again for your feedback.

  9. Never having seen ramp metering, I have several concerns.
    Doesn't ramp metering cause one to have to accelerate suddenly to merge with traffic? Many of the ramps I use are uphill and it takes the whole ramp to gain speed.
    I join with others not seeing how traffic doesn't backup on city streets.
    I also have no problem traveling from 69 highway east to State Line in the morning but the traffic does backup in the afternoon coming back towards I-35 and it does back up at the Metcalf westbound onramp/Antioch exit to I-35 segment. The other slow spot is on I-35 at the northbound 75th Street on-ramp.(You know the curve and merging seems to cause problems for many drivers. Go figure???)

  10. It's about time Kansas City started using something like this there again we're always 10+ years behind other cities on getting anything done and those who think they don't work, they actually do I know it's hard to grasp something actually working here but it will.

  11. I predict that the meters will cause more accidents and fail like the red-light cameras are failing. As others have noted, merging into traffic from a complete stop on the ramps will cause slower vehicles during the merge. This WILL cause accidents to rise, particularly at the uphill Metcalf on ramp to the west. DON'T DO IT!!!

  12. I honestly think 435, especially this part of it... is the WORST place for ramp meters. The congestion doesn't come from any of those exits, it comes from the insane amount of people from Lee's Summit and Lawrence (depending on direction and time). And I could totally see Metcalf, Nall, and Roe being clogged by backed up traffic (drivers around here aren't smart enough to not "block the box") so there would be gridlock from this. And yes the Metcalf westbound to the freeway is killer as it is... I am a fast aggressive driver and I cannot reach anywhere near 65 going up that hill. A meter further up that will make that merge impossible.

    You know where the ramp meters might actually be needed? On I-35! There, you have literally no space to merge a giant platoon of two full lanes of left turning traffic from the surface street. I'm amazed that a ton of people don't get killed from that, especially seeing how we try to merge doing 35 instead of 65 for some awkward reason (is everyone on weed or something?).

    I think a better (but more expensive) solution to ramp metering would be to just make the entry lane still existing until the next exit. Most of the about to be ramp meter area on 435 has this feature anyway, but I-35 most definitely does not.

  13. When I lived in Fresno, CA I found the ramp metering presented a few problems. 1) folks in a hurry weren't waiting for the green light or where trying to get more cars through the green than the one or two allowed. 2) The meters were at the bottom of the ramp and it was difficult to accelerate from a stop to merge into traffic moving at 70 miles an hour. This was particularly difficult with the lights that permitted 2 cars to pass if you were the second car. If made for a lot of swerving, hard accelerating and braking, and lane changing.

  14. I agree with what E Noll wrote on Sept 19. As E Noll said, "... traffic congestion in the south-side I435 corridor is almost entirely unrelated to volume of merging traffic". Virtually all of the bullet points put in the presentation aren't issues for me when I'm driving the 435 corridor.

    I travel a lot, and have driven in areas that have ramp metering, and have found metering ineffective and dangerous. The big problem is matching speed with the oncoming traffic. If traffic is slow, that isn't a problem. But if traffic is moving, the ramp metering effectively shortens the ramp, and makes it difficult to match speed with the oncoming traffic. I see where the meters are being put, and those locations (especially on Metcalf) will make it very difficult to match speed.

    I have driven in most of the cities mentioned in the presentation, and Kansas City does not have anything near their level of traffic. Comparing KC to those cities as a reason for metering is a false comparison.

    This seems like wasting money on the wrong problem. I think better ramp construction would make a difference, and quicker response to stalled vehicles and accidents makes a bigger difference. I think both the triangle and the 69 exchanges are good examples of a better design that makes a difference.

  15. okay folks I have found the perfect reason not to have ramp meters. The incident on the evening of 11/24 where the ramp lights were running on 435 when really they should not have been. (Traffic was not that heavy) I was stuck in that god awful backup of cars and by the time I hit the hwy I was cursing those ramp meters in all the most creative ways. In fact I was so mad I was ready to take a baseball bat to them.
    To quote Ron White "You can't fix stupid". If what happened last night was any indication of what is to come when these things are running there will be many pissed off and cranky drivers. Granted they may not be running all the time. If the highway is backed up due to weather, accidents or just in general these things are not going to help improve the flow of traffic. The folks on the hwy and cross streets will be moving at a snail's pace or not at all. You say this will help the backup that happens on the hwy. Well that backup of rush hours cars has to be sitting somewhere? And that somewhere will be on the cross streets over 435 in BOTH directions. Frankly I would rather sit in traffic, go slow and brake without having to deal with this. Truckers especially are slow to start off and this won't help them either. Sorry to be so negative but if you had joined the rest of us unfortunate drivers in the fiasco last night.... Well need I say more? If they are needed elsewhere fine but keep them off 435.

  16. Ramp meters are new not only to the motorists driving the I-435 corridor but also to the Kansas City Scout system. November 24, 2009 was the first day the meters were in operation and the first time they’ve been activated in the states of Kansas and Missouri, it was a learning experience for both the Scout staff and the motoring public. After the first day of ramp meters Scout went back and began fine tuning the parameters of the ramp metering system. The meters are set to come on just prior to congestion to reduce large platoons of vehicles entering I-435 that can create congestion and accidents due to merging.

    Kansas City Scout has made a commitment to the cities affected by ramp meters not to back traffic up onto the surface streets. The system is what is called a smart system, if a backup does occur on the ramps the sensors detect this and the cycle from red to green quickens, if this does not help flush out the backup the meters will turn off. When ramp meters are activated, they will help smooth out congestion for a period of time, but we will not back traffic up on the side streets, Scout staff will not sacrifice safety along side streets in order to try and help promote safe merging along the interstate.

    Use of ramp meters during adverse weather conditions such as sleet or snow, can still prove beneficial for motorist because it will provide the needed gap for merging vehicles to enter the mainline flow of traffic. Scout will maintain close communications with maintenance crews from both KDOT and MoDOT to ensure the ramps are treated, but navigating the meters on the ramps are no different than navigation of traffic signals on the surface streets during inclement weather. This project is a low cost retrofit, so many of these ramps in Missouri and Kansas will not have the preferred acceleration length, but we have tested them all and they are adequate.

    The goal of the ramp metering system is reduce accidents along the I-435 corridor. Metering will give motorist greater gaps between vehicles to merge safer, thus reducing tailgating and merge accidents this results in fewer accidents, gas utilization and frustration due to accident related congestion.

  17. I travel the 435 to Triangle route in the evenings where the traffic is back to back. I blame this on changing from using that middle lane as an option to go north and east. As it is now, people are "forced" to use only 2 lanes to go north instead of the 3 that were in place originally. This limits peoples options for avoiding traffic problems. I would be interested to see what the traffic congestion looked like before switching to only 2 lanes going north vs the 3 northern lanes. That hill before the extra lanes going east is terrible. I am pretty sure I should not be putting on my breaks to go up a hill but I often find that is the case. Before, not an issue. As for the ramp metering, going from dead stop to 65 will be a problem as merging never seemed to be an issue. Please look at changing back the triangle area so 3 lanes go north. I am sure the data proves this to be a positive route. I'd written about this before and got back a letter saying that people didn't like people zooming up in the 3rd lane and then darting back to go east. While this may seem that people are being more aggressive, I think it provides drivers with one more lane to be flexible. I know I sit in traffic a whole lot more now than I did before. Taking away that extra north lane effectively turned the triangle back to what it was for the northern drivers. I don't know if the ramp metering is the solution as the problems often are much further along my route going home. It is ridiculous to see brake lights going up a hill.

  18. Declaring that other cities use ramp metering doesn't say anything about how the drivers in those cities feel about them. Every person i've asked about metering has the same response - bad idea.

    All the points as enumerated above are correct - ramp metering just backs traffic up into side streets. You've done enough damage with the converging/diverging ramps (nall/roe, or antioch/69 as examples) - another horrible idea, but DOTs just love em ... whats not to love ? Bigger budget, more shiny new toys to play with.

    We don't want ramp metering. You're supposed to respond to your constituents desires, not tell them what they want.

  19. OK, here we are almost a month after implementation of ramp metering.

    I've driven through the area numerous times in circumstances when there was a) ramp metering inactive and no congestion, b) ramp metering inactive and considerable congestion and c) ramp metering active and considerable congestion. In short, I've seen no POSITIVE effect of ramp metering on congestion, exactly as I predicted back in late November.

    On the other hand, thankfully, at least I've not seen ramp metering active and causing backups on city streets, so it hasn't had that negative impact as far as I know. I've also not had to wait more than a second or so at any ramp meter signal, which is also good.

    This whole system was touted with great fanfare as a cure for congestion in the south I435 corridor. But my impression after nearly a month of it being active is that MoDOT has wasted a nice chunk of taxpayer money on a something that was never going to solve the problem it was meant to solve, much less the problem that we actually had and continue to have.

    Is someone there going to 'fess up to this or at the very least try to diddle the statistics to try to show what a smashing success it was?

  20. There was one other thing I was going to mention in my previous post I forgot to add: Every time I have entered the freeway system when the metering was active, I duly stopped when told to and immediately drove forward when I saw the green signal.

    Having heard all the gushing praise for how easy ramp metering would make merging by stopping me on the ramp until an open slot was going to be available when I reached the merge point, my expectation was that I should never meet another vehicle in the right lane at the same time I reached the merge zone.

    On the contrary, every single time (out of 7 or 8), there was a vehicle in the right lane in the merge zone when I reached it.

    So what good is it? MoDOT says that "Metering will give motorist greater gaps between vehicles to merge safer, thus reducing tailgating and merge accidents...", but my experience is if anything the complete opposite. When there is no ramp metering active, at least I have a fighting chance at reaching approximately the speed limit which gives me the option of either braking or trying to outrun the car to my left. With ramp metering, my only option is to brake. If I brake and slow down, how does improve traffic flow, "...gas utilization and frustration..."?

    I'll tell you: it does not.

  21. From what I can see, the people who decided to implement this system are the same ones who stay in the right lane, going less than the speed limit, while the rest of us are doing what we were taught in Drivers Ed. class...pick your spot in traffic, activate your turn signal, use the ramp to reach the proper speed to MERGE into traffic at the spot you picked.

    Of course, while I'm merging, I have to watch for the car in front of me to slam on their brakes because THEY don't know how to enter the highway.

    Also, I'm having to watch for the vehicle in the #2 lane who's moving into the same spot I picked, however THEY aren't using their turn signals, probably because they've got a cell phone in their left hand. THIS in turn leads them, the car behind us, and I to all hit our brakes to avoid a collision. This leads to a 'domino effect', and everyone for a 1/4 mile behind us hits their brakes and loses 20mph of speed.

    My suggestion, more money spent on instructional traffic messages or advertising. These little tips and reminders of the proper way to drive.

    Also, maybe a little more money for the H.P. and Police to do more enforcement on the highways. I think if more tickets were written for unsafe or improper driving, you'd see traffic flow a LOT better.

    I know for a FACT that works in California. People tend to drive a lot less dangerously, when they don't know if that blue Chevy or that brown Ford or that green Cadillac is actually an unmarked police car, just WAITING to sign them up for 'the program'.

    Just my two-cents worth...and trust me, I won't let those lights slow me down on the ramps.

  22. Kansas city drivers need to learn how to merge into traffic and the traffic needs to move over to one of the left lanes to let them in. If people would put the damn phone down and get their foot on the gas when the light changes, this would greatly improve the flow of traffic as well. Basically,if people would actually drive when they are in the car instead of messing with phones and everything else, there would be no need for ramp meters.


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