Wonky Warning: Following-Up on Coors and Las Estancias

A few days back, we wrote about the “stillborn” red light at the corner of Coors Blvd. and Las Estancias in the South Valley. To be precise, the red light itself did the “writing,” in a manner of speaking.

In these past few days we’ve learned a bit more regarding activation of the red light. While the inter-government agency negotiations are a bit hazy, it appears a study of the traffic impact created a new Presbyterian urgent care nearby atop the motley set of tenants (movie house, Lovelace, senior center, etc.) will be completed around the end of 2017, and that this study may well show activation of the light is “warranted” at Las Estancias.

The overlapping jurisdictional aspects in place: State road (Coors/NM-45), City (ABQ annexed the land as part of a “Walmartification”) and County (area surrounding Walmartification) have certainly played a role in making it already three years between installation of the red light and this latest study, but the process of “warranting” is an even bigger factor.


As outlined in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices guidance established by the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (that’s MUTCD via USDOT’s FHWA  or MUTCDUSDOTFHWA for acronym lovers) a set of criteria (traffic volume first and foremost) must be satisfied before a light can be found “warranted.” From the link earlier in this paragraph:

An engineering study of traffic conditions, pedestrian characteristics, and physical characteristics of the location shall be performed to determine whether installation of a traffic control signal is justified at a particular location.

The investigation of the need for a traffic control signal shall include an analysis of the applicable factors contained in the following traffic signal warrants and other factors related to existing operation and safety at the study location:

Warrant 1, Eight-Hour Vehicular Volume.
Warrant 2, Four-Hour Vehicular Volume.
Warrant 3, Peak Hour.
Warrant 4, Pedestrian Volume.
Warrant 5, School Crossing.
Warrant 6, Coordinated Signal System.
Warrant 7, Crash Experience.
Warrant 8, Roadway Network.

This section concludes with a little bureaucratic wiggle statement that remains befuddling to this author:

The satisfaction of a traffic signal warrant or warrants shall not in itself require the installation of a traffic control signal.

But wait, there’s more…so much more.

For instance, what is the traffic volume threshold required to warrant a warrant? Looking through the various tables at the MUTCDUSDOTFHWA (I dare you to call somebody this at work today), I think we’re talking our good friend, Table 4C-1, Condition B:

Table 4C-1. Warrant 1, Eight-Hour Vehicular Volume
Condition B—Interruption of Continuous Traffic
Number of lanes for
moving traffic on each approach
Vehicles per hour on major street
(total of both approaches)
Vehicles per hour on
minor-street approach
(one direction only)
Major Street Minor Street 100%a 80%b 70%c 56%d 100%a 80%b 70%c 56%d
1…………….. 1…………….. 750 600 525 420 75 60 53 42
2 or more….. 1…………….. 900 720 630 504 75 60 53 42
2 or more….. 2 or more….. 900 720 630 504 100 80 70 56
1…………….. 2 or more….. 750 600 525 420 100 80 70 56

And since we’re talking the motor speedway that is Coors Boulevard, we also need to keep in mind the following:

If the posted or statutory speed limit or the 85th-percentile speed on the major street exceeds 70 km/h or exceeds 40 mph, or if the intersection lies within the built-up area of an isolated community having a population of less than 10,000, the traffic volumes in the 56 percent columns in Table 4C-1 may be used in place of the 80 percent columns.

So, in the interest of time, space and your internet attention span, dear reader, we’ll skip to something of a chase and posit that at least 42 roadway users need to experience “excessive delay” in trying to turn left/southbound from Las Estancias (the minor street) to Coors in at least one of the eight study hours before activating this light is justified according to MUTCDUSDOTFHWA.

Yes, the answer to everything in life really is: 42


So decoupling from the nerdiness of MUTCDUSDOTFHWA, let’s take one more look at the current situation “on the ground” at Coors Blvd. and Las Estancias, and speak of perception instead of numbers:


Noting that this unwarranted light was installed three years ago, here’s what nearby South Valley residents and the countless drivers on Coors have thought the past three years:

“Why isn’t that light turned on?” 

Yes, many motorists definitely followed this question in their mind with: “I’m damn glad it hasn’t been turned on, as I can now continue driving at an ’85th percentile speed’ that is significantly higher than the posted 55 becoming 45 mph!” 

Still, despite Americans insatiable need for speed, there’s a glitch in all this MUTCDUSDOTFHWA and whatnot. The current pattern for new construction similar to that around the Coors/Rio Bravo Walmartification goes like this:

  1. Developer proposes Walmartification;
  2. Government entity(ies) make developer put up red light to be turned on only when project is fully “built-out”;
  3. Long time passes as tenants slowly “build out” the area sold to the developer; and,
  4. Motorists and other passers-by increasingly face more and more dangers exiting as the developed area slowly achieves full “build out.”

There just seems to be a better way.

For instance, perhaps left/southbound turns from Las Estancias could have simply been blocked/not permitted, in the “build out” interim, just as has been done on two other stretches of this Walmartified area. Instead, we’ve seen three years of drivers being “double-dog dared” to turn left here, at their increasing peril.

Why bother finding out about MUTCDUSDOTFHWA and reading this overly long wonkpost about it? I can’t really find too much justification to have read all the above, dear reader, but as we move from a traffic engineering paradigm of “85th Percentile” toward something approaching, for example, “Vision Zero,” we need to study and understand the paradigmatic elements in place in order to most successfully subvert that paradigm.

Just saying “we’re Vision Zero now” without such study will not successfully overthrow anything. It will lead only to “nice” slogans and vacuous political promises. Yeah, MUTCDUSDOTFHWA is daunting, perhaps deliberately so, but the devil in these details requires understanding for the meaningful work ahead.




4 thoughts on “Wonky Warning: Following-Up on Coors and Las Estancias

  1. […] Back in November BB wrote about the “dark” light signal at Coors Boulevard and Las Estancias in the far South Valley, a intersection signal that has been installed for years now, but was still not in operation. In the parlance, the light had not been officially shown to be “warranted” through traffic study, as actual/potential usage of users coming from the ever-expanding number of strip malls storefronts and such was deemed not yet sufficient. […]


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