Traffic Lights in Flux

By Jesús Aguado

After the new traffic lights were installed in San Miguel de Allende doubts increased about their efficiency and operation, according to authorities who we questioned. Samuel Mercadillo, the Comisario de Tránsito y Movilidad (Commissioner of Transit and Mobility), said he did not know who decided to put them in. Mercadillo is responsible for traffic safety in the city. In addition, Josafat Enríquez, director of Proteccion Civil (Civil Protection Office), said he did not know what risks the stoplights on the Caracol might present to drivers. But expert drivers do know the risks, and they gave us their opinions on the matter.

Human signal controllers

Atención spoke with commissioner Mercadillo regarding several issues. First, we asked him about criticism regarding previous traffic control at San Francisco and Juárez streets, where an officer previously directed traffic by standing on a pedestal with a sign. 

Mercadillo said, “If you ignore the past, it’s difficult to understand the present and the future.” He stated that the first traffic light was erected in San Miguel in 1970. That year, the transit department received an old automobile headlight—dating from 1900—and it was adapted as a traffic light at the intersection of San Francisco, Canal, and Hidalgo (the corner where Starbucks is located today).

In 1995, as director of transit, Mercadillo initiated the program “yield to vehicles,” and the officers who directed traffic were no longer needed because locals were receptive to the new rule. It is from this time that the “uno a uno” (one by one) tradition was established on the streets of the city.

However, nostalgia remains, and each year in December a traffic officer is placed at the corner of San Francisco and Juárez with the original sign directing traffic. What is interesting is that in 2019 this did not happen because the sign disappeared from Comisaria de Transito. Recently it was recovered at a local tianguis where it was for sale. “We did not pay anything for its recovery,” said Mercadillo.

Traffic lights at the Libramiento

In 1997 two stoplights were placed on Libramiento Manuel Zavala. The first was at the crossroads of the Libramiento and Calzada de la Estación; the second was at the current intersection at Malanquin. One light was missing and was later replaced. As years went by, the traffic lights became obsolete. This was due to criticism from residents who claimed that the lights were causing accidents because people didn’t understand how they worked. At Malanquin, an underpass was constructed, and at Calzada de la Estación, the Puente Bicentenario and a roundabout were built and improved the flow of traffic.

Traffic lights at El Caracol

Commissioner Mercadillo told Atención that he is unfamiliar with the current traffic light project. This is because the Libramiento is a federal highway, and the work is being done at the federal level. Work done by his department will come later with implementation and explanation of how the stoplights function once they are installed. He also remarked that there will be markings on the ground for pedestrian crosswalks. These indicate that in the future the existing pedestrian bridges may disappear depending on the area.

Atención spoke to experts on highway safety about the traffic lights to be installed on the Caracol. They noted that there are several disadvantages to traffic lights at this particular intersection.

  1. The stoplight will create a full stop for vehicles coming from both directions. However, the disadvantage is that there is poor visibility for approaching vehicles to see the stopped traffic, due to the natural curves created by the surrounding mountainside. It is probable that there will be sudden braking and potential impacts. The bigger risk would be caused by vehicles coming down the hill at a higher speed increased by gravity. Drivers of heavy vehicles could have problems in making sudden stops.
  2. The effects could be catastrophic if heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses, are involved, causing severe accidents and claiming victims. Such vehicles, because of their weight, require ample distance to brake in a safe manner and avoid possible overturns.
  3. Weather conditions, such as rain, are an additional risk factor. Since vehicles slide on wet roads, braking and control become more difficult.
  4. There are various places close to residential areas which could be affected by a major traffic accident involving heavy vehicles, particularly those that transport hazardous materials.

Because of these points, those who understand road and traffic conditions claim that there is a need for the municipal system of protection involving health, public safety, emergency institutions, and government to make a thorough analysis of road conditions and decrease risks by implementing [suitable] traffic control and circulation strategies in the area. In this way tragedies can be avoided.

Protección Civil does not know about the project

Enríquez is responsible for San Miguel’s Protección Civil (Civil Protection). He spoke with Atención, and we were able to question him at length about seguridad carretera (highway safety). This is what he said: “All the studies should have been done by those who are doing the underpass project. We point out the risks so that studies can be done that take those risks into account. However, the placement of traffic lights was announced in September and started on December 10. Through a national public bid, the state government chose the company to work on the underpass at El Pipila around the middle of December 2019.”

We asked how the director of Proteccion Civil, knowing the risks, would authorize the placement of traffic lights on the Caracol?

Enríquez explained: “We need to work together on prevention—people and the authorities; the authorities work on road conditions and the residents work on the condition of their vehicles and knowing their vehicle. We need to work together on these things. When accidents occur, it is due to speeding, [and/or] lack of familiarity with the infrastructure. We need to use preventive measures (signals, traffic reducers), which should be included in the project, as well as the education of pedestrians.”

Once again we asked Enríquez if he agrees that there is poor visibility for drivers in the area due to the slope that causes an increase in speed, thus increasing the risk of accidents. We also asked if he agrees that traffic in this area is near a residential zone and accidents would complicate the work of emergency personnel. Enríquez confirmed that if all security measures are in place, such as proper signals and speed reducers, he will authorize the installation of the traffic lights.

Comunicación Social (Social Communications) provided more data

In September the local offices of communication began to address the issues of the traffic lights. In December they wrote: “In order to control the flow of vehicular traffic on Libramiente Jose Manuel Zavala, which currently handles 120 thousand vehicles per day at peak times, on Tuesday, December 10, traffic lights will be installed. In the first phase there will be a widening of the Caracol, the tearing down of the roundabout Allende, and a rebuilding of the roundabout at SAPASMA. These will be the places where the first traffic lights will be installed. This will help control the traffic flow heading toward the Pipila roundabout, where an underpass will be constructed. Stemming the flow of traffic will enable the workers to build the underpass.

The project is being elaborated, by Bercale Services SA of CVand LUMO Financiera of Centro SA de CV, which is municipal, and 44 million pesos will be invested (plus IVA) in the project. They also told us that at the Caracol, where Enríquez claims there will be speed reducers, none are planned. “That is not within the project. What we will have is vertical and horizontal signals.

Atención questioned further: “What is the justification for installing the traffic lights?”

These questions and answers followed: 

Social Communications (SC): Stop lights will improve traffic flow and reduce accidents along Libramiento Jose Manuel Zavala. The traffic lights will allow for an orderly flow of traffic and the installation of cameras connected to C4, the Command, Control, Communications, and Computing Center.

Atención San Miguel:  What are the phases and the dates of completion?

SC: Phase one will handle Paseo de los Conspiradores (what was the Ignacio Allende glorieta), the road to Alcocer (former glorieta by SAPASMA), and El Caracol. Phase two will be at Josefina Orozco, the Hospital, and Puente Bicentenario (Bicentennial Bridge).  Phase three will include the roundabout near las Ventanas. The dates for implementation are tentative and cannot be given yet. However, each phase will last approximately three weeks.

ASM: A bulletin from January 14 stated that the traffic lights should be working within the next 20 days (a date that has already passed). It said that the lights would not be in use for another 10 to 15 days—this has not taken place. What is the reason for delay?

SC: The completion of auxiliary electrical and communications work.

ASM:  Was there bidding?

SC: Bidding was done by Licitación Pública Nacional number LPN/DRM-006-2019, the same company that does contracts for Contratación de Servicio Integral de Arrendamiento Puro, Suministro, Mantenimiento y Puesta en Operación de Equipos de Alta Tecnología en Materia de Movilidad y Seguridad Pública for San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. The failure brings on law 45-2019, dated July 19, 2019.

Atención was not given any information about contacts; however, the website bercale.com/ indicates that it deals with government leases of vehicles, computers and technology, machinery, security, and fleet services. Querétaro, Mexico City, and San Miguel de Allende are among their customers. The group lumofinancieradelcentro.com deals with government finances and leases.