Traffic apps such as Google Maps, Waze present challenges for traffic engineers

LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- As more drivers utilize traffic maps to minimize time spent on congested streets, a principal traffic engineer said it's creating challenges for traffic engineers and side roads.

Matt Duncan, the city of Lakewood's principal traffic engineer, said neighbors expressed concern about increased traffic and accidents at Pierce Street and Kentucky Avenue.

Neighbors living in the area figured the increased traffic came from new developments in the area, but Duncan said traffic engineers are seeing an increase in side-street traffic because of traffic apps such as Apple Maps, Google Maps and Waze.

"A lot of people get in the car and pull up Google Maps or Waze and maybe the most efficient route isn’t necessarily the interstate any more," Duncan said.

As a result of congested highways and interstates, the traffic apps reroute drivers onto quieter side streets to avoid traffic.

While it saves drivers time, it means secondary roads are handling a heavier volume of cars than they were designed to carry.

"Our roads are handling people who aren’t living or working in Lakewood," Duncan said.

In addition, Duncan said his team will notice traffic problems on a certain street, and they'll work to increase efficiency and decrease congestion.

Duncan said after the issue is resolved, it doesn't take long for the congestion to return because as traffic apps notice that it's a fast route, the apps will send more drivers to that area.

Duncan said in one particular project, three months after improving the road, traffic was back because 20 percent more cars were utilizing the thoroughfare.

Despite the challenges, Duncan said he still appreciates the technology.

He said drivers should remember if they chose to follow the traffic apps' suggestions and use side streets, it's important to follow the speed limit to respect the neighborhoods.