Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer ? Standards

Wednesday, December 11 by JerryFoster

Using Desired Operating SpeedTo learn to love our traffic engineers, we have to understand why they don?t feel they have the authority to design roads to meet citizens? needs ? the standards won?t let them.

Marohn notes that standards are ?the engineering profession’s version of defensive medicine.?

Gary Toth invites us to ?marvel at how thoroughly the transportation establishment delivered on its perceived mandate?, including ??language/terminology; funding mechanisms; curriculum at universities; values; and policies. Common professional organizations? reinforce and standardize this? at a scale that has rarely been matched by any other profession.?

Citizens should note that engineers are required to follow the standards for traffic signals (Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices) – the others are guidelines.

Toth advises ?Design manuals often present standards in ranges from minimum to desirable. Has the designer selected the desirables instead of minimums?? Residents will want the minimums, as the ?desirables? are from the point of view of creating a wider, straighter and faster roadway.

Conventional DesignIn this series, we?ve set up a ?straw man? based on traditional engineering practices. The critique reported here comes from within the profession, however, and context sensitive standards such as NJDOT?s Smart Transportation Guidebook have been published that, if implemented, will significantly improve livability, which is the goal of the WWBPA.

We?ve seen how standards? flexibility enable engineers to design bike and walk friendly roadways, so in our next installment, we?ll look at liability concerns.

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Speed and Volume

Wednesday, November 20 by JerryFoster

us-vmt-projectionsUnlike residents, our traffic engineers prioritize speed and volume over safety and low cost ? why? It?s how they were trained.

We?re long past the era where roads provide orders-of-magnitude improvement, e.g. from walking to motoring, but policy still encourages speeding, e.g., engineers design for 5-10mph over posted speed, so 74% of drivers on Rt 1 in Plainsboro exceeded the speed limit recently.

Going faster means getting there faster, right? Only if you?re on the mythical open road – in densely populated New Jersey, we have traffic.

Speed can work against getting there faster in traffic, since cars stay further apart – the best volume throughput is at 30-46mph. Improved signal coordination and speed harmonization allow people to get there faster even though they?re going slower, by delaying the onset of stop-and-go congestion.

Historically, traffic increased year after year, but in 2004 per capita volume (vehicle miles traveled) declined (!), followed in 2007 by a total volume decline as the recession took hold.? Though the Great Recession ended June 2009, total volume remains at recession levels, and per capita volume continues to slide.

Is it the end of ?build it and they will come?? If so, engineers will have one more reason to change their priorities. In our next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer we?ll look at safety.

 

 

 

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Context Sensitive Solutions

Wednesday, October 30 by JerryFoster

Clarksville Pedestrians 2In our previous posts, we?ve seen that traffic engineers see urban where we see suburban or rural, and destroy downtowns by putting fast and wide arterials through them. As a result, conversations between residents and engineers are fraught with possible misunderstandings, making it very difficult to find the love.

Fortunately, this problem is well known, so the traffic engineering profession (Federal Highway Administration) developed Context Sensitive Solutions, to ?develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.? ?In other words, it encourages engineers to see farms and neighborhoods where we already see them, and to build appropriate roads for those places.

NJDOT and PennDOT even published the Smart Transportation Guidebook in 2008, which provides flexible roadway designs, e.g. for a community collector through a suburban neighborhood, 100% compatible with existing design standards (the flexibility was already there, who knew).

Problem solved? Not quite ? NJDOT didn?t adopt the principles and practices in the Smart Transportation Guidebook. Why not, and how can we learn to love our traffic engineers if we can?t even agree on neighborhoods? Stay tuned for the next installment ? Social Scientist.

 

 

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