What is the Role of Traffic Engineers?
Traffic engineers play an integral role in establishing and continuously improving safety on roadways. Because of their thorough and thoughtful work, we are able to drive from one location to another safely and efficiently. Traffic engineers are a type of civil engineer responsible for ensuring that people are able to use roadways safely and that traffic patterns are always optimized. Each traffic signal, traffic sign, bike lane, and roadway is designed and implemented by a traffic engineer. They are responsible for the flow of traffic you experience every day and strive to keep finding new ways to improve the roads in your community, city, and state.
Understanding Traffic Flow and Behaviors
One of the primary responsibilities of traffic engineers is studying the flow of traffic in order to identify potentially dangerous or ineffective road patterns. Traffic engineers perform studies that measure road user behavior, taking into account roadway design, crash history, and traffic control. They also take into consideration expected development projects, as well as proposed development projects and expected traffic growth. These studies can take anywhere from days to years to perform, depending on the location and the complexity of the study. Traffic engineers rely on the most specific details in order to identify areas that present opportunities for improvement. Transportation engineers and city planners will review the findings of these studies in order to determine whether or not construction can begin in the event that significant improvements are necessary.
Designing Safe Roadways
When roadways are designed safely, it’s likely that you won’t notice when you’re driving. Safe roads are ones that function seamlessly; road signs are clear, traffic signals are effective, and the flow of traffic facilitates an effortless commute. Roads that make driving feel easy and safe don’t happen by accident. Traffic engineers work tirelessly to implement the most appropriate and effective road signs and markings so that drivers have clarity on the road. They find opportunities to place traffic elements, like roundabouts and chicanes, in order to optimize the flow of traffic.
Still, traffic engineers recognize that motorists are not the only people on the road. They play a significant role in establishing and improving the safety of pedestrians and cyclists that frequent roadways. Details that appear small, like properly signaled crosswalks and designated bike likes, make a massive difference when it comes to roadway safety. Elements like sidewalks and proper lighting ensure that the roads can be used efficiently by drivers without compromising the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
Improving Intersection Safety
All too often, intersections are the scene of motor vehicle collisions, heavy congestion, and dangerous traffic patterns. Traffic engineers exert quite a bit of effort improving the safety of intersections, especially those that see the greatest amount of traffic. Traffic engineers perform the complex task of optimizing traffic signal timing, which plays a key role in preventing accidents and traffic jams. The information traffic engineers gather from traffic studies helps inform the best way to time signals as well as when to implement right-turn-on-read restrictions.
Busy intersections have the potential to be as dangerous to pedestrians as they are to motorists. To ensure pedestrian safety, traffic engineers make sure that crosswalks are working properly and that the signals allow enough time for people to cross the road safely.
Reducing Speed-related Crashes
The number of motor vehicle accidents that result from motorists driving above the speed limit is staggering, and while traffic engineers cannot necessarily put an end to speeding, there are certainly measures that they take to encourage people to drive at a safe speed. In the same way that traffic engineers conduct traffic studies, they also facilitate speed studies, which help determine which areas pose the greatest risk of drivers operating their vehicles above the speed limit. Armed with this information, traffic engineers are able to take speed calming measures, which may include speed humps, speed tables, and raised intersections, as well as horizontal shifts and roadway narrowing. They may also choose to employ closures to obstruct traffic movement, such as median barriers. All of these measures help improve speed-limit compliance, driving down the number of collisions as well as the severity of those that do occur.
Enhancing Road User Education
While traffic engineers play an enormous role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of roadways, they also recognize that engaging with the community and educating those who use the roadway is equally important. Traffic engineers conduct public outreach, providing motorists with information regarding safety and best practices. They also provide driver training, which further serves to improve the experience of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Traffic engineers will often seek to improve pedestrian safety education, as it’s not only motorists who can take measures to reduce the risk of pedestrian-related accidents.
For traffic engineers, the most important goal is creating and maintaining efficient, safe roadways. Traffic engineers work hard to minimize congestion and safety risks on the road, making roadways safe for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. The efforts of traffic engineers lead to shorter wait times at typically busy intersections, less traffic, and fewer collisions with reduced severity.
Managing the flow of traffic is no small task, and when done well it’s easy not to notice all of the hard work that goes into ensuring that your travels are safe and without unnecessary delay. Today, traffic engineers are implementing innovative new software to help them monitor traffic systems and signal the authorities in the event of an emergency. As roadways continue to develop, different county and state agencies are invested in collaborating with one another to create the most streamlined, efficient workflow possible, resulting in improved roads all around.
Traffic engineers keep our roads safe and transit going strong, however there is also a lot that motorists can do to aid in the flow of traffic. When drivers have patience, allowing others to merge, drive at the speed limit, and remain mindful of others, the end result is a better, safer experience for everyone on the road.