For many people, driving has become such an integral part of day-to-day routines that it’s easy to hop in a car and drive from point A to point B without giving much thought to what goes into planning our traffic patterns.
However, there is a lot of planning, preparation, and hard work that goes on behind the scenes to create safe and effective traffic flow through each and every roadway and intersection.
The Importance of Traffic Engineers
Traffic engineers are responsible for the way our traffic patterns operate, and without their skill and expertise, daily commutes might look quite a bit different than what we’ve come to expect.
What is traffic engineering and what are its main goals?
Traffic engineering is a branch of civil engineering that implements engineering techniques to efficiently and safely move vehicles and people along roadways and through intersections. The goal of traffic engineering is to ensure that the needs of people traversing roads are adequately met.
Responsibilities of traffic engineers
Some of the responsibilities of traffic engineers include signal timing, signal design, traffic modeling and forecasting, traffic management plans, and road safety audits.
However, traffic engineers are not only responsible for accommodating vehicles. They are also key in creating safe routes for pedestrians and cyclists, and may often perform relevant studies.
Whether you live in the smallest town or the largest city, traffic engineering is integral to your safety and how you experience your daily life.
Traffic engineers evaluate each town or city, and utilize methods that best suit the flow of traffic and population density of the area when creating a new traffic experience. They’ll take into consideration data regarding local accidents, traffic counts, and multimodal connections. From there, the traffic engineer will create a plan to implement the safest and most effective traffic pattern.
How does traffic engineering improve safety and mobility on our roads and highways?
The primary goal of traffic engineering is to create safe and efficient roadways. Without skilled engineers, intersections would become heavily congested during busy times of day, and pedestrians and cyclists have a difficult time navigating roadways safely.
When roadways are thoughtfully designed and optimized by traffic engineers, the immediate result is reduced traffic, including shorter wait times at busy intersections, which in turn creates less frustration for drivers. Traffic engineers are also responsible for a reduction in collisions on highways, as well as lessening the severity of those that do occur.
Traffic engineers also work hard to help minimize traffic in heavily residential areas. They may use strategies like traffic abatement, roadway pavement marking, signing plans, and neighborhood traffic safety plans to help ensure that residents remain safe in their own neighborhoods, which is particularly important when it comes to children and the elderly.
What are some of the latest trends in traffic engineering that cities are implementing to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion?
With each passing year, new ways to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion emerge. Some of the most popular at the moment include:
1. Innovative New Software
Both pedestrian crosswalk systems and wrong-way alert systems are becoming popular software systems that make for a worthwhile investment. These types of software allow easy, remote monitoring of traffic systems, enable instant alerts whenever emergencies occur, and offer data analysis and usage reports that can be used to inform decision making.
2. Better Nighttime Traffic Sign Visibility
Even though there are fewer drivers on the road at night, alarmingly high rates of traffic accidents occur when it’s dark outside. An important factor in understanding why this occurs is the inability for drivers to clearly see traffic signs in low light. More and more frequently signs with flashing LED lights are being used at pedestrian crosswalks and at mid-block crosswalks. Another increasingly popular option are LED-illuminated, non-flashing signs that help improve sign visibility and legibility.
3. Increased Collaboration Between Agencies
County or state lines don’t have any bearing on changing roadway issues. With better collaboration between agencies, problems that intersect multiple counties, cities, or states can be solved, improving safety across the board. As technology advances, this type of collaboration becomes increasingly popular, not to mention effective.
How can motorists help to improve the flow of traffic by following the rules of the road and being patient while driving in congested areas?
The flow of traffic is largely dependent on the behaviors of drivers, and the decisions made behind the wheel can impact many other motorists. Following the rules of the road and employing patience when driving in busy areas are vital, but there are additional ways that drivers can help improve traffic flow that are small but potentially significant.
- When entering a highway, merge in a timely manner.
- Allow other drivers to merge in front of you when possible.
- Try to get into the correct lane as early as possible.
- Practice your parallel parking skills in advance to avoid a potential backup.
- In parking lots, opt for a spot closer to the exit, as jams tend to occur more frequently the closer you are to the entrance.
- Be mindful of the order cars should proceed when you approach a four-way stop.
- Drive at the speed limit.
What are some tips for pedestrians who want to safely cross a busy street or intersection?
While traffic engineers do everything in their power to help pedestrians stay safe, there are measures pedestrians can take everyday to ensure their own safety when crossing busy streets or intersections.
- Pay attention to and obey all signs and signals.
- Cross streets by way of crosswalks or intersections, and be mindful of cars moving in all directions.
- When crosswalks are not present, cross the street in an area that is well-lit and wait for a wide enough gap in traffic that offers you enough time to cross the street safely.
- Remain on sidewalks as often as possible.
- When sidewalks are not present, walk facing traffic while staying as far away from moving vehicles as possible.
- Keep an eye out for cars entering or exiting driveways and backing up or pulling into parking spots.