Time to Make the Grade

November 17, 2007

The recent National Traffic Signal Report Card highlighted a challenge facing the transportation profession—to maintain and manage existing facilities with limited resources and funding. The Proactive Management grade from the report card was an “F” on the national level. Further, the report card indicated that an overall letter grade of “A” would reduce travel times by up to 25%, fuel consumption by up to 10%, and harmful emissions by up to 22%.

After the report card results were released, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) created the Traffic Signal Timing Program to initiate awareness, outreach, education, training, tool development, guidance, technical research, and stakeholder involvement related to traffic signal timing. This program has increased engineers’ and jurisdictions’ awareness of the need for more resources devoted to the operation of the transportation system. In turn, this awareness has spurred engineers’ and jurisdictions’ demands for the industry to provide enhanced guidance and education, and for a manual that will document appropriate signal timing practices. The FHWA hired a team of researchers to develop the Traffic Signal Timing Manual to address these demands. The project team, headed by Kittelson & Associates, Inc., comprises researchers and experts from the University of Maryland, the Texas Transportation Institute, Purdue University, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), and SIEMENS ITS.

The Traffic Signal Timing Manual will be published before the end of 2007. The project team is working to develop a single comprehensive guide that combines an array of resources covering such topics as policy and funding considerations, planning and needs assessment, pedestrian and bicycle timing, coordination, timing plan development, and transit considerations. These resources identify issues associated with traffic signal timing and, when compiled, will provide a concise, practical, user-friendly guide focused on the fundamentals and the prevailing best practices for traffic signal timing. The completed manual will include guidance appropriate for a range of situations, from maintaining a single signal to coordinating an entire system of signals. The manual targets engineers and technicians responsible for the day-to-day timing, coordination, and maintenance of traffic signals.

Project team member Darcy Bullock, of Purdue University, notes the industry importance of the Traffic Signal Timing Manual:

As a profession, we have spent the last thirty years numerically analyzing signalized intersection performance and assigning a quantitative grade. This effort is exciting because it is the first time the profession has attempted to develop a design tool. Just the process of writing down signal-timing procedures forces us to critically examine what really are the best design and operating practices.

Click here for more information regarding the FHWA Traffic Signal Timing Manual and the project.

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