Importance of Timed Traffic Signals

Interested in saving on fuel costs, reducing negative environmental impacts, and helping provide a more pleasant driving experience? The solution can be found through proper signal timing and coordination.

Suppose signals are timed or coordinated incorrectly. In that case, vehicles will likely have to make frequent stops while traveling through a corridor, which wastes time and fuel, creates congestion and pollution, and frustrates drivers. The sensitivity of traffic signal controller settings can be an issue as well. One wrong setting can have a huge impact and cause the traffic signal to operate inefficiently.

Proper signal timing is beneficial for cities and towns, as the reduction in congestion often makes their streets more appealing and easier to navigate. Businesses along properly timed signalized corridors can also benefit since many people avoid heavily congested areas when traveling.

Despite the benefits, many signal systems are not operated or managed as well as they could be. The national average “grade” for the state of agencies’ traffic signal systems is D to D+. Although the grade has improved since the first report card was released in 2005, it is still generally unacceptable in the eyes of the public.

There are many reasons for such a low grade, but the lack of funding and workforce to maintain and improve the quality of signal operation nationwide tops the list. It is recommended that signal timings be updated every two to five years to accommodate traffic levels or pattern changes. When this does not happen, the effectiveness of the signal timings may deteriorate and cause congestion and delay.

Signal timing and coordination projects often provide a lot of bang for the buck. They typically have a very high benefit to cost ratio that can be anywhere from 2:1 to as much as 50:1. We believe working on signal timing projects allows us to make a difference. Many state DOTs, including Alabama, have adopted signalized corridor management programs to improve the performance and reliability of select traffic signal systems. Sain is proud to be involved in this program in Alabama.

With some projects, signal timing and coordination are the main objectives and our sole focus. In other cases, signal timing and coordination are often addressed as part of a larger project such as a roadway widening, resurfacing, or access management project.

We have found that the driving public is generally very perceptive of signal timing and quickly notices changes, good or bad. And it makes sense. Many people between the ages of 18 and 65 drive the same stretch of road four or more days each week at the same times each day. Traffic signals are often an element of that daily commute.

It is gratifying to deliver a relatively low-cost project that results in substantial environmental improvements and, in many cases, quality of life enhancements. As gas prices continue to reach record highs, we hope signal timing and coordination projects can benefit our clients and their communities.

Sain is currently seeking applicants for our Traffic Engineer position. If you know a civil engineer looking for a great place to work, pass the word along about Sain Associates.