Traffic engineering is a specialized branch of civil engineering; it uses various engineering techniques to help achieve the efficient and safe movement of people and goods on the roadways. Its focus is primarily on research for efficient and safe flow of traffic, road surface markings, traffic signs as well as traffic lights etc.
What is traffic engineering?
Traffic engineering is a field that deals with all the functional aspects of the transportation system, except any infrastructure provided. This discipline is closely associated with various other branches of engineering such as:
• Transport engineering
• Bicycle transportation engineering
• Pavement engineering
• Urban planning
• Human factors engineering.
• Highway engineering
• Transportation planning
Traffic engineering projects generally involve designing, installation and modification of traffic control devices such as pavement markings, traffic signs and signals etc. In addition, these projects work on achieving traffic safety by conducting investigations at location that have high-crash rates and are accident prone. In these projects, countermeasures will be formulated to reduce the incidence of accidents.
Different aspects that traffic engineering deals with
Traffic engineering is the phase of engineering which deals with planning, geometric design as well as traffic operations of streets, roads, highways and their terminals, abutting lands, networks and relationships with different modes of transportation for the achievement of efficient, convenient and safe movement of people & goods. The principles applied in traffic engineering help solve a variety or transportation problems; this is achieved by considering the habits and psychology of people that use the transportation systems.
Many people are surprised to hear that engineering skills are required for providing solutions to traffic problems. The general assumption is that simple solutions such as erecting more traffic signs, raising or lowering the speed limits in different areas and installing traffic signals should do the trick.
However, this job isn’t as simple as it seems. One of the biggest obstacles that traffic engineering teams face in applying sound traffic engineering principles are the competing theories put forth by non-traffic engineers that are sometimes hired to resolve these problems. Whenever excessive traffic control systems are installed it generally results in hazardous traffic conditions; and traffic engineers may then be called upon to fix these problems too.
About intelligent transportation systems
Increasingly, numerous traffic problems are being effectively addressed by developing intelligent transportation systems. These projects typically work in tandem with various other engineering disciplines and include electrical engineering and computer engineering.
Conventionally, road improvement project mainly consisted of constructing additional infrastructure. However, in modern day traffic engineering solutions, different types of dynamic elements are being introduced into the management of road traffic. These elements and systems have long been used for rail transportation, and include:
• Sensors to measure traffic flows
• Interconnected, automated guidance systems for managing traffic (e.g.: traffic signs that open up a lane in opposite directions based on the time of day)
• Speed and traffic flow sensors used for detecting problems and to alert
These systems help determine the cause of the congestion. Measures can then be taken to minimize the delays. Collectively, these systems are called intelligent transportation systems.
What is a traffic engineer?
A traffic engineer is a professional who applies engineering practices and principles and provides feasible solutions to traffic-related problems on streets, roads and highways. The analysis and data they collect may also be used in the construction of roads, highways and freeways and other types of ground transportation.
They use quantitative methods to analyze existing infrastructure and traffic patterns and anticipate and plan for current and future transportation needs. An experienced traffic engineer might eventually take on the role of a project manager and will spend additional time meeting with government officials and clients, rather than on the field. They review the work of less-experienced engineers and technicians to ensure compliance with the regulations set up by the Department of Transportation (DoT).
Duties that a traffic engineer performs
A traffic engineer promotes safer traffic conditions by planning and helping implement roadway solutions that contribute to efficient, smooth and safe traffic flow. Depending on the scope of the project, some of the duties they perform include:
• Accident and safety analysis
• Traffic operations analysis
• Parking and circulation studies
• Taking Traffic counts
• Analyzing accident statistics
• Studying speed data
• Examining roadway conditions
• Traffic signal system feasibility & design
• Design traffic preparation
• Pedestrian facilities planning & design
• Signing & signal inventories
• Traffic signal timing & design
• Maintenance of Traffic (MOT)
• Commercial vehicle operations
• Asset management
In addition they are involved in signal timing and optimization, construction of traffic control inspection and design, pedestrian/bicycle movement, road safety audits, access management, intersection improvements, planning and environmental linkage (PEL), roundabouts and more.
Systems and tools that traffic engineers use
• Traffic engineers may use advanced specialized computer software to analyze these studies.
• Simulation Tools to study effects of using different signals and materials.
• 4D traffic simulation programs- used for modeling of interchanges and expressways, corridors, transit centers, roundabouts, and bicyclist and pedestrian interactions with motorized users
• Microscopic traffic flow, multi-modal simulation software such as PTV Vissim
• CAPSSI- Comprehensive Analysis Program for Singly Signalized Intersection
• HCS software
• SIDRA (level of service at
• TCDI (Traffic Control Devices Inventory)
• SIS (Sign Inventory System)
• TDPI (Traffic Data Input Program)
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