12 Things a New City Traffic Engineer Should Do

By Mike Spack, PE, PTOE

I developed a five-year plan back when I became the traffic engineer for Maple Grove, MN in 2001.  It was a list of systems I wanted to implement along with my philosophy regarding each topic.  I shared it with my boss.  We tweaked it.  Then I went to work.  I had accomplished 90% of that plan by the time I left two and a half years later.

I shared that memo with other traffic engineers over the years, but unfortunately, I lost it.  Hopefully, I’m a little wiser after all of these years.  Here’s my new list –

Top 12 Things a New City Traffic Engineer Should Do

  1. Study the City’s Comprehensive Plan/Transportation Plan.  This is your big picture game plan.  If there isn’t one, you need to create it ASAP.
  2. Drive every street in the city (and walk/bike around/ride transit!). Ideally in both directions.  This takes time, but you need to know your streets better than anyone else in the city.  Check out this post for things to look for.
  3. Update the traffic signal timing plans in the city.
  4. Develop a process for responding to speeding/stop sign requests.  (check out our Guide if you want a shortcut)
  5. Buy a speed radar trailer.  This relates to the previous item.  The data will say you should almost never do anything permanent for the above requests, but putting out a speed radar trailer on their street builds goodwill with the residents.  It’s kind of a placebo that won’t have a long-term impact, but you listened and you did something.
  6. Inspect all of your traffic signals.  Make sure they’re in working order.  Push the ped buttons.
  7. Review, revise, or write a Traffic Calming Policy for the city.  Even if it’s informal to establish a “party line” within the engineering, public works, and community development departments.
  8. Review, revise, or write a Traffic Impact Study Policy for the city.
  9. Write a Traffic 101 Welcome Packet for new planning commission and city council members.  Include a lot of the material in this list.  Let them know why a stop sign on every corner is a bad idea.  Teach them the basics of traffic signal operations and access management.
  10. Review, revise, or write a Complete Streets Policy for the city.
  11. Inventory all of the infrastructure you’re responsible for (signs, signals, etc) with installation dates and condition so you can develop a replacement plan/budget.
  12. Make a Traffic Control Map you can hang on the wall with pins at the intersections with signals, all-way stop signs, and roundabouts.  Better yet is to color code them with which jurisdiction operates them (you or the county/state).

Anything you think I should add?  War stories to share?  It would also be great if you have any document examples to share with us – put a link in the comments.

Mike Spack Bio

Mike Spack

  • J Fishinger says:

    The first thing I did when I became County Traffic Engineer was take a map of the County and put colored coded pins in it for all the signals in the County (different colors for each maintaining jursdiction, plus pins for planned signals). 7 years later and it is still invaluable to keep track of what signal belongs to who and what intersections have signals planned.

  • BackyardBrawler says:

    Inventory your equipment and find out how old some of it is, definitely helps out in developing some priority for replacement and budgeting.

  • Eric Fischer says:

    If you’re going to drive every street in the city, you really should ride all the transit routes and walk all the streets too. No need to start off with the windshield perspective.

  • Troy Arseneau says:

    Awesome article, Mike. I have never worked in this capacity, but it appears you are covering the major topics and hot spots of issues and concerns that city engineers have to face dealing with traffic, the public, and politicians.

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