February 7


Can Citizens Do A Traffic Study?

By Mike Spack

February 7, 2011

Can Citizens Do A Traffic Study? Citizen Participation in Road Projects Traffic Study

Kevin Lacy (Chief Traffic Engineer for the North Carolina DOT) doesn't think so according to the article Citizen Activist Grates on State Over Traffic Signals.  The DOT hired a consultant traffic engineer to perform a traffic signal justification study for two intersections in Raleigh, NC.  The consultant concluded traffic signals weren't needed as part of a road reconstruction project.  David Cox submitted his own traffic analysis on behalf of his home owners association that disagreed with the consultant traffic engineer's analysis and conclusions. 

I'm used to seeing citizen letters commenting on my traffic studies.  Some of them have even come with sketches for alternative roadway/traffic control designs.  In Minnesota, there are usually public hearings and citizen comments are asked for and considered in the design process.  Apparently Cox's analysis was too well done though.  Lacy submitted a complaint to the licensing board alleging Cox was practicing engineering without a license.

Cox was commenting on the design as a citizen.  As I understand it, the report never claimed to be prepared by a licensed engineer.  It will be interesting to see if the licensing board finds Cox was in fact practicing engineering without a license. 

Whether Cox has illegally practiced engineering or not, I wouldn't have lodged a complaint.  Ken Ashfeld, my boss when I was at the City of Maple Grove, beat into my head that the citizens are our true bosses and that we must respectfully listen to them.  Then we must logically respond with our engineering analysis and recommendation.

Cox's comments should have been reviewed the same way any other citizen comment should be reviewed – with respect and consideration.  It just so happened that Cox did a better job with his analysis than most citizens do (I'm guessing the citizens were persistent as well). 

Instead of going to the licensing board, a better response would have been a letter that either changed the decision about the signals or reaffirmed the decision in light of the new "evidence" submitted.  Then move on.

  • I cam across this and knowing several of the people involved, inquired about this. Here is what I can tell you as fact:
    – NCDOT agreed last summer that they would do a signal warrant study 6 months after the new roadway was openened as it includes a new roadway connection and would be difficult to know how traffic would be once construction was completed.
    – Mr. Lacy has over 100 correspondences with Mr. Cox, including letting him know that his report included numerous errors (using overall volumes instead of approach volumes and growing the volumes out 2035 prior to developing the analysis).
    – Mr. Lacy told Mr. Cox he could not approve a signal without a report completed by a licensed engineer, especially one that include errors.
    – Instead of heeding Mr. Lacy’s advice, Mr. Cox sent the report (completed with known errors) to more than 10 elected officials, including member of the US Congress – “Demanding that the elected officials pressure NCDOT into accpeting his study as a basis for approving the signals”
    – Mr. Lacy then responded to Mr. Cox that a signal would not be installed and that it would be evaluated following construction.
    – Mr. Cox then put several disparaging remarks about Mr. Lacy on his blog and started a timer showing how long it had been since the report was submitted to NCDOT, stating they had not received a response, when they had received numerous denials of their request.
    – Mr. Lacy then warned Mr. Cox that trying to push the signal through political means and misleading the public about the results of his study was not allowable. Mr. Cox refused to stop demanding the signal.
    – And here is the most ridiculous part – the existing peak hour volume on the side street is less than 30 vehicles per hour (total for both directions).
    People need to be careful about what they read – the local paper knows all the facts; however they refuse to report the true story. I guess they need a clause in there ethics about misleading the public

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    Mike Spack

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