January 16


I was at a meeting yesterday discussing traffic study policies.  About half of us at the meeting were consulting traffic engineers and the other half were government employed traffic engineers.  When a traffic study is done, it is typically done in one of two ways:  (1) The developer hires a traffic engineering consultant to prepare the study and then a city staff member or city hired traffic engineering consultant reviews the study.  (2) The city has the developer escrow funds and the city uses those funds to directly hire their own consultant traffic engineer to prepare the study.

DuelingI am usually part of process 1 – hired by the developer or hired by a city to review another consultant's study.  A couple of my buddies at the table are consultants who are typically hired under scenario 2.  One of them made the comment that it is better for cities to use method 2 because the consultant isn't in the pocket of the developer (a little self serving eh?).  Well, I had to try to protect myself.

Here is my logic on why option 1 for completing traffic studies is best.  First, I assume consultants should do the same quality work no matter who the client is.  We are licensed engineers and we have a duty to the motoring public.  This is how I operate, but there are one or two consultants in my town who don't have the best reputation.  So, I believe in the trust but verify method.  Second, in the real world there is always a gray area between the black and white.  This is an area often referred to as "engineering judgment."  In option 2, you only get one engineer's opinion of the gray area.  In option 1, you get two opinions.  Sometimes they agree and sometimes they don't.  It is important though that the gray area can be highlighted and the different traffic engineers have a chance to back-up their engineering judgment.  Ultimately then, the city officials choose where they want to come down on the matter.

Going with option #2 is kind of like a court system hiring one expert witness and trusting their judgment.  This may work out fine, but there is no quality control in that scenario.   When I sat in a city traffic engineer seat, I caught mistakes my consultants made.  Nobody is perfect.  I like the redundancy of option 1 because there is a better chance the right thing will ultimately be done.

  • Mike,
    While I agree that method one is probably the “best method” since there is a built in system of checks and balances, I, don’t think the majority of Engineers follow through with their duty to the motoring public. When I was consulting, I firmly believed that my primary client was the public and not the almighty dollar that my developer paid me. Based on the reports I’ve reviewed since returning to the public sector, it seems that most of my colleague could not care less about the public.

  • did you mean to say “I like the redundancy of option 1…” in the last sentence instead of “…option 2…?”

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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