How to Speak Traffic Engineering

Guest Post by Bryant Ficek, PE, PTOE, Vice President at Spack Consulting.

Jargon – special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand (Google definition).

Several years ago, Mike and I were at a bar for a non-engineering function, but started talking shop in front of another friend. This friend’s reaction to our conversation could have been likened to the restaurant scene in The Godfather, where Sollozzo tells Police Captain McCluskey that he’s going to speak Italian to Michael Corleone. While we were actually speaking English, traffic engineering does have its own set of key words and phrases that can confuse the unfamiliar.

To that end, we have developed a new research brief to tackle the jargon issue. We design our reports to speak in common language and phrases. But some terms, like Level of Service, cannot be avoided. This guide is designed to be a refresher for any traffic engineer, a pocket manual for those civil engineers and architects who work with traffic engineers, and the Rosetta Stone for the general public or those new to the field.

We can’t capture all the jargon in a two-page document, but we can get the basics to you. Sign up here to download this new Research Brief and you will also receive our other research briefs covering topics such as access management, roundabout basics, traffic calming, and more.



  • Jim says:

    Please revise the How to Speak Traffic Engineer brief to include the AASHTO Highway Safety Manual. It’s basically the HCM for traffic safety, estimating crash frequency based on geometry and traffic control. I know it’s new compared to the MUTCD and HCM, but it’s been around for six years now. There seems to be some lack of awareness or institutional inertia holding it back from wider use. Or maybe it’s the $500 price tag. I don’t know.

    I do know that some agencies do use it to get the most benefit from limited funding. Arizona DOT, for example, used it to show that for a set budget, they could get a bigger safety improvement from 5 ft shoulders versus 8 ft shoulders. The added mileage of shoulders they could install more than offset the lower crash reduction factor.

    Jim Mearkle, P.E.

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