November 24th, 2011

PED SCRAMBLE

Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

Matthew Luker, in reflective gear, stands by an open signal box near the U of U. During special events, operators may have to keep close watch on traffic, and sometimes, be on-site to make sure traffic moves smoothly.

UDOT traffic engineers take special care to accommodate vehicle and pedestrian traffic generated by special events.

The holiday season can be challenging with concerts, holiday shopping, Jazz games, happening together and creating “competing demands for the transportation system,” says Matthew Luker, Signal Systems Engineer at UDOT. Preventing gridlock is the job of Luker and other traffic engineers who watch signal operations from a remote location and if required, and trouble-shoot timing at the signal location if necessary.

UDOT’s 1200 signals are operated through a centralized Traffic Operations Center. Signals are synchronized with each other by time of day. Each signal can operate using multiple signal coordination plans that correspond to traffic needs.

Signals are programmed to automatically switch from one signal coordination plan to another throughout the day– for example, signals can be programmed to allow more green light time in the peak traffic-direction during the morning or evening commute.

Pedestrian traffic at the U is accommodated by setting all four signals to the crossing phase at once allowing pedestrians to cross diagonally in a "ped scramble."

Signal operators can program several coordination plans per signal. With 1200 signals to synchronize statewide, creating plans for each signal takes a lot of time and effort.

First, an on-site vehicle count is completed at each intersection. Data from that count is analyzed and engineers draw conclusions that form the basis for each coordination plan.

In addition to programming signal coordination plans, TOC signal operators can also make manual adjustments to help traffic during major incidents or events, such as a crash that blocks travel lanes or a football game that draws fans to the game.

Heavy directional commute traffic can be anticipated each week day but special events throw a monkey wrench into the mix. Often, an evening commute plan will be put in place to accommodate special event traffic. When multiple events coincide, such as a concert and a basketball game in Salt Lake, operators may have to keep close watch on traffic, and sometimes, be on-site to make quick changes.

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