Tag Archives: Traffic Demand Management

A google doodle with a Utah link

Whether you’re sitting at a red light or passing through on green, the traffic signal is one invention that revolutionized the world. And because of that, Google has taken to honor the anniversary of the first installation with a “doodle”.

August 5, 2015's Google Doodle

August 5, 2015’s Google Doodle

On August 5, 1914, the first traffic light was installed in Cleveland, Ohio, on the corner of 59th and Euclid. With 20,000 cars being sold per month in 1914, and horse-drawn wagons, street cars, and carts still in play, city streets in America were woefully congested, and a need arose for traffic management. Police used to stand in the middle of intersections and wave their arms to control traffic, and just before the turn of the century, England tried a gas-lit stoplight, but they had a tendency to explode.

But what does that have to do with Utah?

One of the solutions to the traffic management problem came when Lester Wire — a Salt Lake City policeman — created a traffic light out of a hand-made wooden box that had red and green lights whose wires were attached to light wires above. Right in the Beehive State, a solution was born. 

This replica of Lester Wire's first traffic light greets visitors to the UDOT Traffic Operations Center.

This replica of Lester Wire’s first traffic light greets visitors to the UDOT Traffic Operations Center.

We’ve come a long way since 1914, and UDOT is proud of what our employees at the Traffic Operations Center have done to create a state-of-the-art traffic management system. Instead of mechanical lights and wooden boxes, we use sophisticated computers that gather traffic and weather data to manage 60% of the 1,927 traffic lights statewide. We use that information to give you the best data, sent right to your smart phone, and we also have one of the few in-house DOT weather rooms, staffed with two full-time meteorologists and 8 weather professionals.

Next time you’re sitting at a red light or passing through on a green light, you can thank a fellow Utahn for coming up with a traffic solution. Thank you, Google, for giving us a chance to walk down memory lane!

First yellow flashing right turn arrow arrives in Utah

LEHI — Northern Utah County is developing at a rapid pace, emerging as a new frontier of the high-tech industry. In addition to retail attractions such as Cabela’s and the Outlets at Traverse Mountain, the area around I-15 at Timpanogos Highway (SR-92) has been dubbed the “Silicon Slopes,” attracting businesses who want affordable office space, a reliable talent pool from area universities and the high quality of life Utahns enjoy with a variety of outdoor recreation options just minutes away.

With all this development, UDOT continually evaluates how to improve traffic flow through the I-15/SR-92 interchange.

The latest update to the interchange is also a first in Utah: crews installed the state’s first flashing yellow right turn arrow at the northbound I-15 off-ramp to eastbound SR-92 in Lehi. You have probably driven through dozens of flashing yellow left turn arrows, where turning traffic yields but may make a left if there is no oncoming traffic. So why does the flashing yellow right turn arrow work at this interchange?

A flashing yellow arrow on a right hand turn on SR-92 allows traffic to flow more freely in a fast-growing part of Utah County.

A flashing yellow arrow on a right hand turn on SR-92 allows traffic to flow more freely in a fast-growing part of Utah County.

 

“The right turn goes into a lane that takes people to the SR-92 commuter lane, but a lot of people want to make a left into Adobe or Cabela’s,” said UDOT Region Three Signal Engineer Adam Lough. “We were seeing traffic back up and drivers getting frustrated because people who wanted to cross traffic to get to the left lane would be stopped on a green light. The flashing yellow signals a yield condition for drivers who want to move to the left lane on SR-92 as well as for the queue of traffic on the ramp.”

Now when the light is green, there is no eastbound traffic for drivers to weave through to move left; and during the flashing yellow, drivers who want to move left must wait for a safe opening in the traffic flow. Drivers who want to access the SR-92 commuter lanes from the I-15 northbound off-ramp still get impatient at times, but Lough said the flashing yellow right turn arrow has improved the traffic flow. “This provides a safer condition and has reduced the amount of backing on the ramp.”

Lough developed the idea of using a flashing yellow right turn arrow to address the traffic problems at this interchange ramp. Although UDOT had never installed anything like it, Lough suggested that it would be the best solution and worked with Traffic Operations Center staff to implement it. So far, he is pleased with the results.

“I am always looking for better ways to do things,” he said. “It is rewarding to see how changes like this make people’s commute a little better.”

Lough said the signal is almost always green or flashing yellow, but it briefly turns solid yellow and red as part of the signal’s cycle. The pedestrian button also triggers the red arrow.

“There is quite a bit of pedestrian traffic between the employment centers and retail outlets on either side of I-15 in this area,” Lough said. “Drivers really need to be on the lookout for pedestrians and bicyclists moving through this interchange.”

WASHTO Quality Award Winners

I am pleased to announce that the WASHTO Quality Award winners for 2013 are the Ogden Canyon Fiber Project and Traffic Signal Operations teams. It became evident as our selection committee reviewed the nominations that these two groups distinguished themselves as leaders who have made significant contributions to the Department while simultaneously improving the quality of life in our communities.

Photo of Carlos Braceras and the Ogden Canyon Fiber Project Team

UDOT Executive Director and the Ogden Canyon Fiber Project Team

The Ogden Canyon Fiber Project Team members were Jesse Glidden, Lynne Yocom, Blaine Leonard, Brent DeYoung, Rex Harris, Matthew Smith, and Dave Moss.

As many of you know, Ogden Canyon (S.R. 39) is a narrow, winding 5-mile canyon road connecting the Ogden Valley with the metropolitan area. It is a critical transportation link but a difficult location for constructing projects due to its mountainous terrain.

Our Region 1 folks initially had asked our Traffic Management Division to install a VMS sign in the canyon that would warn motorists of frequent winter canyon closures. Lynn, Blaine and Matt were more than happy to do that but while they were visiting the site they noticed construction already happening in the Canyon.

Ogden City had recently started the installation of a waterline. The team knew that underground construction of this magnitude in the canyon rarely occurred. They successfully seized upon this opportunity to partner with the city and get a fiber communications line installed along the entire canyon corridor.

This vital link to Ogden Valley now provides fiber optic communications for traffic monitoring and public communications. In addition, Ogden City enjoys a fiber connection to their water treatment plant and residents have improved cell and broadband service.

Because our team members took the time to think beyond the limited scope of their own individual duties, they were able to see the bigger picture. This synergistic approach to finding a solution will benefit thousands of people for decades to come.

I commend them for their great work.

Photo of Carlos Braceras and the Automatic Signal Performance Measures Team

UDOT Executive Director and the Automatic Signal Performance Measures Team

The first place winning team is our Traffic Signal Operations group, consisting of Mark Taylor, Jamie Mackey, Matt Luker, Shane Johnson, Derek Lowe, Peter Jager, Eric Rasband, Adam Lough and Carrie Jacobson.

Tasked with providing “World-Class” signals operations and maintenance, our folks have risen to the occasion. Adopting best practices from our partners at Indiana DOT, they have developed eight different performance measures currently available for 750 intersections. The measures provide both real-time and historical data, with all of the information housed on the UDOT Traffic website.

The program works via FTP connections located throughout the network that provide information to our traffic signal controllers. Every 15 minutes TOC servers retrieve and store “packets” of time-stamped data. This process is overseen by software engineers Shane Johnson and Derek Lowe. Anyone can access this data, which is an approach that fosters transparency and information sharing. Because of their efforts, UDOT is now the national leader in real-time traffic signal performance measures.

It’s not hard to see why in June of this year UDOT received the AASHTO Technology Implementation Group (TIG) award for their efforts in this area. But this team isn’t stopping there. By the end of the year they plan to have additional performance measures to track elements such as historical travel times for arterials and overall operations system improvements.

Both teams’ efforts have served to further our Department’s Strategic Direction.

Our Ogden Canyon Fiber Team has strengthened the economy by providing fiber optic service to Ogden City’s water treatment plant and improved cell and broadband service to residents. They have optimized mobility via a vital communications link that will facilitate traffic management and public information. They have improved safety with the capability to more effectively manage traffic, thus keeping drivers safer and getting us one step closer to our goal of Zero Fatalities.

Our Traffic Signal Operations team has strengthened the economy by improving the efficiency of the signal system. This has made a huge impact on alleviating traffic congestion and consequently the movement of goods and services throughout the state. In addition, they have implemented signal timing plans to accommodate large events such as college football games and community parades.

The signals team has optimized mobility by closely monitoring and adjusting red and green time to allow for better progression along corridors. They have improved safety by partnering with our radar vendor to track approaching vehicle speeds at intersections. To preserve our infrastructure, they have devised a way to quickly find and replace deficient vehicle detectors.

These efforts do not go unnoticed. Congratulations to both teams for their exemplary work and dedication. Please join me in thanking them for their great work as they are well-deserving of the 2013 WASHTO Quality Awards.

Information about all of the WASHTO Quality Awards nominees is available in a previous post.

Whatever the Weather

During storms, driving conditions can cause travel delay, especially during the morning and evening commute.

When a storm hits the Wasatch Front, a twenty-minute commute can turn into an hour due to slick roads, start-and-stop traffic and low visibility. What if traffic could be managed more effectively to minimize the sluggish traffic speeds drivers experience during storms?

Recent technological advances in assessing weather and controlling signals have given traffic engineers better tools to keep traffic moving in stormy weather. On some corridors along the Wasatch Front, UDOT is taking a Weather Responsive Traffic Management approach that puts the tools to use.

WRTM uses sensors, traffic signal plans designed for storm conditions, and sophisticated traffic monitoring systems already in place to move traffic more efficiently during winter weather.

Traffic on Riverdale Road PhotoDuring winter months in 2013, an urban arterial in northern Utah served as testing area for WRTM. Riverdale Road intersects a busy shopping district and connects four Utah cities with Interstates 15 and 84. Over 47 thousand vehicles travel the corridor each day.

UDOT’s results in managing Riverdale Road traffic during winter storms were very good – for motorists, that is. Drivers experienced less stopped time at intersections compared to other storm days, and overall, traffic speeds were not significantly impacted by weather.

Here’s how the WRTM system worked on Riverdale Road:

  • Traffic engineers created signal timing plans for implementation before or during a storm. The plans accommodate travel speeds that are likely during storms so that signalized intersections along the corridor work together to make traffic flow more efficient.
  • A Road Weather Information System unit was installed in the corridor. The RWIS helped meteorologists and engineers anticipate upcoming storm severity to decide which signal timing plan to employ.

    RWIS on Riverdale Road Photo

    RWIS on Riverdale Road

  • Detection units were installed overhead along the roadway. The new equipment is better at detecting traffic movement during storms, and the equipment gave UDOT traffic speeds.
  • To monitor traffic during storms, UDOT used a Signal Performance Metrics System that lets signal operators assess and adjust traffic in real-time. After a storm, the system can be used to evaluate how the signal plans worked.

Winter 2013 ended up being a challenging year to test the WRTM system. During testing, the Salt Lake City and Ogden area experienced one of the worst winter storms in the past decade. Nevertheless, post-storm review showed an average or above average improvement in performance in traffic operations in over half of the weather events, including during the major storm.

Post-storm analysis also shows that cars maintained a high level of progression from intersection to intersection with platoons of cars arriving on green lights. When platoons of cars arrive at intersections on green lights, traffic flow throughout the corridor is more efficient.

Based on the success of the Riverdale Road WRTM performance, UDOT plans to expand the system to other corridors.

TWEETING ABOUT TRAFFIC

How UDOT Uses Social Media, a guest post by Andrew Johnson, former UDOT employee.

Chances are you’ve been caught in a traffic jam, wishing you knew about it ahead of time. The Utah Department of Transportation is consistently making strides to keep Utah drivers informed before they get behind the wheel, and a large part of UDOT’s efforts is through the use of social media. (NEVER Tweet and drive!)

UDOT’s innovative approach to keeping commuters up to speed includes regular updates through their Twitter feed. This gives drivers access to real-time information about road closures, accidents, construction projects and abnormal delays, and also provides the public with direct access to UDOT employees.

Here’s an example of a recent conversation on Twitter:

Tweets keep motorists informed — CLICK TO ENLARGE.

In this example, someone Tweeted UDOT with information about a possible malfunctioning traffic signal. UDOT responded to the Tweet, and included the signal technicians at the Traffic Operations Center to relay that information. At that point, the technicians dialed into the signal, and were able to diagnose a potential problem. Since Twitter is a public forum, and anyone who is following @UtahDOT can see the conversation, other people may join the dialog and contribute information. I noticed the Tweets, and was able to contribute my two cents.

UDOT Traffic is another fantastic resource available with the click of a mouse or the swipe of your smart phone. UDOT Traffic includes a network of closed-circuit television cameras, electronic variable message signs, coordinated traffic signals, traffic sensors, ramp meters and weather stations. Together, this network delivers real-time information directly to employees at the Traffic Operations Center and to the UDOT Traffic website. Employees can take the information received at the TOC, relay that information on Twitter and Facebook, and thousands of people instantly receive that information and can plan their routes accordingly.

Travel times help road users to decide to continue as planned or to take an alternate route.

As you travel along Utah’s freeways, you may notice large black signs spanning across the lanes overhead. These are called Variable Message Signs, or VMS, and are extremely effective in communicating important information to public. Located at key points across the state, these signs are controlled by operators at the UDOT Traffic Operations Center, and can be activated with custom messages as needed. The messages on these signs are governed by UDOT policies, and format, length and wording is dictated by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) by the Federal Highway Administration.

These signs provide drivers with clear, concise messages about freeway conditions, and drivers can then decide if they want to continue on the same route or choose an alternate route. VMS boards can also be coordinated with other State agencies like the Department of Public Safety to run messages about safety belt laws, and other public safety campaigns. You may also see messages about air quality alerts through the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

Despite the integration of social media into their arsenal, not all of UDOT’s efforts into reducing delays for drivers are strictly reactionary. In fact, a large number of construction projects around the State are a response to future demands, and UDOT wants to make sure Utah’s transportation network is efficient for years to come.

Information and pictures provided by 24saltlake.com.

CHANGE CAN BE GOOD

TravelWise during freeway re-construction in Utah County

While workers busily reconstruct I-15 in Utah County, commuters can choose TravelWise strategies to make travel more convenient. These workers are installing concrete. See another post about 40-year pavement in an earlier post: http://blog.udot.utah.gov/2011/01/first-design-to-last/

Choices can make all the difference — leaving for work earlier, car pooling or tele-working can help commuters avoid traffic delay and get around more efficiently during road construction. UDOT has promoted TravelWise strategies to individuals and businesses for years. Now messages about those helpful strategies are being integrated into the biggest construction project in the state- the I- 15 CORE project in Utah County.

Traffic on I-15 in Utah County--taking public transportation can be a cost-saving and convenient travel option.

I-15 CORE Project Team members have emphasized these TravelWise strategies since the beginning of construction of the project by posting information on construction website and presenting information to employers close to the construction corridor.

“TravelWise strategies have been a key component of our communication plans for the I-15 CORE project from the very beginning, says Scott Thompson, Public Involvement Manager in UDOT Region Three. “We understand that strategies such as carpooling, tele-commuting, trip chaining and flexible work schedules are vital in helping us reduce traffic during this construction project.”

Here are some great strategies for businesses that be used to implement a TravelWise construction plan to help employees:

  • Identify a TravelWise coordinator or implementation task force to oversee the program.
  • Conduct a participant survey (provided by the TravelWise team) to determine interest.
  • Design your program to fit best with participant interests. To get started, visit www.travelwise.utah.gov.
  • Promote your TravelWise program through newsletters, emails, on a website, etc.
  • Track participation and effectiveness of the program and make any necessary adjustments.

Road users who adopt TravelWise strategies can see many benefits including enjoying a less stress-free commute or a more economical use of time when running errands. UDOT encourages all drivers to take a lot a look at the TravelWise website and incorporate helpful strategies into travel plans.

When more people use TravelWise strategies, cumulative benefits can help everyone, since travel delay can be reduced. “We continue to promote TravelWise messages in everything we do and believe they have been beneficial in helping us reduce congestion in Utah County,” says Thompson.

Contact the I5-CORE team with any questions or concerns along the way.

What does the 2010 Census have to do with transportation?

The Census collects information about population, which plays a fundamental part in predicting road use

Walt Steinvorth works in Transportation Planning at the Utah Department of Transportation. He doesn't wear a turban like the Great Carnack, but he does have an "all knowing" look about him, don't you think?

Walt Steinvorth calls himself  “the firm’s fortune teller” but he doesn’t use Tarot Cards or a crystal ball. Steinvorth depends on “a lot of science” to predict the number of vehicles expected to use an existing or future transportation facility using a traffic demand model or TDM. Census information is a fundamental ingredient of a TDM.

UDOT gets population numbers from demographers at the Governor’s office of Planning and Budget who look at historical trends, employment, birth and death rates to predict future population. Transportation planners use these population forecasts as inputs to the TDM to predict future highway and transit demand.

The Federal Government requires the departments of transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to develop long range multi-modal transportation system plans for 20 years into the future. TDMs are used to determine where and when to expand highway and transit systems to meet future demand.

During long range transportation planning, UDOT and the MPOs uses a TDM to test various transportation alternatives. When planning future improvements for existing roads, a TDM is used to determine if more lanes are needed, and if so, how many. TDMs also provide information about pedestrian and bike use.

April 2010: Eleven-year-old Henry Johnson attaches the completed census form to the mailbox after watching his mom fill in the blanks.

NOTE: UDOT is an ARE (acronym rich environment).  MPO and TDM are a few acronyms that see frequent use here at the DOT.  Click this link to see a list of other commonly used transportation acronyms. Then, impress your friends and family by using ATMS, LOS, or MUTCD with confidence. Your mom will be so proud.