What Is a Traffic Engineer?

Throughout my career, it has been difficult to explain what I do for a living. That’s why we thought our introductory blog would be a good opportunity to explain what traffic engineers and transportation planners do day-to-day. Early on, I would try to explain what I did for a living and, inevitably, I would receive one of several responses:

  • Oh, you put those rubber hoses across the road?
  • Oh, you design roads?
  • Oh, you work for the County or the State?

Those comments are only partially correct. The reality is, a Traffic Engineer (a subset of civil engineering) or a Transportation Planner is someone who assists in helping to plan, engineer, and define road systems. A Traffic Engineer is going to ensure that roadways are designed in a safe and efficient way and a driver is provided with all of the necessary information and safety metrics to help ensure that his/her driving experience is safe and efficient.

To also help further explain what a Traffic Engineer or Traffic Consultant is, let’s look at what it is not.

  1. A Traffic Engineer is not someone who determines how thick the roadway should be to carry the anticipated traffic. A Traffic Engineer is not someone who determines the hydrology and the water run-off of a roadway or a parking lot.
  2. A Traffic Engineer is not someone who typically determines where a roadway is built.

A Traffic Engineer:

  1. Conducts capacity analyses to determine how much traffic can logically fit on a roadway in a safe and efficient manner.
  2. Conducts traffic counts for roadways and intersections to determine the volume of traffic, where the traffic is going to and from, and the type of traffic on the roadway.
  3. Takes a second look at the safety features of a road.
  4. Determines appropriate signing and pavement markings along a new or existing road.
  5. Investigates accidents and determines if changes can be made to roadways or intersections to make it safer for all who use those roads.
  6. Works closely with a developer or builder to determine the impact that a new development or construction project might have on the road system and then make recommendations to mitigate or offset the impact of that new development.

A variety of additional areas we find ourselves working in include:

Traffic Engineers and Transportation Planners are held to the same high standards as other professional engineers and planners. At times we may be hired to assist in the development of land, while at other times we have to testify on the witness stand regarding new development projects when community groups are against a proposed project.

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