Olsson Sets the Pace for Traffic Signal Timing

Joe Duggan, Communications

November 20, 2019

Olsson has won several traffic signal timing projects in prominent Midwestern cities on the strength of our reputation and experience.

Final interview not required.

Our written proposals show how we’ve helped motorists save time and fuel across a broad sweep of the country.

Our work has resulted in improved traffic flow, easier commutes, and lower vehicle emissions in places like St. Louis and Springfield, Missouri; Des Moines, Iowa, and Gilbert, Arizona. We’ve also passed the test in the university cities of Stillwater, Oklahoma; Lincoln, Nebraska; Lawrence, Kansas; and are working on a signal project in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Plus, there’s Operation Green Light in the Kansas City metro area, which involved more than 700 signals across 22 municipalities and two states.

With our extensive body of work, some clients decide they don’t need an interview before awarding their projects to Olsson.

“Our resumes have gotten very strong,” said Tom Fulton, technical leader for Traffic and Technology. “Our hands-on knowledge among several staff members goes a long way to showing our capacity to take on timing projects of all scales. It takes a lot of the questions out of it for clients when they’re looking at who they’re going to select.”

Signal timing optimization benefits more than just those with a driver’s license. Our team considers not only vehicular commuters, but also the experience of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit customers.

“Every city and system are a little bit unique,” said Todd Fredericksen, who has overseen the growth of our Traffic and Technology team. “The best result we can have at the end of the day is a smooth-operating system. And that includes multimodal – commuters, freight, pedestrians, more bicycling, and everything else.”

The Federal Highway Administration recommends that signal timings be updated every five years. Facing tight budgets and heavy project demands, many municipalities understandably struggle to maintain the recommended schedule.

We save our clients time while also identifying and deploying the most cost-efficient options. And we know all about signal and sensor hardware, along with the latest communications and modeling software, so we can maximize a system’s performance.

Olsson’s approach starts with establishing a strong partnership with our clients, understanding their needs and challenges, and committing to excellent service through every project phase. In other words, we listen, devise solutions, and follow through.

“The client prioritizes the project,” Todd said. “Every agency we see, they know where they have congestion, they know where they have some problems.”

We then conduct field visits to observe the project corridors and collect accurate traffic data, allowing our teams to identify daily peak and off-peak periods. This is a critical step that can’t be done properly by dumping old data into a laptop.

“Our job is to evaluate what the current traffic pattern is so we can figure out what vehicles are doing in the present day, regardless of how the previous signals were timed,” said Jeremy Stretz, associate traffic engineer. “Development occurs and traffic patterns change with growth. The big picture goal is to bring signal timings up to date, so they meet new traffic pattern demands.”

Field observations combined with analysis of current data allows our traffic experts to account for myriad variables affecting an arterial street. In addition, we can advise clients on other factors that can improve flow, such as lane and roadway geometry, signal phasing, and signal hardware upgrades. And we have experience with Intelligent Transportation Systems, Adaptive Traffic Control, traffic monitoring, and related communications networks that will play a central role in the advent of self-driving vehicles.

We also offer in-house monitoring that allows us to observe traffic operations for our clients. When we see severe congestion or another issue, we can adjust the signal timing instantly with direct access to the municipality’s traffic control system.

We provide clients with before-and-after system performance measures using PC Travel, a GPS-based travel time study software. The program calculates savings from reductions in travel time, fuel use, and air emissions. Performance evaluations traditionally reveal a very high benefit-to-cost ratio for our projects.

To further demonstrate signal timing improvements, our team can mount GoPro cameras on test vehicles to make before-and-after travel time runs through the arterials. Side-by-side video displays can then be used to convey travel time improvements to the general public.

Fewer stops and better flow means cost savings for motorists and the greater community, said Shane King, project manager for signal timing work we’ve done for City of Lincoln.

Olsson was one of the consultants to work on the first two phases of Green Light Lincoln, a multi-phased traffic signal optimization project that started in 2016.

On an annual basis, the initial phases have collectively cut delays by 840,000 hours; saved 1.1 million gallons of fuel; and reduced emissions by 111,000 kilograms. Those add up to savings of $17.6 million, for a benefit/cost ratio of 16 to 1.

We have helped city officials make significant headway toward their goal of upgrading 420-plus signalized intersections.

“By the time Lincoln has gone through all phases of this project, they will be impacting every single driver in the city,” Shane said.

That kind of reach allows Olsson drive home our goal of making communities better with every project we do.