Traffic Engineering FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for Connecticut

The public and local officials are often unsure of how to deal with various traffic issues. Below are a list of questions and answers from the perspective of traffic engineers.

Q: Can we put up a stop sign to slow down traffic?

Q: It's not safe to walk in my neighborhood. What can be done about this?

Q: How do I make a request for a new traffic signal?

Q: How do I obtain an approval from the OSTA (Office of the State Traffic Administration)?

Q: I am required to submit a traffic study for a development. What are included in a traffic study?

Q: We don't have enough parking spaces in the area. What's the solution and exactly how much parking do we need?

Q: The streets near a town school are often clogged and unsafe at the beginning and end of a school day. How can we improve this situation?

Q: We have a proposed development in the town. The owner's traffic engineer submitted a report stating that the development will not create significant traffic impact. Does this mean the end of story regarding the project's traffic impact?

Q: I represent a Connecticut town/land use commission/developer/owner/land use attorney/school/neighborhood group/architect/engineer and am looking for a licensed traffic engineer for a project. Can your firm help?

Q: Can we put up a stop sign to slow down traffic?

Stops signs are traffic control devices that help assign right-of-way through intersections; they should not be used as a traffic calming tool with the sole aim of slowing down traffic. There are established thresholds outlined in MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) for hourly traffic volumes related to stop sign installation; when these volume thresholds are reached, two-way or four-way stop signs can be considered.

The installation of an excessive number of stop signs at inappropriate locations can erode motorists' respect for traffic control in gereral and likely decrease safety in the long run.

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Q: It's not safe to walk in my neighborhood. What can be done about this?

Typical amenities that are conducive to pedestrian safety include sidewalks of adequate widths, street trees, landscape buffers, human-scale street lights (12'-15' high), crosswalks, pedestrian crossing islands, pedestrian push buttons, and pedestrian signals.

In addition, there are a variety of traffic calming measures that are applicable to residential neighborhoods and can help reduce vehicular speeds, improve driver attentiveness, and increase pedestrian comfort and safety. These measures can be divided into three categories: 1) narrowing the actual or perceived widths of streets and creating a sense of enclosure, i.e., by installing curb bump-outs and gateways at intersections, adding on-street parking, and placing buildinigs close to streets; 2) introducing curvature to vehicles paths, i.e., by converting existing intersections to roundabouts; and 3) altering the vertical profile of vehicles paths, i.e., by installing speed humps and raised intersections.

Safe pedestrian crossing of roadways is dependent on the awareness by motorists of the presence of pedestrians. Ways to improve pedestrian visibility, in addition to curb bump-outs, can include textured crosswalks, raised crosswalks, and flashing beacons at mid-block locations.

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Q: How do I make a request for a new traffic signal?

Contact your town's Local Traffic Authority (LTA), who will in turn discuss this with the Office of the State Traffic Administration (OSTA), formerly STC. A number of conditions, primarily related to traffic volumes, contained in MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) must be met to justify a traffic signal.

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Q: How do I obtain an approval from the OSTA (Office of the State Traffic Administration)?

OSTA reviews major traffic generators (MTG's)--defined as any development of 100,000 square feet or more of gross floor area or 200 or more parking spaces, with the exception of entirely residential developments of 100 units or fewer--in two ways, as an Administrative Decision (AD) or a certification process (Certificate). Administrative Decision is an abbreviated procedure for developments that do not trigger the need for mitigation or traffic safety measures on state roadways. The certification process requires more detailed traffic data and involves three steps: 1) a pre-certificate traffic volume approval; 2) a pre-certificate meeting; and 3) a formal certificate application.

Both processes apply to new as well as expansions or land use changes to major traffic generators already in existence.

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Q: I am required to submit a traffic study for a development. What are included in a traffic study?

The contents and complexity of a traffic study depend on the requirements of review agencies and the scope of the development. A typical traffic study examines the before-and-after traffic conditions related to a development and whether traffic improvements are warranted. Usually, the safety implications of a development are also discussed in the study.

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Q: We don't have enough parking spaces in the area. What's the solution and exactly how much parking do we need?

Shared parking among properties to take advantage of differing demand peaks of land uses can be considered to address parking shortage. Paid parking that uses pricing signals to change driver behavior and maximize the usage of existing parking spaces, especially remote ones, can also be a solution. There are industry standards describing the required parking spaces for typical land uses. For a large area containing mixed uses with varying sizes, intensities and locations, a parking survey covering parking occupancies and durations of all parking spaces within a 5-10 minute walk (0.2 to 0.4 mile) is usually conducted for devising an effective parking management strategy.

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Q: The streets near a town school are often clogged and unsafe at the beginning and end of a school day. How can we improve this situation?

For planning a new school, the separation of traffic streams--school buses, drop-off traffic, staff traffic, and pedestrians--and the provision of connected sidewalks and crosswalks are the key considerations. For existing schools, the answer often lies in retrofitting conflict locations through traffic calming measures and giving priority to pedestrians over vehicles.

School-related signing, including school zone signs, can advise users that they are approaching a school and additional care is needed. The signs should be appropriate for the volume and speed of vehicular traffic, street width, and the number and age of students crossing streets.

A school route plan for pedestrians can be prepared to cover an area surrounding a school. The plan is usually developed by the school, law enforcement, school bus operator, and parents who are responsible for or have an interest in school pedestrian safety. The plan should consist of a map showing streets, the school, traffic controls, street crossings, crossing guard stations, and school walk routes. A direct walk route typically connects established school crossings where there are traffic controls and avoids the use of uncontrolled crossings.

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Q: We have a proposed development in the town. The owner's traffic engineer submitted a report stating that the development will not create significant traffic impact. Does this mean the end of story regarding the project's traffic impact?

Not necessarily. Usually traffic levels of service (LOS), ranging from A to F, are used as the yardstick in evaluating traffic impact. LOS can be generated from a number of software tools. The software input used in the traffic analysis, which has direct bearing on the letter-grade LOS results, should be examined with regard to the applicability to the specific roadway and traffic signal configurations and therefore the validity of the report conclusions.

In addition, there are other quantitative and qualitative traffic-related indices that cannot be reflected in LOS, such as speed and vehicular and pedestrian safety, and should be evaluated.

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Q: I represent a Connecticut town/land use commission/developer/owner/land use attorney/school/neighborhood group/architect/engineer and am looking for a licensed traffic engineer for a project. Can your firm help?

Yes. Please contact KWH by calling 203-807-5482 or email us at info@kwhenterprise.com.

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