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…On Your City.

Posted by Steve on August 14, 2008

I hate something about my job. Not what I do, not the hours I work, not my coworkers (while I wouldn’t look forward to spending any time away from the office with a few, that’s as strong as it gets), not my pay or my work environment or career prospects or anything like that.

What I hate is the reaction people always, always have whenever I tell them what I do: “Oh, you need to come look at/do something about the lights by my house/office/wherever I go regularly.” Without fail.

Dammit, people, I don’t live where you do. I don’t work for your city, I work for a private firm, that probably doesn’t have a contract to do anything in your city. In other words, regarding the traffic signals by your house or your office or in front of your grocery store, I am probably powerless. But you… you aren’t. And the person whose job it is to deal with the lights where you live, they aren’t powerless either.

Oh, what’s that? Someone whose job it is to deal with the signals where you live? Yes, I said that. Yes, Virginia, someone whose job it is to deal with the traffic signals where you live is real.

See, here’s the thing. I do indeed work in transportation planning and engineering (although it will be three more years before I’ve satisfied the work experience requirement to get licensed as a P.E. Everything I do is under the supervision of a Professional Engineer licensed by the state where I’m doing it.) Signal timing is something I do, among other things. I could absolutely look at the intersections where you live, look at the traffic volumes and patterns, take a few other locational factors into account, do some simulation, and recommend new timings. I’ve done it before, I’m doing it now, I’ll do it many more times. Depending on the equipment your city uses to control its signals, I could even do the reprogramming myself (assuming they let me have the access). But I’m not the only person who can do that, and your city probably didn’t hire me to do it there – they hired someone else.

So go complain to them.


If you don’t like how the traffic control works where you live, pick up your phone book, turn to the blue pages (government), and look up “Public Works” or “Traffic Engineering”. Call them. Let them know. Or go to your city’s (or county’s) website, and find the Public Works, or Traffic Engineering, or Transportation Department’s webpage, and send them an email. Let them know. It’s their job to listen. It’s their job to say, “There’ve been complaints about the intersection of Street Road and Avenue Parkway. Let’s take a look at it.” They may decide your complaint is baseless, they may decide your complaint is valid but there’s important reasons for things to stay the way they are, they may decide you’re right, there’s a problem, and it needs fixing and then fix it. They may hire someone like me to do that for them because they’re understaffed. Depends on the city, depends on the intersection, depends on various things.

But if you don’t let the people with your own city even know, nothing’s going to happen until the next time they decide to do a city-wide signal retiming or a major development comes in near the intersection in question. That can easily mean nothing’s going to happen for five to ten years.

City governments work for cityzens. Part of that means adhering to “if it aint broke don’t fix it”, since fixing things that aren’t broken costs money. Taxpaying cityzens don’t like the city wasting money, and they complain. So, if city staff think the signals aint broke because nobody’s let them know they aren’t happy…

Venting to me about the traffic situation, in general or specifics, where you live is a waste of your time. Informing your city’s traffic-related staff about a specific traffic situation where you live is the first step in getting it changed – or in getting an explanation of why it won’t be changed. Either way, it’s productive.

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