Traffic Data Collection: A Useful Tool for All Industries & Markets
By Shive- Hattery
Traffic. It conjures thoughts of back-to-back vehicles coming to a screeching halt and enduring an extended commute to and from work.
Traffic is much more. It consists of any mode of transportation moving on our vast infrastructure system, ranging from interstates and highways to local roads and individual sites, including commercial, industrial, education, healthcare and government industries.
Traffic data collection tools equip you with knowledge to accurately and quickly identify possible problems, their causes and viable solutions to meet your wants and needs.
Case: Squaw Creek Crossing in Marion, Iowa, a 20-acre site at the corner of Highways 151 and 13, will be a mix of retail businesses, a bank, hotel and convention center, and apartments. Traffic data for the surrounding intersections was collected and an extensive analysis was conducted to determine the existing traffic volumes and proposed impacts. The analysis showed there would be an increase in traffic flow as a result of this development. The recommended solution: a traffic signal be installed at two of the intersections and modifications be made to an existing signal.
Traffic counts are recommended when:
- A development is planned, which may increase traffic volumes on surrounding roadways or accesses
- There’s a perceived problem with flow in and out of a site or within the site itself
- The site is being expanded or converted to a new business and the client needs to know what the expected traffic impacts will be.
In each case, the starting point to finding solutions is to collect traffic data to get an accurate picture of existing traffic volumes. Once obtained, traffic engineers can then estimate what the change in traffic volume will be based on the type of development and proposed growth. The cameras can be programmed to record either 24 hours or just during peak traffic hours, and can determine if there is (or will be) a traffic-related problem at the site while providing video for reference.
Case: An industrial client wanted to observe and analyze their existing truck traffic to determine if they had the capacity to expand and whether they could modify operations and scheduling to make deliveries more efficiently. Traffic cameras were set up at the weighing scale, load-in/load-out areas, both gates, and other key locations on-site. Data collection was done for a full week to measure how the traffic patterns varied from day to day. It was found that Mondays had the most truck traffic because packing is typically done over the weekend to prepare for early week deliveries.
The study showed the capacity for truck volume was adequate and identified that trucks spent a lot of time loading or unloading, which created an undesirable queue as trucks arrived on-site at similar times. The data showed that the client had the capacity to expand in certain areas, and additions were made.
Data collection for industrial clients can be especially helpful not only to measure the volume of truck traffic at the site and when it’s at its peak, but also allows the client to observe the movements of the trucks around the site and see how long trucks queue for the load-in/load-outs and weighing scales. Extensive data can be collected to observe trends throughout a typical week, which can determine if improvements/expansions are possible or if any operational or scheduling modifications should be made.
Case: Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa was looking at ways to improve traffic flow since they had experienced significant growth and added new buildings and parking lots. The main access road that connected everything on campus was a two-lane road with entrances off Kirkwood Boulevard, 76th Avenue and C Street from outside campus.
Data collection was done for five days for 10 hours a day at six locations. By comparing each of the days, the client could see which days saw heavier traffic due to student class schedules and determine if the main road was adequate to handle vehicle capacity. The data collected showed that the main access road was not sufficient to keep traffic flowing smoothly before and after classes; a left-turn lane will be added in places along the road near parking lots to prevent conflicted delay with thru traffic.
Educational sites may collect data when there are suspected problems with traffic flow – most notably at peak hours – or when they want to keep historical data on traffic volume. This helps:
- Keep a pulse on what’s needed at the site
- Locate the best place to put new buildings or expansions
- Estimate what traffic volume will be added if changes to buildings are made
Data collection can also conduct pedestrian counts to help a school decide if additional connections to sidewalks are needed and warranted.
Case: Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa wanted to expand to meet the unmet healthcare needs of residents in Polk County’s eastern corridor. Wanting the satellite facility to be on a major thoroughfare with bus service, the hospital considered a number of residential and commercial properties along East University Avenue. Shive-Hattery conducted a traffic study to see if having the medical clinic would require expensive modifications to the bordering busy intersections, such as adding turning lanes or signal modifications. The hospital also wanted to know if access to the clinic would be adequate. After reviewing the traffic study with the City of Des Moines, the hospital was confident that the property would meet their needs without needing expensive changes to the city streets on its borders.
Traffic data collection may be required or encouraged when doing any improvements to healthcare facilities. This assists in determining if any improvements to the adjacent roadway or existing site may be needed due to the building improvements. Site improvements may even be needed disregarding any building expansion or improvements.
Case: For the City of Waterloo, Iowa Shive-Hattery will be conducting traffic data collections on 46 intersections downtown. The City needs information on turning movements and existing traffic volumes on various days of the week, including some pedestrian volumes at key locations. Based on the information that will be gathered, Shive-Hattery will do extensive analysis to retime the signals with the goal of reducing travel times.
While the other markets mostly have site-specific needs, government clients are in charge of roads and use traffic data collection to:
- Discover if there is a problem with traffic flow at an intersection/corridor
- Recommend ways to improve a problem based on the data collected, such as adding or subtracting lanes, constructing a roundabout, installing a signal, or retiming existing signals.
No matter the market, site location, or size or type of vehicle on the pavement, traffic data collection tools provide accurate, timely information to help determine cost-effective and quality solutions. Data can be collected from a few short hours to weeks or even months and made available quickly.