Nate in our office put together this no-budget, cheesy, 110 second video on how to test your tubes and tube counters. I especially like the dubbed in voice over that doesn't match the lip movements. Check it out for a good chuckle (and maybe get a pointer or two)!
Below is a list of things to consider when developing traffic forecasts for a Traffic Impact Study. There's currently a discussion on the ITE Community Discussion Board about seasonal and weekday adjustment factors (adjustments to convert your counts from a single day into "normalized" counts that represent the average weekday). These factors aren't typically used in Minnesota, so I didn't include them in the checklist. Make sure to add those in if they're a local requirement.
Checklist for Developing Traffic Forecasts
OK - Not this year. But are they very far away? IBM's supercomputers have become the best Jeopardy contestant (Watson) and the best chess player (Deep Blue). Computers have faster reaction times than humans and there would be less variables for the car to deal with on the racetrack versus on a street.
This post is prompted by the April 18th edition of The Economist. The feature was about the future of the automotive industry and there was a section about autonomous vehicles. Nothing earth shattering was revealed in The Economist, but autonomous vehicles are definitely coming. The safety and efficiency gains of autonomous vehicles may leave us all asking in 30 years - "how did our society ever allow people to operate vehicles?"
Back in January I wrote about 8 Ways Driverless Vehicles Will Revolutionize Traffic Engineering. The Economist feature is just another reminder that the role of the traffic engineer is going to radically change during the remainder of my career, whether I like it or not. I'm trying to figure out what I need to do to stay relevant.
This spring I've heard a lot of grumbling from my consultant friends about writing proposals for government transportation project RFPs (jargon - Request for Proposals). Especially when agencies seem to just pick the low bid anyways. This is actually a good sign - we're all getting busy with paying work plus agencies are putting out more projects.
But writing a proposal is still a pain in the ass (and why I write very few, I write scope/fee letters). The thing is, we went to engineering school because we want to be engineers and do engineering work. We didn't go to school hoping we would some day be sitting at a computer typing out proposals.
Something I didn't add up when I worked at the City of Maple Grove - proposals are expensive to put together. For a $50,000 project, the consulting firm will expend +/- 40 hours of effort. And this isn't effort by a cheap, newly minted engineer. This is effort from upper management. To make the math simple, let's assume a $125/hour billable rate for that staff (on the low end). So $5,000 per proposal.
If the agency gets three proposals, that's $15,000 in effort expended. Often, agencies get more then ten proposals - more effort than the project is worth - what a waste!
On top of this, a proposal (and even follow-up interview) are a very poor proxy for deciding if the winning consultant will (1) do good work and (2) work well with agency staff. On top of all of this, the folks doing the bulk of the work on the project rarely write the proposal or show up at the interview.
So what should we do.... Have design competitions! 99Designs has popularized this concept for graphic artists (I just used it for a logo - awesome experience) and architects have had these types of competitions for centuries.
Here's how it would work on transportation projects -
There are many benefits to this type of approach -
I'm calling for the end of the traditional 50 to 100 page proposal our industry expects. Agencies should go the competition route when they need creative problem solving. When a project involves straightforward, well defined work - go with a a couple of page scope/fee letter proposal.
p.s. This post was inspired by the book Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath. I highly recommend all of the books by the Heath brothers.
I got a call from a Minneapolis police officer last night about one of our camera systems. They were following up on a call from a concerned citizen about our box being chained to a light post. Obviously the tragedy in Boston has raised everyone's awareness.
We're working for the City of Minneapolis and videoing/counting about 250 intersections. The traffic division forwarded our whole work plan to each police precinct (maps with each intersection and the schedule), but this still didn't get to the beat cop.
He was able to call us from the street and confirm our box was legitimate (our office number rolls to my cell). Without our company contact info on the box, this could have turned into a bomb scare. Not good.
Get a sticker with your company and phone number on every piece of equipment you deploy!
I was shocked when I started flipping through the April edition of the ITE Journal. They actually made a few of the changes I've been describing.
First off, by clicking the above link you can get to the Journal whether or not you are a member. It's not password protected!
Second - they're testing out different formats.
I really like the quick to digest format of the Measuring the Street: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets article about New York City. Interestingly, it looks like repurposed copy the New York City DOT produced. This means ITE staff took the lead on it and there isn't an author credited.
Several of the other articles also have a shorter format and it looks like they are upping the quality of the graphics and amount of photos.
Jane and I had a little mini-vacation this week. We went out to Portland, OR to visit Ian and Bill at Vehicle Counts (they manufacture the Pico counters we sell). They were very gracious hosts and we had a fun trip.
We only had a day to bum around, so we opted to stay downtown and mainly eat/drink (seems like that's what you do in Portland). I like how the parking regulation signs downtown are at about waist height as shown in the picture. For some reason this struck me as more aesthetically pleasing than the signs we have in Minnesota seven feet up in the air. Also seemed easier to see from the car.
We did a big walking loop along the Willamette River. As we were walking back over the Hawthorne Bridge, we came across this set of tubes. It had a knot in the tube on the "dummy end," instead of being two separate tubes the way we would normally install them. I looked off to the side of the bridge to see where they went, but they tucked under the deck and I couldn't see what they were plugged into.
I've always set up a pair of 50 or 60 foot tubes for doing speed and classification counts. We're going to test out putting a knot in the middle of a 100 foot tube (like the bicycle setup) and see if that has any advantages over using two 50 foot tubes. I think the knotted 100 foot tube could be more accurate because each tube run should be the same length (sometimes tubes get mismatched). It would also be easier than cutting and plugging the tube to make it into two 50 footers.
Has anyone used a tube setup like this (long tube knotted in the middle instead of two paired up tubes)? Thoughts?
In December I wrote about Peak Hour Factors (PHFs) and included a spreadsheet with about 3,500 peak hour counts we've done at Traffic Data Inc. Kordel rightly commented about cross-referencing the data against the total entering volume at the intersection (as the Highway Capacity Manual does).
It's taken a little while, but we entered that data and here's the updated spreadsheet - Download Peak Hour Factor MN Analysis. I'm hoping ITE's SimCap committee will take on the role of being a hub for this type of data (without putting it behind ITE's firewall) - I've talked with Dave and Orla about this type of thing.
Here are the average Peak Hour Factors from our Minnesota dataset:
This is slightly different than the 0.92 and 0.90, respectively, recommended in the 2010 Highway Capacity Manual. It would be great if other folks would slice and dice the data in the spreadsheet to look at the PHFs from different angles and put there thoughts in the comments section. Does anyone know where the HCM's 0.92 and 0.90 recommendations came from?
Kimley Horn is doing the traffic engineering analysis for the portion of the Southwest LRT line that would go through St. Louis Park and into downtown Minneapolis. They brought us (Traffic Data Inc) on at the beginning of February to get turning movement counts at about 35 intersections.
They knew they wanted 13 hour turning movement counts (6 am to 7 pm) on a normal weekday for their baseline analysis. Since getting extra video is cheap (just leave the camera set up for an extra day), they decided to get 48 hours of video just in case someone had questions that would require a 24 hour or 48 hour count.
Several of the intersections also had trains running next to them, so we logged the train crossings (start time, end time, number of cars) in addition to providing the turning movement count data. We also gave them a usb flash drive with all of the videos so they could watch the videos to make sure there modeling looked reasonable.
We set out half the COUNTcam 120 Camera Units on a Monday and half of them on a Tuesday in order to get 48 hours of video from Tuesdays/Wednesdays/Thursdays. Wednesday was common at all of the intersections, so we'd do the initial 13 hour counts all on the same day. We also setup a couple of intersections to get Saturday/Sunday video at a shopping mall.
The complicater was that we got a little snow Thursday that affected the morning commute. We did all of the 13 hour counts from Wednesday and opted to discount half the intersections $100 since we didn't deliver "normal video" for the second 24 hours. We'll get new video with clear weather at those intersections if Kimley Horn needs a 48 Hour turning movement count.
Here's the pricing we gave:
We did the counts in about two weeks. We averaged about 2x speed at the signals and 4.5x speed at the stop sign controlled intersections. Kimley Horn has already had us do the additional 35 hours at one of the intersections. Thankfully it was one of the intersections where we had clear Tuesday/Wednesday video.
Photo Credit: http://www.newsline.dot.state.mn.us/archive/03/oct/15.html