All Member Forum

Signals are Us

By Mr. Ransford McCourt P.E., PTOE posted 03-03-2020 04:45 PM


Upon graduating from the University of California–Berkeley, I had no idea the significant role traffic signals would play in my career. While I received more than my share of Highway Capacity Manual training from Dolf May, I didn’t know jobs revolved around traffic signals. Moreover, I wanted to pursue transit-related planning and design and wanted little to do with signals. I quickly learned that knowledge of signals provided a gateway to transit projects. I had the great fortune to be mentored by pioneers in transit priority (Hans Korve, P.E. (F), Paul Olson, P.E. (F), Warren Tighe, Peter Coffey) and rapidly found my fear of signals was unwarranted. I became curious about h ow they could play an important role in safety, mobility, and transportation solutions for communities.

Traffic signals are a highly visible and familiar aspect of people’s daily lives that they may not know much about. I coached youth sports for 10 years, and all the parents wanted to know was how I was going to turn the signals green for them. When I would speak to high schoolers about a career in transportation and asked about the height of a traffic signal, they would put their hands a few feet apart. When enlightened that they were actually taller than many of them (with backplates), they became incredulous.

Now when a person tells me they work on traffic signals, I ask, “What aspect? Planning, analysis, design, systems, technology/equipment, construction, operations, maintenance,
timing, or priority?” I have benefitted from having experiences in all these areas and discussions with passionate and knowledgeable people. There are many lions in our industry
who have advanced traffic signals. Mark Taylor, P.E., PTOE (M), Darcy Bullock, P.E. (M), Eddie Curtis (M), Susan Langdon, P.E., PTOE (F), Pam O’Brien, P.E., PTOE
(M), John Thai, Wayne Kittelson, P.E. (M), Larry Head, Randy Johnson, P.E., PTOE, ACTAR (M), John Fisher, P.E., PTOE (R), Ronnie Bell, P.E. (F), Michael Kyte, P.E.
(M)—the list goes on. I would encourage you at a future ITE meeting to seek out these people to find out what they’re curious about regarding signals. You’ll be amazed at the developing trends and how they likely relate to what you’re doing.

From micro-simulation to advanced controllers to clearance times, ITE members are constantly in pursuit of emerging practice using traffic signals to solve the mobility needs of
our communities. From big data to connected vehicle technology, how we plan, design, and operate signals is changing. Our members are incorporating sustainability practices in design, addressing climate change effects on pole designs, making communities more accessible, improving community design with art on controller cabinets, and applying state-of-the-art technology detection practices and data to improve safety. And I’m just getting started.

In this issue, we highlight the next step in a long journey to define yellow clearance intervals. This change involves a diverse set of opinions and science. I know many of you
won’t be as passionate about clearance time as others, but we’re all passionate about reducing fatalities. About one-quarter of all traffic deaths occur at intersections in the United States. There’s ground to improve, and people are looking to us. Traffic signals are us.

This is from the President's Message in the March 2020 issue of ITE Journal.