Counting Cars


No joke, this is a big part of my job.

Basically, when a developer wants to build on a parcel of land, my job as a Traffic Engineer is to go out and study the ‘intersections of impact’.  A significant part of this process is obtaining turning movement counts at each intersection of interest to determine existing conditions during the AM (7-9), PM (4-6) and Saturday (11-2) “Peak Hours”.

Yes, it is more advanced than sitting there making tally marks on a piece of paper, but the “count boards” that we use are still pretty antiquated devices.  Basically, there are 4 approaches (N-S-E-W) with buttons for three movements in each direction (left, through, right) and one for pedestrians.  Every car that performs a certain action I push the button that denotes that action.

Sometimes there isn’t much traffic at all and I even have time to read a book.  Other times, shit gets hectic.  The closest thing I can relate it to is playing “Rock Band” or “Guitar Hero”.  The cars just keep on coming and I have to do my best to try and pay attention and document everything.   Today was/will be one of those days.

Anyway, we use this data to project (based on growth rates) how the traffic will grow when the development is complete and (usually) 5 years after that.  Then we add in the traffic that the land use typically generates and can (somewhat reliably) predict how the development will impact the traffic in the area.

Fascinating stuff, I know (well, it actually is to me…but I’m a dork, so…).

Unfortunately, the downside is this keeps me away from my computer for most of the day; therefore my ability to blog and monitor the market is limited.  In the meantime, it doesn’t appear that I am missing much anyway…other than the market continuing to rest and potentially giving me some opportunities to buy.

Until we meet again.


11 Responses to “Counting Cars”

  1. Sounds really interesting IMO. I’m obsessed with traffic arbitrage.

  2. Speaking of counting cars….

    I have noticed, via my amazing powers of observation and perception, that the local Toyota dealer is boned out. The lot displays less than half its usual inventory.

    Both Chevy dealers (government motors, excessive homo) are in sharp contrast packed right to the edges of their respective lots. They literally could not hold another car.

    Methinks that GM’s “sales” numbers are vastly inflated.

  3. I’ve used people like you before. We have traffic impact fees on developments in my area. You gotta do traffic counts and submit date to local gov’t or they bone you with their arbitrary assessments.

    • Around here the impact fees are based on land use and “content” (i.e., number of homes in a plan, sq ft of office space, etc). It’s something we look into, but not a part of our analysis.

  4. Ahh… so that is where you learn to focus so well on the market. You’ve been practicing focusing kung-fu by counting car… hmm…

    Please say hello to your master for me… 🙂

  5. As a traffic engineer how do you feel about lights being controlled by pedestrians?

    In San Diego pedestrians can push buttons that change the lights. As a result downtown San Diego has horrible traffic flow.

    Even late night I’ve noticed major streets are horribly timed. Please move here and fix this. We would make you the fucking Mayor.

    • I think in areas with large numbers of pedestrians (i.e., downtown streets) lights should be synchronized in a “green wave”…where if you are traveling at 15 mph, you can hit every light. This works best in a one way type of environment, In each cycle, every movement should have an opportunity to advance. Having pedestrian initiated signals in a downtown area sounds like a recipe for a monstrous clusterfuck.

  6. Hi Elizamae,

    Funny you should mention about your task of counting traffic. I am working on an android app as a possible alternative to those antiquated traffic counting boards. If that is something you might be interested in, please email me.

    • That is an interesting thought. One issue I can see is there is no tactile function on a touch screen. Most counting is done without looking at the board, so being able to determine where the keys are by feel is important. That would be lost with a touch screen. That said, upgrades to these devices would be nice.

      • We have thought about that problem, and are looking at ways to address it. It’s too bad there are no tablets with haptic feedback, as that would be one solution.
        Also, the android app is but just one component of the whole product. My colleague and partner used to be a traffic engineer too, that’s how we came up with the idea for this product.

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