Transportation engineering or traffic engineering is the “application of technology and scientific principles to the planning, design, operation and management of facilities for any mode of transportation in order to provide for the safe, efficient, rapid, comfortable, convenient, economical, and environmentally compatible movement of people and goods.”
Transportation Engineering is a sub-discipline of civil engineering, There are generally six divisions of Transportation Engineering;
- Air Transportation
- Urban Transportation
- Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean
Since I don’t work with the last two, I’m going to expand on the first four.
Highways are a major feature of any metropolitan area with our modern economies depending on them to transport people and products in every direction. Highway Engineering considers all aspects related to the design of the roads themselves, as well as how pedestrians are managed.
Highway Engineers study the traffic volumes and patterns to determine the best strategies to minimize traffic congestion, prevent collisions and also limit damage to the road structures caused by the vehicles. Highway Engineers also design highway systems with the aim of optimizing traffic flow and safety for all vehicles that travel through them.
In the last ten or so years there has been a rapid rise of intelligent transport systems and Highway Engineering has expanded to include this field that will eventually revolutionize the way humans travel day to day. These include self-driving vehicles that you’ve surely heard of.
Why do I need a Highway Engineer?
You may be a Land Developer or an Agent who has been advised that you need a Transportation Impact Assessment. Often commercial land developments are asked to quantify the impact of the traffic generated from the development on the local streets system. Often the addition of an apartment or shopping center will create a diminished level of service on the surrounding streets. A traffic study, or traffic impact study is undertaken to answer these questions. They Transportation Engineer will meet with the City staff and establish the questions that need to be answered, then collect data to determine what the current conditions are, and then predict the future conditions with the new development in place. Traffic Generation comes from the ITE Trip Generation Manual.
There might also be a question of whether a new traffic signal is required. This is called a Traffic Signal Needs Study. This is from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which also covers signs, markings, and traffic control devices for low-volume roads, temporary control, school areas, railroads, and bicycle facilities.
All construction work on or nearby a public street require some type of Traffic Control Plan. This is to make sure there are ways to keep traffic moving safely through the construction activity. Traffic Engineers prepare these plans also.
At other times, it is necessary to analyze roadway conditions for a proposed new entryway onto a public street. The transportation engineer will determine the stopping site distance and the line of sight for oncoming motorists and for the vehicles entering the roadway. Circulation of traffic within a land development is also important. Good traffic circulation can relieve the number of accidents in parking lots. Good design and signage is necessary for this to work. A parking lot layout plan would be developed for this case.
Air Transportation Engineering involves the airport planning and design of facilities that handle air traffic. Current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations govern this work. The work that Civil Engineers as Transportation Engineers do is normally having to do with airport facility design and layout to promote efficient movement of planes from landing to the gates and back to take off.
Air Transportation professionals are also interested in the landing paths and takeoff paths that the planes must travel to and from the runways. These paths must be free from obstructions and any structure within these areas must take into account height restrictions for buildings or other structures like antennas and signs.
Not only does air transportation involve passengers on aircraft, but the steady and constant movement of mail packages and freight by airlines. Air cargo is anywhere from 7-10 percent of the overall flights daily, depending on the source. These planes have to be accounted for in the design and safety of airports as well.
Urban Transportation Engineering and Planning relates to the coexistence of all of the transportation facilities (modes of travel) and the people in the urban locations and the freight that moves throughout the cities. Urban Planning deals with Transportation and circulation on a broad area, which relates to land uses, mobility, and transportation challenges within the city.
At some point in a cities growth, public transportation becomes an option to individual trips. Modes like rail transit (subways, surface rail and elevated,) buses, and high occupancy lanes on existing roadways. Within all of this, Intelligent Transportation Systems fit in to maximize the use of existing facilities. And, with autonomous vehicles, this will get even more interesting.
Overall, Urban Transportation & Planning is vital to community planning to make sure that cities can cope with the density of people and their movement throughout the city along with the goods that move as well.
Pipelines are responsible for over ten percent (10%) of the weight of all freight moved in the country. Between 2015 and 2016 the value of freight transported through pipelines increased 21.8 percent, while other modes decreased over the same time period in North America. In a report in May of 2016, the Congressional Research Service stated that the “U.S. energy pipeline network is composed of over 2.9 million miles of pipeline transporting natural gas, oil, and hazardous liquids.”
The majority of those 2.9 million miles, 2.1 Million are Natural Gas distribution mains and service lines. So that leaves around 800,000 miles of transmission lines. As I’m sure you’re aware, transmission pipelines have caused quite a stirring both environmentally and politically in the United States and Canada in recent years. With the discovery of the large Bakken Shale Formation in western North Dakota, crude oil transportation by pipeline is a major issue. In order to get the crude to refineries it must be moved either by truck, railroad, or pipeline. At the peak production before the price of oil fell significantly, there were over 1,000,000 barrels of oil leaving the Bakken for other parts of the country. Pipelines only accounted for about 20% of that movement.
Even with the leakages that are bound to happen, pipelines remain one of the safest forms of transportation of most liquids across the country.
Other Topics to Cover Later:
- Public/Private Sector Trends
- Congestion Management Strategies
- Research and Development
- Advanced Technologies/Intelligent Transportation Systems
- Traffic Calming
- Joint Rail Grade Crossings
- Pedestrian and Bicycles
- Transportation Forensics