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How to Manage Traffic Flow Near Your Establishment

November 2, 2018

Every city or town has the ability to measure traffic in many different ways. These metrics can be analyzed by engineers and local authorities to make changes that benefit drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and the overall infrastructure. Here are some of the main themes to consider when developing a plan to manage traffic flow with proper signage.

Understanding Traffic Flow Theory

The concept of “traffic flow theory” is explained by the Federal Highway Administration to involve the relationships between vehicles, two points (from A to B) and the following factors:

  • traffic speeds
  • flow rates (vehicles per minute, hour, or day)
  • travel time over a specific distance
  • space between vehicles
  • occupancy (percentage of time a road is occupied by vehicles)
  • density of vehicles per mile or other distance metrics

Traffic and flow dynamics have been studied by officials since the 1930s. The three main components associated with traffic analysis are speed, density, and flow. This data was originally measured with stopwatches for the purpose of evaluating traffic conditions to reduce congestion. It can now be collected in some places from electronic sensors and is often used to identify congested areas and make traffic forecasts.

Intelligent Parking Systems (IPS) comprise a series of smart sensors that pinpoint available parking slots and are starting to spread across America to help reduce congestion. These systems are used by cities such as San Francisco in real time to help them determine parking prices and to encourage drivers to consider transportation options.

Creating Stable Traffic Flow

To key to making traffic flow more stable is to create conditions that limit the number of vehicles per mile. When this number reaches about 30 vehicles per mile for a specific lane, it leads to unstable traffic flow, which can result in an accident. When this amount doubles it can lead to a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. Accurately calculating speed, density, and flow is complex even for engineers since not all vehicles move at the same speed.

Assuming that you don’t have to collect this data yourself and can rely on information from transportation officials, here are ways this theory can be applied:

  • predict parking conditions in congested areas
  • use GPS data to characterize driving behavior
  • estimate duration of traffic congestion
  • predict freeway bottlenecks following big events
  • calculate busiest traffic days and hours
  • determine which streets need better traffic control
  • identify detours to reduce congestion

Once the data is collected, it can help a city government, school, apartment complex, or home owners’ association determine if their area need certain signage to regulate traffic. There are a wide variety of signs to choose from such as “no parking,” “reduce speed,” or “pedestrian crossing” that can affect driver behavior. The information can also help engineers plan and design better roads.


Traffic flow theory is a concept used to estimate probability of traffic conditions. For more information about how traffic data can or should affect signage, call Zumar at our Arizona, California or Washington location.

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