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Bureau of Traffic Engineering and Transportation Planning
Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why are traffic signals needed?

A.
As traffic volumes increase beyond the capability of lesser controls such as four-way stops, it may be necessary to install a traffic signal. Before installing a traffic signal at an intersection, established minimum criteria must be satisfied: A review includes: The amount of vehicular and pedestrian traffic; the need to provide interruption to the major flow for side street vehicles and pedestrians; special conditions such as hills and curves; the accident history of the intersection and the proximity of schools.

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Q. Are traffic signals coordinated?

A.
Yes. The traffic signals within defined groups along major roads are coordinated using timing plans with common
cycle lengths. Timing plans are designed to provide minimum delay and stop time within each group. This does not mean that drivers will attain a green light at every intersection, but rather delays/stops will be minimized.

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Q. Why does the signal go to the side street when no one is there?

A
. The most common reason that a signal goes to a side street when there is no one waiting is that a car has made a "right turn on red". Most signals in the County detect that no vehicle present and will not service the side street.

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Q. Why are the signals not coordinated on two way streets?

A.
There are computer controlled systems which time the signals on many of the major roads. The problem of designing coordination for two way streets is complex. Timing must be designed so that vehicles traveling in both directions arrive at intersections at the same time, considering traffic from the side streets and that intersections are not uniformly spaced.

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Q. How do timing plans work?

A
. Timing plans work by instituting a common cycle length (the amount of time necessary to display all traffic signal indications at an intersection) at intersections within a group. These plans control the points in a cycle length when the signals will be red, amber or green. By controlling the points when main street and side street greens occur, coordinated movement through an area can be achieved.

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Q. Where can I find the level-of-service (LOS) rating for a signalized intersection?

A. Our website has tables listing each signalized intersection in Baltimore County, and the level-of-service (LOS) for each.  If you have questions concerning any of the information, please call our office at 410-887-3554.    

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Revised April 13, 2005

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