Traffic Signal Operation Self Assessment







National Transportation Operations Coalition

Traffic Signal Operation National Report Card 


The 2005 National Traffic Signal Report Card was released through a media event, on April 20, 2005. The results contained in the 2005 National Report Card were based on responses to the Traffic Signal Operation Self Assessment. More than 300 state and local governments completed the self assessment and returned the results for compilation into the 2005 National Traffic Signal Report Card. 

The 2005 National Traffic Signal Report Card showed that traffic signal operation in the U.S. scored a "D-". A "D-" means that traffic signals are not operating as efficiently as they could be, resulting in unnecessary delay to travelers.

Results of the 2007 National Traffic Signal Report Card will be unveiled at a press conference on Tuesday, October 9, at 9:30 a.m. ET, at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC.


Traffic signals are one of the most commonly recognized symbols of traffic control by the general public. Even the most uninformed traveler recognizes the impact that traffic signals have on travel. Travelers are also surprisingly astute in realizing when signals do not meet their needs for efficient travel. In fact, the FHWA 2000 Omnibus survey results showed that improving traffic operations is a significant issue for travelers. When asked what they recommended to improve operations, “improve traffic signal timing” was the second highest response and “checking traffic signals often” was the sixth highest. 

There is little doubt that signal timing has a greater impact on transportation system efficiency than any other operational measure in the traffic engineering toolkit. Delays experienced in highway travel have been steadily increasing during the past 20 years. Delays at traffic signals contribute an estimated 25 percent to this total. Thus there is little doubt that focusing on traffic signal timing has potentially enormous payoffs for the quality of travel experienced by the U.S. public.

Traffic professionals have long recognized the value of designing effective signal timing and maintaining that timing to meet changing travel patterns and characteristics. Numerous authors have highlighted the fact that traffic signal timing is one of the most cost-effective actions that can be taken to improve surface transportation in urban areas.¹ Ten years ago, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported, “Properly designed, operated, and maintained traffic control signal systems yield significant benefits along the corridors and road networks on which they are installed. They mitigate congestion and reduce accidents, fuel consumption, air pollutants and travel times. These benefits are documented in numerous evaluations, provided to us (the GAO) by FHWA, states, cities and other sources, that compared before-and-after results when signal systems were installed expanded, or retimed. …For example, the state of Washington recently completed studies quantifying the benefits of upgrading and coordinating signal control equipment and retiming existing signals for six signal systems. These studies showed an annual fuel reduction of 295,500 gallons and annual reduction in vehicle delays of 145,000 vehicle hours.”² Another agency recently notes that a program of regular signal timing updates has a benefit/cost ratio of 55:1, with an estimated annual user savings of $64 million. 

And yet, necessary staff and funding resources are scarce to adequately operate signals—despite the cost effectiveness and the interest from travelers.

National Report Card: How Are We Doing? 

For years, transportation professionals have effectively identified pavement and bridge deficiencies and estimated the resources needed to maintain and improve those conditions. Traffic signals, a highly visible traffic operational tool, have not enjoyed the same level of attention.

NTOC, an informal coalition of associations interested in advancing transportation system management and operation, with support from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed a National Report Card on traffic signal operations. The National Report Card was to:

  • Bring attention to the current state of signal operation;
  • Create awareness of the congestion reducing benefits of good traffic signal operation; and
  • Make a case for additional investment in traffic signal operation. 
Purpose of the Self Assessment?

The 2007 Traffic Signal Operation Self Assessment is designed to benefit participating agencies on several levels.

The objectives of the self assessment are to:

  • Give the traffic professional a guide for defining “good or best practice”;
  • Highlight improvement opportunities for your system or region;
  • Serve as an objective tool to communicate traffic signal operation needs to management and elected officials; 
  • Present results in an easy-to-understand format that supports the need for additional resources and investment in traffic signal operations.
  • Provide a general comparison to results from the previous self-assesment.

Your agency benefits by:

Increasing national awareness of the need for improved traffic signal operation 
Completion of the self assessment supports the national initiative to raise awareness and bring attention to the need for improved traffic signal timing. Some agencies experience strong funding support when elected leaders recognized the value of good traffic signal operation in reducing congestion. However, this level of recognition is not widespread. A high visibility press event to release the National Report Card will help to gain greater recognition of the role traffic signal operation can play. 

Increasing local awareness of the need for improved traffic signal operation 
Many agencies could benefit from additional attention to and investment in traffic signal operation. Completing the self assessment provides your agency with objective results to compare with national findings and to your previous results.

Identifying strengths and opportunities
The self assessment is designed to assist traffic professionals in assessing their own organization’s performance in creating and maintaining good traffic signal operation. The self assessment is a subjective and qualitative tool. The quantitative “score” should be viewed as an indicator of overall performance. Completion of the self assessment will help identify strengths in your system and opportunities for improvement, and the process of conducting the self assessment will be educational to agency staff. 

Providing a benchmark for performance 
The self assessment is designed to describe the benchmark for traffic signal operation practice. Each question is followed by a short description that illustrates outstanding practice. This provides your agency with a target to improve your own traffic signal operation. It is not anticipated that any agency will have a perfect score.

Registered participants who returned their results by December 28, 2006, will receive the following:

  • certificate of completion;
  • 2001 National Traffic Signal Report Card Technical Report;
  • press kit for conducting a local press event (including background information and graphics designed for the press, summary of national results, fill-in-the-blank templates for your agency's results, suggestions on conducting your local press event); and
  • a copy of the Traffic Signal Audit Guide.

¹ Wagner, FA. “Energy Impacts of Urban Transportation Improvements.” Wash, DC: ITE, August 1980.

² “Transportation Infrastructure–Benefits of Traffic Control Signal Systems are Not Being Fully Realized.” United States General Accounting Office Report to the Chairman, Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives. GAO/RCED-94-105, March 1994.

This self assessment was developed by an action team of the NTOC. 
Associations participating in this action team include:

Institute of Transportation Engineers

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

Federal Highway Administration

American Public Works Association


Intelligent Transportation Society of America