An Overview of Traffic Signal Timing

An Overview of Traffic Signal Timing

In its most basic form, traffic signal timing determines the order of operations. It allocates green time to each approach at a junction while also accounting for pedestrians and other users. To understand signal timing, we must first explore fundamental ideas, such as cycle lengths, splits, peak hour trends, phases, pre-timed and actuated signals, optimization, coordination, and communication.

Traffic Signal Timing 

Here’s a quick rundown on traffic signal timing so you can better grasp the practicalities of your everyday commute.

Cycle Duration

A cycle length is necessary to display all junction phases defined by traffic loads and operate well within a given range. Signal timing aims to maximize efficiency by shortening the cycle length. Cycles can last between one and three minutes. A split determines this. The split includes the green duration and the clearance interval, which includes the yellow and red lights. Clearance interval timings are calculated using perception or start-up time and accelerating speeds. While switching signal phases, clearance intervals are usually referred to as change intervals. Because no cars pass through the intersection, the time between vehicles halting or starting is called “lost time.”

Pre Timed and Actuated

The timing of pre-timed signals is pre-determined based on observed traffic volumes and trends and does not change based on traffic loads. This is especially true in city grid settings with close crossings and one-way streets, where it is impracticable to maintain inductance detecting loops at each signal point. There are semi-actuated and fully-actuated signal timings. Semi-actuated timings detect minor streets exclusively, but fully-actuated timings detect all approaches.


If you approach a red light on a little street near a major intersection, the signal will change to enable you to proceed. Pre-timed signals have pre-programmed timing schedules that change during the day, whereas fully-actuated signs have a range of green times that vary based on actual traffic on the road. The signal controller allows for the creation of programmable signal timing plans. These signal timing techniques require fine-tuning that is why it is important to learn about Fairway Electrical and the services they provide to keep these systems running. 


At isolated and system intersections, signal timing is performed. As the name implies, Isolated crossings are separated from other signalized intersections, and their signal timings have no effect on other intersections. Because system intersections are so close together, any timing changes at one have an effect on the intersections upstream and downstream. Signal system corridors are frequently organized according to peak period. These are the most common peak hours. These peak periods are usually determined by traffic patterns or daily commutes. Traffic patterns cause morning and evening peaks. Traffic patterns are frequently balanced during the day.


To activate traffic signals, sensor systems must first detect an oncoming vehicle. Examples include radar, sub-pavement electromagnetic pucks, and video detection. Wires that run from the traffic signal cabinet to saw cuts in the pavement are inductance loops. It detects a vehicle passing through the loop saw cut region, which is normally at the stop for side street and mainline left approaches. Radar and video detection are less noticeable and require less upkeep. On the other hand, typical saw-cut inductance loops have proven to be the most reliable detection approach when properly maintained with methods like low voltage testing.


The traffic signal cabinet houses the “brains” of the traffic signal. The controller tells the signal what to do, when to do it, and how long to do it for. The controller receives input from the detection system, decides how to respond, and then commands the traffic lights.

Traffic Management Centers

Signal system corridors can be monitored and controlled remotely using fiber optics, copper wiring, or wireless networks in many circumstances. The same software that runs the traffic light controller locally can also run on the computer desktop of a traffic management center. The computer can interface directly with intersections and remotely alter traffic lights. During unusual occurrences or incidents, authorities can remotely alter traffic plans, patterns and areas that are needed for traffic light construction


Signal timing is sometimes an art because many variables, such as local trends and driving habits, cannot be measured by science or engineering. So, the next time you’re cruising through green lights, take a moment to reflect on the complications that resulted in that great traffic scene.

2021-11-05T18:25:51+00:00 March 26th, 2021|Personal Development|0 Comments