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Advantages of the Planning Method of Capacity Analysis for Signalized Intersections


he evaluation of capacity at signalized intersections is an important component in the planning, operation, and design of urban roadway facilities. The third edition of the Highway Capacity Manual (HCM), published in 1985 by the Transportation Research Board, is the most recent document to provide comprehensive methodology for capacity analysis of signal ized intersections and other roadway facilities. The HCM presents two methods of analyzing capacity at signalized intersections: an operations procedure and a planning procedure. This article focuses on the planning method, with the following two purposes: To promote the use of the 1985 planning method for signalized intersection analysis as opposed to its predecessor, published in TRBs Circular No. 212.2 G To evaluate the use of the planning method versus the operations method of signalized intersection analysis.

The analysis presented here is based on the authors experiences in applying the different signalized intersection capacity procedures in a variety of transportation planning and traffic engineering studies.

The New Planning


The first issue to be examined regarding signalized capacity procedures is the use of the planning method described in the 1985 HCM versus that described in Circular 212, Interim Materials on Highway Capacity, published in 1980. Circular 212 was intended to be a single document containing

highway capacity procedures that had been developed in the time since the 1965 Highway Capacity Manua13 had been published. Circular 212 did not replace the 1965 Highway Capacity Manual, but was distributed to solicit review and comment on the capacity procedures contained therein. Like the 1985 HCM, Circular 212 presented both an operations method and a planning method for the evaluation of signalized intersections. The planning method quickly gained wide acceptance and was considered by many to be more accurate and easier to apply than the capacity procedures contained in the 1965 Highway Capacity Manual. The Circular 212 planning method for signalized intersection analysis was based on a procedure known as critical movement analysis. Its basic concept is to determine peak hour traffic on a per lane basis, calculate the summation of critical combinations of movements, and then compare the result to a table relating intersection performance to intersection operations. The planning method presented in the 1985 HCM also utilizes the critical movement analysis concept, but it is slightly less detailed and gives slightly less precise results. Table 1 summarizes the differences between the Circular 212 and 1985 HCM procedures. Many transportation engineers still prefer to use the Circular 212 procedure, despite the fact that the two procedures are similar enough so that anyone familiar with the Circular 212 procedure can easily learn the 1985 HCM procedure. Their preference for the Circular 212 planning method might be

based on the fact that the Circular 212 procedure produces information that cannot be gained through the use of the HCM procedure that is, the HCM procedure cannot directly calculate level of service and analysis of alternative phasing methods. That is not, however, a valid reason for using the Circular 212 procedure. The calculation of a level of service of a signalized intersection is often unnecessary in planning considerations; instead, the major question to be answered is whether the lane geometry of the intersection is sufficient to handle the traffic demand. In those cases where it is necessary to provide a level of service, this information can be estimated using the information provided by the HCM analysis procedure. The phasing analysis presented in the Circular 212 planning method has some validity since it documents the concept that the addition of phases at a signalized intersection adds lost time, which generally reduces the overall capacity of the intersection. However, the selection of phasing at an intersection is an operational issue that is not appropriate for consideration in a planning procedure. The HCM includes an inherent assumption that a reasonable phasing plan will be selected for the intersection under anal ysis. The HCM planning method for signalized intersection analysis offers the following advantages for users of Circular 212 who are willing to devote the small amount of time needed to learn the new procedure: c The HCM procedure is easier to apply and can be conducted more quickly because it is generally simpler.

The capacity analysis worksheet used in the HCM is easier to use and understand than the worksheet contained in Circular 212. G The HCM procedure is included in a document that is recognized as the most recent comprehensive publication on highway capacity.

intended application. The following discussion will attempt to dispel this notion and define situations in which it is logical to use the planning method in the evaluation of signalized intersections. The HCM contains the following statement regarding the use of the operations procedure and the planning procedure: Operational anaysis would be used in most
analyses of existing intersections or of future situations in which traffic, geometric, and control parameters were well established by projections and triat designs. The planning procedure is useful in testing general design alternatives for new intersections in areas of new development, where details of signalization and demand characteristics are not yet under consideration. ]p95 Although this statement generally sums up the intended uses of the two procedures, it allows considerable room for judgment by the individual analyst as to which procedure

should be used for individual situations. Why is a planning procedure needed? If the operations procedure gives a valid evaluation of signalized intersection operations, why is a simpler, less detailed procedure needed? There are several answers to this question: The calculations necessary for the operations procedure are long and can be tedious. This is especially true at intersections that operate close to capacity. A trial-and-error procedure is necessary to determine phase times in cases where this information is not given in the problem statement. Even with the aid of computerized analyses, the operational analysis of an intersection could take up to one hour; without the aid of a computer, such an analysis would typically require several hours. In contrast, the planning analysis of an intersection can normally be conducted in 5 to 10 minutes, with or without the aid of a computer. G Because the planning method is easy to understand and apply, it allows persons who have no knowledge of the details of signal operations to gain some understanding of signalized intersection capacity. It can also be used as a quick check of the results of the more detailed operations method.

Planning Versus Operations Analysis

The HCMS operations analysis for signalized intersections is a very detailed procedure that takes into account a great number of factors relating to intersection capacity, which are not addressed in the planning procedure. This had led some transportation analysts to conclude that the operations method is superior to the planning method and should be used for all signalized intersection analyses, regardless of the

Table 1. Differences Between for Signalized Intersections Category Phasing

the Circular Circular 212

212 and the 1985 HCM Planning 1985 HCM must be


Signal phasing specified.

Phasing not Incluaect analysis. Left turns converted


Left turns from shared lanes

Left turns converted passenger car equivalents.


fo passenger car equivalents, but with a different methodology than Circular 212.

Left turn check

A left-turn check is conducted to determine whether intersections with no leftturn phase can accommodate left turns. Double left-turn lane volumes Sp!if %0/o/450/o. Of her volumes distributed evenly. Depends on phasing.

No left-turn check.

Assignment volumes

of lane

All volumes



Sum of critical movements

Based on sum of critical left turn and opposing through movement for each streef. Guidelines given for treafment of single lane approaches. Capacity determined based on sum of critical movements and described as either over capacity, near capacity, or under capacity.

Single lane approaches

No special

rules apply.



Capacity determined based on sum of critical movements and phasing and described in ferms of level of service.

Given that both the planning method and the operations method are valid procedures that have their separate uses, it is necessary to determine which procedure is more appropriate for a given situation. Since the operations method is more time consuming, it is logical that that method only be used when some benefit can be gained to offset the extra analysis time. Normally this benefit would be a more accurate answer or detailed signal operation information that cannot be determined by the planning method. In cases where special information is not required and the goal of the analysis is to evaluate an intersections overall operation, more accurate information is the only valid reason for using the operations procedure. Whenever the accuracy of a procedure is under discussion, one must also consider the accuracy of the input data; the expression garbage in/garbage out applies to capacity procedures, as well as computers. Table 2 summarizes the data that needs to be collected to analyze the signalized intersection capacity by the operations method and the planning method. The data needed for the operations analysis can be


collected fairly easily for existing intersections; however, when conducting an analysis of future conditions, the accuracy of the input data depends on the anal ysts ability to predict the future values of the data listed in Table 2. When all the input data is known, such as in the case of analysis of an existing intersection, it would be assumed that the operations method would give a more accurate answer than the planning method. But if there is sufficient uncertainty regarding the critical input values, such as peak hour traffic demand, peak hour factor, arrivaf type, and lane utilization, the analyst would be wise to use the planning procedure instead of the operations procedure. In true planning situations, in which traffic demand levels are forecast 10 to 20 years into the future, the level of accuracy associated with traffic forecasts and other input parameters clearly indicate that there would be no loss of accuracy in using the planning method. The operations method should be used when the following conditions exist: Intersection turning movements at the intersection under study are known to a reasonable level of accuracy. This would apply to existing intersections at which counts have been conducted and to changes in street systems or development patterns. Typically, the operations method would be restricted to analyses of traffic conditions five years into the future. G Sufficient information is available to provide a meaningful estimate of the various factors that have a significant effect on the capacity analysis. These factors include the arrival type (an estimate of the quality of progression on the intersecting streets), fraction of heavy vehicles in the traffic stream, pedestrian counts, lane utilization, and information regarding parking and bus activity. G The study of the intersection requires analysis of the details of signalization, such as phasing, signal timing, and delay. This would include cases in which akernative phasing or signal timing plans are to be evaluated and cases in which phasing and signal timing are known and the purpose of the analysis is to evaluate other factors in relation to these known conditions.

intersection analysis could be used in a broad range of conditions in which the purpose of the capacity analysis is to determine the general intersection operations for a given hourly turning movement count and lane geometry. The planning method would be recommended when any of the following conditions apply: c Intersection turning movements are based on counts, projections, or traffic forecasts that do not have a high degree of accuracy. This would apply to almost all traffic forecasts for 10 years or more into the future. G Insufficient information is available to provide a meaningful estimate of such factors as arrival type, fraction of heavy vehicles, lane utilization, and parking and bus maneuvers. G Phasing and signal timing are unknown, and study of these factors is not needed for the analysis. G A quick evaluation of signal operations is desired, regardless of the availability of data.

The planning method also has applications as a supplemental tool in cases when the operations method is to be used to determine the final answers. The planning procedure can provide a useful check on the results of the operational analysis. Because the operations method contains a number of complicated steps, it is easy for the analyst to get lost in the calculations without ever checking the reasonableness of the intermediate answers or the final result. Analysis with the aid of a computer program is particularly susceptible to this problem. Application of the planning method can provide a quick check, which can lead to the discovery of any gross errors that may have entered the operational analysis. The planning method can also be useful for operational analyses in which phase times are not given. Each lane group can be assigned an initial phase time estimate based on the results of the planning analysis.

Use of the Procedure

Like all highway capacity analysis

Table 2. Data Requirements for Signalized Intersections Category Geometric conditions

for the 1985 HCM Operations

and Planning


Data Required for Operations Procedure

Lane geometry Area type (CBD or other) Lane widths Grades Length of storage bays Parking conditions Volumes by movement Peak hour factor Percentage heavy vehicles Conflicting pedestrian flows Number of local buses stopping at intersection Parking activity Arrival type (signal coordination effects)

Data Required for Planning Procedure Lane geometry




by movement



In the absence of the above conditions, the operations method is likely to be a timeconsuming exercise that does not produce an answer any more accurate than that formed by the planning method. The planning method of signalized

Cyle length Phasing plan Phase times Type of operation (actuated versus pretimed) Pedestrian push-bufion locations Minimum pedestrian green time be used at the option of the analyst.

No data required

A peak hour factor



. APRIL 1989-23

procedures, the planning method for signalized intersection analysis requires some judgment on the part of the analyst. Special situations call for adjustments to the procedure. Because the concepts related to the planning analysis are basically simple, most users will be able to develop sufficient command of the procedure to make adjustments as necessary. Examples of cases where adjustments may be necessary include interpretation of results, intersections with heavy right-turning movements, areas where right turns on red are significant, and intersections with unusual lane distributions.

The analysis of capacity at signalized intersections is an important issue in the evaluation of urban roadway facilities. The HCM planning method for signalized intersection capacity analysis provides a capacity procedure that is flexible and easy to use. The HCM planning method offers significant advantages over the planning procedure

for signalized intersections contained in Circular No. 212. The HCM planning procedure is simpler and offers calculation sheets that are easier to use and understand. The HCM also includes an operations method for the analysis of signalized intersections. The operations method is a more complicated procedure that requires more data and more time to conduct, but provides a more precise and more detailed analysis. Because the operations method is more detailed, many analysts have assumed that it should be used for all signalized intersection analyses. However, the analysis is only as good as the input data. In cases where it is impossible to gather data with a high degree of accuracy and in cases where the details of signalization are not part of the analysis, the planning method can provide an analysis that is equally as accurate as, but faster and simpler than, the operations method. The planning method can also provide a quick check of the results of the operations method and an aid in the intermediate calculations of the procedure.

1. Transportation Research Board. Highway Manaal. Special Report No. 209. Washington, D.C.: TRB, 1985. 2, Transportation Research Board. Interim
Capacity Materials on Highway Capacity. Circular 212. Washington, D. C., TRB, 1980. 3. Transportation Research Board. Highway Capaciry Manual. HRB Special Report 87.

Washington, D. C.: TRB, 1965.

En-k O. Ruehr is a senior transpot7a tion engineer with BRW, Inc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He received B.S. and M. S. degrees in civil engineering from the University of Michigan. Ruehr is a registered professional engineer in Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Washington. He is an Associate Member of ITE.

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