Bob Eschbacher is a Principal at engineering consulting firm VHB as well as a senior member of the Long Island Transportation Engineering Group. He has conducted detailed traffic studies in Long Island for 47 years and counting and is leading the team in charge of conducting the traffic impact study for the Port Washington project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Across Bob’s 47 years of traffic study experience, he’s worked on a wide range of projects for a variety of clients including municipal governments like the Town of North Hempstead, countless towns and cities within Nassau County, and for state Departments of Transportation.
His work has spanned institutional markets and included projects for major healthcare and hospital systems across Long Island, as well as notable colleges and universities. In the private sector, he’s worked with developers including Southern Land Company (SLC) and across residential, office, commercial, and industrial projects while also testifying as an expert before federal and state courts.
Traffic studies are Bob’s life, and we were fortunate enough to speak with him at length about what his job entails, the all-important utility and process of conducting a traffic study, unique modifications made to conduct an accurate study in the Covid-19 era, and the long-standing relationships, collaborations, and partnerships he has with local, state, and federal groups to create the most accurate studies possible.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your position?
More than anything, Bob explains, the greatest challenge he’s had to overcome is educating the public on what traffic engineering problems involve. Most people’s understanding of traffic are relatively rudimentary and purely opinion-based. “There’s too much traffic.” “The traffic is bad.” But what does this really mean?
Bob’s job is to convert these opinions into science, including data-backed analyses that explain why traffic might be bad or higher-volume than normal. Nobody likes traffic but everyone has to endure it, so it’s up to Bob and his team to rely on data and science to conduct detailed, substantiated work and integrate it into their project review process.
Educating the public also involves explaining what the actual parameters of the traffic study are and what they mean so that when results, findings, and recommendations are presented, the public can understand precisely what Bob and his team did and how they did it.
How is a traffic study normally conducted?
As Bob puts it, “The nucleus of a traffic impact study is identifying the intersections that will be most impacted and therefore analyzed.” Beyond identification, however, there are a wide range of components that contribute to a comprehensive study.
First and foremost is the study and examination of existing traffic conditions. This involves looking at the roadway conditions including the number of lanes of traffic, the number of traffic signals, and how they operate. Next is looking at the current traffic volumes and the times of day, as well as the days of the week, where traffic is seemingly most impacted. More often than not these times are morning commute hours and the late afternoon when a high-volume combination of work commuters, school activity participants and attendees, and shoppers are all out and about.
All of these factors need to be accounted for and the volume on each roadway at each time thoroughly studied, which often means counting the number of cars at an intersection. How many are turning right, how many are turning left? How many pedestrians are trying to cross the street? How many trucks or larger vehicles are a part of the traffic flow?
Once this data is collected, the traffic impact study team will input the information into sophisticated traffic modeling software to develop an analytical methodology that rates how well an intersection is operating. With the present conditions thoroughly understood, they will proceed to study how things will change as a result of a proposed project. Changes to the roadway system that the project causes, as well as accounting for additional vehicles generated by the project, will all be factored in.
These are the same methodologies used in different areas across New York state. The determined values are added to existing traffic volumes and also account for additional projects in the development state and expected conditions after the completion of the proposed project. This allows Bob to see the magnitude of changes that would result from the project. If they’re relatively minor, the effect on traffic will be negligible. However, if a need for traffic mitigation is determined, it may necessitate traffic signal installation, traffic signal timing changes, additional turning lanes, or a host of other adjustments.
Bob and the team at VHB will also look at parking to determine if there is enough to accommodate the variety of parking users, as well as effects on on-site traffic flow. Can people turn in and out of the site easily and safely maneuver within the site?
Last but certainly not least, they also have to closely examine the traffic crash history. Have there been a significant number of accidents on the roadway? What’s causing them and how could they change as a result of the proposed development? And will those potential changes affect VHB’s recommendations?
All of these factors are pulled into the traffic impact study which presents in great detail all of the work that was undertaken, the findings, and the recommendations.
How long does this process typically take?
The biggest determining factor for timing is identifying which intersections need to be included in the study. Which begs the questions, which ones will be most impacted? Usually this is fairly obvious, but Bob and team will consult with local town planners as well as county and state traffic engineers to get their insights.
Once the scope and details of the study have been established, within a few months Bob and his team can comb through their detailed analyses, develop initial recommendations, present a draft report to clients, and have discussions with the local municipality and other agencies to get their input about preliminary recommendations.
With feedback and additional input received, VHB will return to their analyses and elaborate as necessary. If additional counts are conducted and need to be factored, this could add several months to the overall time frame.
How is an accurate study conducted amidst the Covid-19 pandemic?
There’s no denying that traffic volume and patterns have changed dramatically in the last year. But things are slowly returning to normal. Whether that means we’re on a path back to the same volume and patterns is something only time will tell, but until then, Bob and the team at VHB have been able to very successfully work around the present challenges.
Accommodating for present circumstances begins with in-depth coordination and discussions with various agencies upfront to explain how VHB proposes to conduct their study. The sooner the help and assistance of other agencies is solicited, the easier it is to avoid disruptive questions or concerns later in the process.
Next is identifying intersections that already have historical pre-pandemic traffic data and conducting counts amidst pandemic conditions. By comparing and analyzing the differences, they will create an adjustment factor for the current conditions that provides a much more accurate determination of what the traffic conditions will be post-pandemic, or under “normal” conditions. This has been done very successfully in the past year in conjunction with town, county, and state agencies.
With the assistance and guidance of other local agencies and the use of extensive historical data, the traffic studies conducted amidst the pandemic are highly accurate representations of the expected post-pandemic conditions.
How does VHB work in conjunction with the Department of Transportation or other groups they work closely with?
Getting involved with the Department of Transportation early on is paramount. Taking the time to explain the project and traffic study methodology beforehand to field their concerns and consider their extensive suggestions is key to creating a well-rounded and universally approved traffic study.
Bob has been working alongside the DoT for 47 years and in the process has developed a very good relationship with his counterparts there. With the DoT’s guidance, VHB has a proven track record for identifying methodologies for projects and carrying them out. They have a deep understanding of exactly what the DoT is looking for and how to thoughtfully undertake work to meet their expectations.
Bob has also worked closely with Nassau County’s Department of Public Works. This department has their own traffic engineering division since so many projects have access to county roadways, which is very much the case with the Port Washington project on West Shore Road. Like with the DoT, collaborations with these departments involve meeting with them early and often to field their concerns, listen to suggestions and requirements, and communicate with them throughout the entire project. This is essential to gaining access to their road as well as having the most dimensional understanding of traffic impact as possible.
In the interest of due diligence, VHB will not only look at intersections in the immediate vicinity of the project but will also study intersections further away that may receive more traffic as a result of a proposed development.
How do these traffic studies ensure accuracy?
This starts and ends with following strict and standardized traffic engineering methodologies. No one is (or should be) making their own rules as they proceed. Traffic engineers elsewhere across Long Island follow the same procedures as VHB, meaning if they were to pick up a similar project, they would use the exact same approach to estimate the volume of traffic.
In addition to their standardized methodologies, Bob and VHB have a very strict internal quality control procedure. Whoever conducts primary analysis is required to have their findings reviewed and verified by someone else with familiarity of the project to ensure all rules and standard procedures have been followed.
VHB is home to a uniquely talented team of five deeply experienced traffic engineering experts, including Bob, who are constantly exchanging information. Nothing leaves their office until a definitive quality control check is conducted.
Bob and his expert team of engineers take great pride in their professionalism and quality of work. Stringent quality control procedures mean they’re always looking to improve upon processes. They also have a very active and evolving education program where they listen to field experts and collaborate with counterparts in other VHB offices with extensive experience and specialized insights.
Each day begins with a daily brainstorm session with the top five senior traffic engineers, who gather and talk through challenges, bounce ideas off one another, learn what’s being done on different projects, and discuss how various approaches can be applied. This constant communication and process evolution means they’re always incorporating new ideas to help move projects forward in very constructive ways, despite any proposal’s unique challenges.