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Theodore M. Matson Memorial Award: Uniform Traffic Control and Uniform Vehicle Codes - A 55-Year Perspective

Theodore M. Matson contributed greatly to the traveling public through the advancement of traffic engineering and the training of professionah. Mr. Matson was director of the Bureau of Highway Traffic at Yale University Yale University, at New Haven, Conn.; coeducational. Chartered as a collegiate school for men in 1701 largely as a result of the efforts of James Pierpont, it opened at Killingworth (now Clinton) in 1702, moved (1707) to Saybrook (now Old Saybrook), and in 1716 was  and was serving as vice president of ITE ITE Institute of Transportation Engineers
ITE In the Ear
ITE Information Technology Equipment
ITE Initial Teacher Education (UK)
ITE Institute of Technical Education
ITE Institute of Terrestrial Ecology
 when his untimely death occurred in December 1954. He was one of ITE's founders.

The Theodore M. Matson Memorial Award, in recognition of outstanding contributions in the field of traffic engineering, has been awarded annually since 1957. Each year, representatives from the following associations select the award recipient:

* American Association American Association refers to one of the following professional baseball leagues:
  • American Association (19th century), active from 1882 to 1891.
  • American Association (20th century), active from 1902 to 1962 and 1969 to 1997.
 of State Highway and Transportation Officials;

* American Road and Transportation Builders Association;

* Federal Highway Administration The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is a division of the United States Department of Transportation that specializes in highway transportation. The agency's major activities are grouped into two "programs," The Federal-aid Highway Program and the Federal Lands Highway ;

* Institute of Transportation Engineers Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) is an international educational and scientific association of transportation professionals who attempt to meet mobility and safety needs and was founded in 1930. ITE is a standards development organization designated by the U.S. ;

* Intelligent Transportation Society of America;

* Theodore M. Matson Associates; and

* Transportation Research Board.

WHEN I FIRST HEARD THAT I WAS receiving this award, I was amazed. A lifetime achievement award in traffic engineering? My first diought was, "Whom do I thank?" As I have reflected these past months, I have realized that I have to thank my mentors, those people who shaped my interest and my involvement in the profession. This is a chance to recognize those people and thank the organizations and the committee that selected me.

Because my greatest interest in my 55-year career has always been traffic engineering, I have organized my remarks around my career and chosen as the theme uniform traffic control and the current need for a mandatory, uniform vehicle code The Uniform Vehicle Code is a privately prepared set of United States traffic laws prepared by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances a private non-profit organization. Most of the members are state governments, in addition to some related organizations.  in all states.


My choice of civil engineering at Marquette University Marquette University at Milwaukee, Wis.; Jesuit; coeducational; chartered 1864, opened 1881. The school achieved university status in 1907. Among its graduate programs are those in business, engineering, and law.  was pure luck. My father picked the hometown university, and a high school nun told me to be an engineer. I had no clue what that was, but she said, "You'll do well." As my schooling proceeded, civil engineering was my only choice because I disliked both mechanical and electrical engineering electrical engineering: see engineering.
electrical engineering

Branch of engineering concerned with the practical applications of electricity in all its forms, including those of electronics.
 and wanted to work outside.

At Marquette, Professor William Murphy William Murphy may refer to:
  • William Murphy (scientist) William Parry Murphy, (1892–1987), American doctor and Nobel Prize winner
  • William Murphy (Irish politician) (1892–1967), Irish Fine Gael TD 1951–1969
 taught us soils engineering senior year. He encouraged us to join the American Society of Civil Engineers “ASCE” redirects here. For the Nigerian stock exchange, see Abuja Securities and Commodities Exchange.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is a professional body founded in 1852 to represent members of the civil engineering profession worldwide.
American Society of Civil Engineers
) and become registered engineers. I did not understand why that was important, but I followed that path and took the Engineer-in-Training exam (Fundamentals in Engineering) and joined ASCE before I graduated. He made one other suggestion: If you work for the City of Milwaukee, WI, USA, do not stay more than two years or you'll become lax in your profession.

On the latter matter, he was wrong. I joined the City as an Engineer I after graduation from MU. I stayed 35 years and thrived in the professional environment of the Department of Public Works public works
Construction projects, such as highways or dams, financed by public funds and constructed by a government for the benefit or use of the general public.

Noun 1.
 before I retired as department head. In 1989, I joined the civil engineering faculty at Marquette for a second and third career. Mentoring students, especially graduate students, was an exciting experience for me.

Following two years of mandatory military service, I returned to my job with the City of Milwaukee in 1956. While there, management encouraged us to attend evening school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison “University of Wisconsin” redirects here. For other uses, see University of Wisconsin (disambiguation).
A public, land-grant institution, UW-Madison offers a wide spectrum of liberal arts studies, professional programs, and student activities.
 (UW-Madison). I met Professor Lloyd Rader. He and a group of faculty traveled to Milwaukee over a 10-year period to give evening graduate classes in civil engineering because there were no graduate programs in civil engineering in Milwaukee at that time.

Professor Rader first piqued my interest in city planning city planning, process of planning for the improvement of urban centers in order to provide healthy and safe living conditions, efficient transport and communication, adequate public facilities, and aesthetic surroundings.  and, specifically, neighborhood planning In 1915, Robert E. Park and E. W. Burgess introduced the idea of "neighborhood" as an ecological concept with urban planning implications . Since then, many concepts and ideas of a neighborhood have emerged. . That interest coincided with my interest in traffic engineering, and I completed my master's thesis, "A Comparison of Four- Way Stop vs. Signalized Intersections in the City of Milwaukee." That also launched my interest in traffic signals.

My interest in urban planning urban planning: see city planning.
urban planning

Programs pursued as a means of improving the urban environment and achieving certain social and economic objectives.
 grew and drove my desire to launch area-wide neighborhood traffic calming traffic calming nreducción f de la velocidad de la circulación

traffic calming nralentissement m de la circulation

 projects in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when only a few pioneers were willing to take on die grief of that type of project. That interest in neighborhood planning also contributed to my starting a three-day "Neighborhood Traffic Seminar" jointly between Marquette and UW-Madison in the 1990s, when a number of cities around the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  were implementing numerous projects.


My early career with the City was with highway construction, highway design and design supervision. In 1966, I broke with a rigid Bureau of Engineers - which had multiple layers of management and had to approve everything lower-level engineers proposed - and took a promotion with the Bureau of Traffic Engineering and Electrical Services.

Martin Bruening, the first and only city traffic engineer and a staunch ITE supporter (now a deceased honorary member of ITE) made sure that the first thing I did was join ITE. My master's thesis had garnered his attention. At that time, there was only the Midwest Section, centered around Chicago, IL, USA, and we traveled to Chicago for monthly meetings. Soon there was enough interest in ITE to form the Wisconsin Section, and Bruening and I were charter members. The Wisconsin Section is now (I believe) one of the strongest sections in ITE. It has produced two international presidents (Honorary Member Harvey Shebesta and 2009 International President Ken Voigt). Wisconsin also has hosted three ITE Annual Meetings.

Martin Bruening was a great mentor who let you run with a job, make mistakes and learn by those mistakes. I was now the chief traffic control engineer, responsible for operating all my design mistakes in channelization chan·nel·ize  
tr.v. chan·nel·ized, chan·nel·iz·ing, chan·nel·iz·es
1. To make, form, or cut channels in.

2. To direct through a channel.
 (what a learning experience that was). What a boss he was, and a close friend until he died.

Bruening and Wayne Volk, at that time (in 1966) as state traffic engineer but also as chair of the Signals Technical Committee (STC STC Supplemental Type Certificate (FAA)
STC Society for Technical Communication
STC Subject to Change
STC Surf the Channel (website)
STC Sound Transmission Class
STC Singapore Turf Club
) of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA FHWA Federal Highway Administration (US DoT) ) National Advisory Committee (NAC See network access control. ) on Uniform Traffic Control, first involved me in reviewing material that would go into the 1968 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a document issued by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) to specify the standards by which traffic signs, road markings (see lane), and signals are  (MUTCD MUTCD Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices ).

It was that early association with Wayne Volk that led him to nominate me to serve on the STC in 1975, just prior to his retirement. Another friend, Dick Walling, the traffic engineer of Chicago, convinced the National League of Cities The National League of Cities is the oldest and largest organization in the United States devoted to strengthening and promoting cities as centers of opportunity, leadership and governance.  (NLC NLC National League of Cities
NLC National Library of Canada
NLC National Library of China
NLC Northern Lights College (British Columbia, Canada)
NLC North Lake College (Irving, Texas) 
) to name me to replace him as delegate to the NAC. This meant I could vote and be eligible for a committee chair. Volk introduced me to Al Pepper, at that time Colorado's state traffic engineer and chair of the committee, who had enough faith in me to appoint me as chair of the STC after only serving for about two or three meetings. My association with these mentors has shaped my association with the NAC and its successor organization, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or NCUTCD, is a private, non-profit organization whose purpose is to assist in the development of standards, guides and warrants for traffic control devices and practices used to regulate, warn and guide traffic on  (NCUTCD NCUTCD National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices ) for the last 33 years.


The last mentor I need to mention is Herbert A. Goetsch, P.E., former commissioner of Public Works The Commissioner of Public Works heads one of the departments in those local governments in New Jersey that operate under the Walsh Act form of municipal governance. This is a standalone position in Walsh Act municipalities with a five-member commission.  and now honorary member of both ASCE and the American Public Works Association The American Public Works Association is an international educational and professional association of public agencies, private sector companies, and individuals dedicated to providing high quality public works goods and services.  (APWA APWA American Public Works Association
APWA American Public Welfare Association
APWA All Pakistan Women's Association
). In 1979, FHWA withdrew its sponsorship of the NAC, and a number of us who wanted to see this important work continue had the job of lining up financial support of organizational sponsors to fund the secretariat of the new group. The NLC decided not to support the new group because uniform traffic control was not high on its priority list.

I volunteered to approach APWA to enlist sponsorship. Goetsch opened the door (he had recently served as national president of APWA), and we talked to Bob Bueher, executive director at the time. He agreed to recommend it the board of directors, and APWA joined the newly formed NCUTCD shortly after our organizational meeting in Colorado Springs Colorado Springs, city (1990 pop. 281,140), seat of El Paso co., central Colo., on Monument and Fountain creeks, at the foot of Pikes Peak; inc. 1886. It is a year-round resort and a booming military, technological, and commercial city. , CO, USA, in June 1979. I chaired the APWA delegation and served on the Executive Committee.

Later I was elected to serve as vice chair of NCUTCD programs. When the idea of reformatting and rewriting was launched out of the initiative of the STC, a concept I strongly supported, I served on the newly formed Edit Committee as chair, overseeing the approximately eight-year process that led to the 2000 Millennium MUTCD. The NCUTCD had proposed grouping the text in MUTCD into Standards, Guidance, Option and Support categories. As the "word police" of the process, we tried to ensure that all the "weasel words" that had crept into the previous versions (i.e. "shall be considered," "may be required") would be eliminated. We succeeded, at least to about a 98-percent level. This is a continuing challenge for the current Edit Committee.

One more example of the importance of mentors and catalysts is the importance of joining and being involved in a profession. Because of my early entrance into ASCE in college, I first met Goetsch in 1956. At that time, Goetsch was very involved in the Wisconsin Section of ASCE while working for the City of Milwaukee. He later got me involved in the section, and I served as assistant secretary/treasurer for about six years.

When he retired as the longest-serving commissioner of Public Works 22 years later, he recommended me to the mayor of Milwaukee as his replacement. This was a political appointment with a two-year term, and I would pass by several higherlevel engineers. He had great confidence that I would continue the legacy of honest government and continued emphasis on professionalism in the staff of approximately 3,000 employees.

The point in mentioning numerous mentors who shaped my career is that the common thread running through all of those mentioned is that they had achieved a great level of professional involvement and had confidence that I would do the same. Apparendy, they saw something of themselves in me to have that confidence. I can only hope my students also will pursue a career of professional development.


In my 40-year association with MUTCD, I have witnessed great progress, from a manual with only advisory status to the law of the land in all 50 states. The people with whom I have been associated (approximately 200 at any one time) and who have had input into the MUTCD process were all volunteering their time and effort. The product should surely result in a level of satisfaction. It does for me.

When I was named an honorary member of the NCUTCD (only five of us have achieved that status at this time), I was truly amazed. But volunteer efforts of hundreds of volunteers and tens of thousands of hours have produced an MUTCD of significant standing. I have seen MUTCD grow from a 6-by-9-inch book about threequarter-inch rhick (in 1968) to a 9-by- 12-inch book about two and one-half inches thick (in 2003). The next manual proposed by FHWA (in 2009) will be even larger.

At the last two meetings of the NCUTCD in Washington, DC, USA and Mobile, AL, USA, this year, the committees worked an entire extra day, stretching the normal three-day meeting to four days each to comment on the latest Notice of Proposed Rules (NPR NPR

In currencies, this is the abbreviation for the Nepal Rupee.

The currency market, also known as the Foreign Exchange market, is the largest financial market in the world, with a daily average volume of over US $1 trillion.
) containing the draft 2009 MUTCD. I noticed some concern among members, however, about the process followed by FHWA.

In the past, any idea that originated with FHWA would be thoroughly discussed by the technical committees of NCUTCD and sent to sponsors for comment before voting by NCUTCD, prior to the NPR being published. This time major changes in the current MUTCD were proposed by FHWA and put in an NPR, and the NCUTCD had limited time to react. Some of these originated with the NCUTCD, but FHWA went well beyond what committees had done in proposing new standards and guidance with significant economic consequences, many in the name of safety and some (in my opinion) without significant research to substantiate all of them.

One of diese is the proposed mandate for the countdown pedestrian signal at most crossings over two lanes wide. In 2003, they were proposed as options prior to action by the STC. Now, five years later, they are mandated. That is not the process I believe should be followed. Hopefully, in the interest of publishing this version of MUTCD, they will react to concerns presented at the last meeting by some of the members. A resolution to extend the comment period was passed by the NCUTCD. No extension has yet been posted on the Internet (August 1, 2008) by FHWA.


When I first switched from highway design to traffic operations in 1966, I needed to brush up to paint, or make clean or bright with a brush; to cleanse or improve; to renew.

See also: Brush
 on the Wisconsin Motor Vehicle Code, specifically the "rules of the road" everyone with a driver's license Noun 1. driver's license - a license authorizing the bearer to drive a motor vehicle
driver's licence, driving licence, driving license

license, permit, licence - a legal document giving official permission to do something

 is supposed to know. I had a sharp staff, and I learned a lot. So much so that when I mentored new graduate traffic engineers in the organization, I first asked them to read and understand those "rules of the road."

Through involvement on the NCUTCD, I met another giant of the traffic engineering profession, Professor Harold Michael of Purdue University Purdue University (pərdy`, -d`), main campus at West Lafayette, Ind. . Harold was the delegate to NCUTCD for the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (NCUTLO NCUTLO National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances ). It was through his activity and many years of service that the meanings of traffic control devices and actions required of drivers and pedestrians had the same meaning in both the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC UVC ultraviolet C; see ultraviolet.
UVC Umbilical vein catheter, see there
) and MUTCD. Harold died one evening at a meeting of the NCUTCD. Ray Pusey of Delaware subsequendy took his place and continued the long tradition of trying to obtain compatibility between the two documents.

In Wisconsin, we had our problems trying to update our code and the UVC. Between 1968 and 1988, 1 personally tried to get the meaning of the Flashing DON'T WALK (FDW FDW Foreign Domestic Worker
FDW Flashing Don't Walk (traffic signals, transportation engineering)
FDW Family Doctor Week (American Medical Association)
FDW Florida Dance Workshop
) introduced. I was continually rebuffed by legislators who often said, "Dave, that just isn't on our priority list of legislation." The Wisconsin Section of ITE and the Wisconsin state traffic engineers have had similar experiences.

One of the major discrepancies between the Wisconsin code and the UVC (and practice in most of the United States) is that in Wisconsin, U-turns at all signalized intersections are banned. Most of the country allows U- turns at signalized divided highways. Madison regularly signs hundreds of locations to prohibit U-turns. In Milwaukee, we followed the logic of not signing any of the rules of the road, so no intersections were signed under our jurisdiction. Two cities, 80 miles apart, have two different signing policies. Milwaukee would have to install thousands of signs if it followed Madison's practice.

At the last meeting of the NCUTCD, Ray Pusey, NCUTLO's delegate, announced that at end of June 2008, the NCUTLO would disband dis·band  
v. dis·band·ed, dis·band·ing, dis·bands
To dissolve the organization of (a corporation, for example).

 and there would be no committee to perform a gready needed function. I was shocked. The reason is financial. The money to support this effort is drying up. I know from my travels around the country that there is a great need for uniform vehicle laws governing meanings of devices as well as rules of the road. What will happen if there is no NCUTLO? The NCUTCD has formed a task force to explore options. I believe efforts well beyond ITE, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and other sponsors of the NCUTCD will have to be involved.


I believe this is a good time for FHWA to initiate and support a concerted effort to obtain a national, mandated UVC in all states. It can have a long timeframe for implementation and will take some great political will, but it could be done. That's daydreaming, I understand, because it treads on the issue of states' rights states' rights, in U.S. history, doctrine based on the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. . If someone had told me 40 years ago that a mandated MUTCD would be in effect in 2008, I would have thought it impossible. What's the sense of having this detailed guide for uniform traffic control and a crazy-quilt pattern of rules of the road governing drivers and pedestrians among 50 states? Why can't we use the clout of federal highway funding (the same used for MUTCD initially) to encourage implementation?

I see many features coming down the road that will require modifications to vehicle codes regarding how drivers and pedestrians must behave. The countdown pedestrian signal, the new hybrid signal, inroadway lights, flashing yellow and flashing red arrow signals all will likely be in the 2009 MUTCD. Accessible pedestrian signals will introduce new sounds that govern the blind and hard of hearing, and pedestrian actions need to be defined. Applying MUTCD to private property proposed by FHWA for 2009 and supported by the traffic engineering community raises lots of questions about coordinating model traffic ordinances and MUTCD.

We need a body like NCUTLO to craft UVCs and update the model traffic ordinances, but we also need some clout to ensure uniform national standards are followed. We have to get past the states' rights problem of the U.S. Constitution. People walk and drive all over the country; they have to know uniform rules of the road.

The consequence of not crafting reasonable and uniform traffic laws is that law enforcement will eventually deteriorate, especially in cities. Many drivers already roll through STOP signs, run red lights and exceed posted speed limits. With traffic control growing more complex each decade, and without good police enforcement and education, traffic safety will not happen. When the level of disregard becomes so large that police will no longer enforce the laws, especially those that differ from state to state, highway safety will gradually erode. Let's get going in support of uniform traffic laws and ordinances. It will take a crusade! Perhaps we even need a Constitutional amendment.


I've waited until the end to thank all those mentors and supporters who were responsible for my career, which, I believe, led to this award. I also thank the agencies who support the Theodore M. Matson Award and the committee members and chairperson who selected me. My purpose in emphasizing mentors is to inspire all of ITE Journal's readers to take the extra time and effort to inspire those who can help make our world a little safer.

Finally, I'd like to thank my wife and partner of 54 years. A teacher whose career was interrupted by pregnancy, she chose to stay home and raise our eight children and now stays in touch with our family of 35 siblings, spouses and grandchildren. While I trudged off to hundreds, if not thousands of meetings, conferences and conventions, she stayed home when needed, and her outstanding support is indispensable for my receiving this award.

A lifetime achievement in traffic engineering - that's fantastic. I'm 75 years old and still going. I've been active in the profession for 55 years. Am I too old? I ask myself that every day. Then I think of those who put their belief and trust in me, who served as my mentors, my sponsors, my supporters. I hope they would be proud of me.

© 2008 Institute of Transportation Engineers Provided by ProQuest LLC (Logical Link Control) See "LANs" under data link protocol.

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Author:David A Kuemmel
Publication:Institute of Transportation Engineers. ITE Journal
Date:Oct 1, 2008
Previous Article:Burton W. Marsh Distinguished Service Award: Make No Little Plans

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