Chet Skwarcan is an award-winning engineer, writer, and industry innovator in the field of traffic engineering. He is known for leveraging his creativity, logic, and technology to solve today’s engineering challenges.

Trafic Soup

I know, I know, but I could only find one “F”  — plus people at the counter were staring at me as if I was crazy (so I just stared at them as if I wasn’t).

Reflecting on my years at Purdue, without question, the class having the biggest impact on my career was Traffic Soup 574. This was a graduate level class and in hindsight, should be required for all aspiring civil engineers — particularly traffic engineers. This class presented a comprehensive approach to problem solving — the technical term is: the whole shebang. It goes like this…

The first step is to understand the problem — what is the traffic problem (existing or future)? I mean, what is it really? What is it through their eyes — what exactly, is their concern? This involves communication and data collection (historical trends and current traffic data). And when there’s a good understanding of the true users, their needs and their concerns…

It’s time to generate ideas. What has worked in the past? What has worked in the future? (a bit tougher to answer but never skip this question). I sometimes refer to this phase as brainstorming — there are no bad ideas (personal note to Dennis: your idea was a bad idea). This is the time for intellection and mentation. And by all means, do not limit yourself to how you always do it. And equally important, avoid the temptation to “know the answer in advance.” Previous experience can be misleading — your interpretation of the data becomes biased and your creativity stifled. It requires maximum creativity to address a problem (or possibly, circumvent it).

Prototypes and pilot projects are great ways to test ideas. Both excellent ways to incorporate the flexibility to tweak-as-you-go (TAYG). Traffic volumes and traffic patterns are not always predictable. This means avoiding the temptation to solve a problem that may not materialize. It is much better to be aware of such a potential problem versus “solving” it in advance and subsequently impacting traffic flow 24/7 (perhaps unnecessarily).

At this point, you are probably thinking, “This technique is good for a lot more than solving traffic problems.” Well, if you think that, you’re wrong. We can only use it for solving trafic problems (or mariage problems). Plus, my soup is geting cold…


Chet Skwarcan (traffic engineer, author, unique insights) with over 25 years of traffic engineering experience — online help available at