San Jose TMC Workers Act as Symphony Conductors for City’s Roads

A San Jose Sharks hockey game.  Sidewalk repaving.  Bike lane improvements.  Inoperative traffic lights.

A typical day at San Jose’s Transportation Management Center can include all the above challenges for workers.

“Our goal is to make traffic safe, reliable and efficient for all modes,” said Bikram Kahlon, Associate Engineer at the City of San Jose and Member of IFPTE Local 21’s Association of Engineers and Architects (AEA).

About a dozen City employees staff the TMC, a combination of Local 21 and AFSCME Members.  Day-to-day operations focus on three areas: managing car and foot traffic at special events, re-timing stoplights to improve traffic flow, and responding to malfunctioning traffic signals or other issues reported by citizens or other City employees.

TMC workers are Guardians of the Streets since they monitor 2,400 miles of City roadways.  That’s the equivalent of driving the length of California more than three times.

The City has over 900 signalized intersections and, with limited staff, it is difficult to monitor all signalized intersections. Staff depends on new technology that can pinpoint critical areas that have issues. 

While one-third of intersections with signals feature cameras to help monitor traffic flow, engineers also rely on feedback from residents to spot problem areas.

“We’re the frontline.  We interface with the public.  A lot of what we do is reacting,” said Joel Roque, Associate Transportation Specialist and Member of Local 21’s City Association of Management Personnel (CAMP). “We want to implement a system that is more proactive, so that we catch issues before the public does.”

Chase Levasseur is one of the engineers overseeing the 400 to 500 annual emails and calls reporting issues.  He said common appeals are from people sitting at stoplights for too long.

“There’s a lot of improvising,” the AEA Member said about his average day. “You get to be creative with trying to change timing (of lights).”

Though many complain about backups at traffic lights, TMC staff work their best to handle the hordes of daily road travelers.  Engineer and AEA Member Tan Tranngo manages the light re-timing program.  Most stoplights have set timers for how long they shine green or red.  Tan and others adjust based on traffic flow, time of day, construction, etc.

Fellow Engineer and AEA Member Abdul Yasini works later shifts to help with special events. (see photo at top)  His desk includes a few phones and three wide-screen monitors that can display several traffic video feeds, as well as operating maps of City streets with live traffic route feeds.

“I like how I can help people,” he said. “When you do something, you see the impact right away.”

Recently, one’s of Abdul’s projects was managing flow for Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in downtown’s McEnery Convention Center.  The weeklong conference hosted 5,000 developers for education sessions and hands-on labs.

From time to time, these transportation experts offer input on larger traffic planning of the increasingly common road diets, where thoroughfares lose lanes to improve safety for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Though TMC workers have plenty daily tasks to keep them busy, they’re also looking to the future.

Bikram works to implement evolving technology in the TMC, so the staff can work more efficiently.  The impending challenge is to integrate what’s called connected vehicle technology into San Jose’s network of roads.  This technology includes driverless cars and vehicles that can “talk” to one another (for instance, a car sending a message to the driver that another car is about to run a red light).

With transportation professionals like Bikram, Joel, Tan, Chase, Abdul and their coworkers, the future of roads is smooth!