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Posted on: May 7, 2019

'From Point A to Point B'

Stephen Joersz

Stephen Joersz has been the City of Minot's traffic engineer since October 2018.


Stephen Joersz has a simple goal as the City of Minot’s traffic engineer:

“My goal is to get people from Point A to Point B in the safest and most efficient manner,” said Joersz, who has been in his position since October 2018.

In reality, Joersz knows his job is much more complicated than just getting people from Point A to Point B.

“Technically, I’m in charge of the majority of our street lights, traffic signals, signs, and pavement markings,” he said. “In a much broader scope, I want to improve the City’s traffic system from a safety and operations standpoint for every vehicle, bicycle, motorcycle, and pedestrian.”

Joersz, originally from Washburn, earned a business degree from Valley City State University and a civil engineering degree from North Dakota State University. He’s a licensed professional engineer in North Dakota and Minnesota, and in June will take the exam to become a professional traffic operations engineer.

That educational background is put to good use when Joersz and others conduct studies and work to design the most efficient and safe traffic features in Minot. Safety always trumps operations, he said. And the study and design process is lengthy, detailed, and driven by data.

“We’ll study all our options. We’ll analyze if traffic signals are warranted. We’ll study if a two-way stop will work. We’ll study if a four-way stop is the best option. We’ll study if a roundabout is the best option,” Joersz said. “We look at delays. How long do cars have to wait? How many cars are in the queue, because the longer the queue is, the more frustrated drivers become and the more unsafe the situation becomes.”

A good example of that process is the recently announced decision to build Minot’s first roundabout at the intersection of 31st Avenue Southeast and 13th Street Southeast. City engineers and consultants studied that location extensively before making a recommendation to City Council.

“Based on traffic counts, a signal is not warranted at that location, and sometimes installing an unwarranted signal can actually lead to more accidents than not having a signal at all,” Joersz said. “In our studies, we found that the traffic queues from both a two-way stop and a four-way stop would be too long. In this case, a roundabout was the best from both a traffic operations and a safety perspective for this location.”

 The intersection is still in the design stage, with construction on the roundabout scheduled to begin in the spring of 2020.

The City Council also recently approved funding to study improvements to South Broadway between 20th Avenue Southwest and Minot’s southern city limits. Joersz said that will involve a detailed study to determine the most efficient and safest way to move traffic and pedestrians through that corridor.

The typical traffic study includes:

  • Study of existing conditions
  • Analysis of past crash trends
  • Analysis of weak points
  • Obtaining average daily traffic counts
  • Forecasting future traffic volumes
  • Studying possible design changes, additions
  • Creating a layout of recommended changes

“It’s our job to determine what’s best for all users in that area. Right now, there is no dedicated path for pedestrians to navigate that section of South Broadway, and that’s obviously a great concern,” Joersz said.

Joersz said he’s often asked how traffic signals work. Actually, he said, it’s a relatively simple process.

Essentially, the system is comprised of a controller, signal heads, and a detection method. The controller is the brains of the operation and processes the information to change the signal heads, which are the familiar green, yellow, and red lights and arrows. The detection system is the “eyes” of the traffic signal, and works through either a video camera system or induction loops. The controller is the “brains” of the system, and the signal heads are the “face” of the system that tell drivers what to do.

“If you ever see a cut out square right in front of a stop bar at a traffic signal, that is actually an inductive loop. These loops are a copper wire wrapped around the square and a call is placed back to the controller when that loop’s electrical field is disturbed by a vehicle,” Joersz said. “A common misconception is that it is actually a weight sensor, but in reality it’s much simpler.”

Another common traffic myth? Minot uses cameras mounted on traffic signals to catch speeders and drivers who run red lights.

“Well, currently it’s not legal in North Dakota to use cameras to catch speeders or others committing traffic violations, so, no, we are not using cameras for that purpose,” Joersz said. “We do have cameras on most of our traffic signals, but not all of them. We use them for essentially two purposes: to monitor traffic and for vehicle detection. The video system detects if a vehicle is there and switches the signal to accommodate the vehicle.”

Joersz said there are several projects taking place this construction season, including updating the pedestrian crosswalks near the Ward County Courthouse and near Roosevelt Park Zoo. Crews will also be replacing seven signal cabinets and updating the signal timing at those locations.

Since Joersz joined the City of Minot, he has heard from many residents about their frustrations with the current signal timing.

“A goal of the Traffic Division is to acquire a traffic management system that will allow us to connect all of the City’s traffic signal network back into the Traffic Engineer’s office,” he said. “Upgrades over the next few years will add more reliability within our traffic signal network and allow signal timing to be more responsive to traffic volumes.”

“This will have a real and positive impact on everyone traveling within the City of Minot,” Joersz added. “It should increase corridor progression, reduce driver delays, save money on gas wasted during idling, improve safety, and reduce vehicle emissions.”

You can find more about what’s happening at the City of Minot at minotnd.org, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. We also encourage you to sign up for our monthly electronic newsletter on our website.

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