Traffic Signals

Signal Traffic signals, similar to stop signs and roundabouts, are designed to provide safe, and efficient passage through intersections by assigning right-of-way to individual traffic movements. In a perfect environment, traffic signals promote orderly movement of traffic while minimizing excessive delay.

MUTCDInstallation Policies
The Federal Highway Administration publishes the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This publication dictates all aspects of signing and striping within public roadways. The MUTCD dictates the size, shape, and color for traffic signs, signals, and other traffic control devices. Included within the MUTCD are guidelines for where signs and signals are installed that create uniformity from city to city and state to state. The City of Billings is required by State law to comply with the guidelines contained within the MUTCD. A traffic signal will only be installed after careful engineering evaluation complying with the MUTCD guidelines of the existing conditions indicates that the installation is appropriate. This analysis must balance the following, sometimes conflicting goals:
  • Moving traffic in an orderly fashion
  • Minimizing delay to vehicles and pedestrians
  • Reducing crash-producing conflicts
  • Maximizing capacity for each intersection approach
The MUTCD has very specific requirements of the existing traffic data in order for an intersection to be “warranted” for the installation of a traffic signal. These requirements include justification based on traffic volumes; pedestrian volumes; proximity to other signals, schools, and railroads; crash history; and roadway classification (i.e. hierarchy of roadway network). While any one of these factors may justify the installation of a traffic signal, it does not require the installation of the traffic signal.
More information on the MUTCD and its guidelines can be found at the following link:

Signal1Drawbacks of Traffic Signals When installed correctly, signals provide safe and efficient traffic flow through complex intersections. However, traffic signals are often considered a cure-all for traffic problems at intersections. This can lead to unwarranted installations that end up doing more harm than good. Even if an intersection is warranted for a traffic signal, improper design and operation of the signal can adversely impact the effectiveness of the signal. This can lead to excessive travel time delays, disobedience of signal indications, increased use of less adequate roadways, increases to certain crash types (particularly rear-end crashes), and costs.
In an effort to minimize these adverse impacts, the City is actively trying to improve the traffic signal system in the City.

Signal2Combatting Traffic Signal Drawbacks
There are a variety of ways that the City remedies traffic signal deficiencies. These methods range from simple modifications to the signal timing parameters to complete replacement of the traffic signals. The City is currently replacing all traffic signal controllers (which are the computers that run the signal) to modern technology. A master traffic signal software program was also installed to allow for quicker diagnosis of signal problems. This software will also allow the City to implement solutions and update signal timing parameters more quickly and efficiently from City offices.
Left turn crashes can be particularly troublesome at signalized intersections. Safely progressing left turning traffic directly impacts the efficiency of passing the oncoming through traffic. As such, traffic engineers have implemented various types of protected turn movements (green arrows). The latest safety measure for the left turning problem is the Flashing Yellow Arrow. More information can be found at the following link:

Another alternative that combats the traffic signal inadequacies are roundabouts. More information on roundabouts can be found at the following link:

Citizen Requests
The City is constantly monitoring both existing traffic signals and intersections for potentially new installations. Further, the City takes our role in solving traffic problems very seriously, yet the ultimate burden of safety rests with you, the motorist. Please use the contact information below to request a stop sign for an intersection in your neighborhood:
City Engineering Division
2224 Montana Avenue
Billings, MT 59101
(406) 657-8231 (phone)
(406) 237-6291 (fax)