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Dean De Leon stands next to the  module used to demonstrate signal timing.

Timing Engineer Dean De Leon Sees the Light
by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 01/2011

PCH traffic is regulated from District 7's Signal Operations Center (SOC.)

If everyone stuck at a traffic light on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) knew that Caltrans Timing Engineer Dean De Leon, Office of Traffic Design, could send them through at the touch of a button, they would all have him on speed dial.

Before all the frantic calls begin, however, it should be noted that the operative word is “could.” The unfortunate corollary of making the light green in one direction, however, is that it would have to be red in the other. That’s why a great deal of science and technology is involved in operating traffic lights so that they provide the maximum flow in each direction.

From the Signal Operations Center (SOC) on the fourth floor of the district office building, PCH traffic can be viewed on a bank of wall monitors and signals can be adjusted, if necessary, via computer. De Leon is responsible for operating the traffic signals on PCH from the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) to the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) and throughout most of Ventura County. This involves developing and maintaining timing as well as investigating complaints in conjunction with Maintenance and the Office of Traffic Investigations.

Timing is developed in the SOC, where a wall of computers receives traffic data and signal phasing can be tested on an in-house signal module. It is possible to hit mostly green lights but there is a strategy to it: “You have to stay at the speed limit,” De Leon said. “On PCH, it’s 45 mph.”

Caltrans employs what’s called the Adaptive Traffic Control System (ATCS), using Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) software. “While overall this system is working quite well, the State will continue to evaluate various technologies to ensure it is using the most effective one,” he said.

ATCS adjusts signal timing at all intersection directions automatically based on real time traffic volumes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that “the majority of signal locations are not on this system,” De Leon said-- only 200 out of the district’s 1300 are run under the ATCS . About 400 signals are operated and maintained by the local cities, many under LADOT’s management. “This helps both agencies to jointly manage the freeway and arterial signal systems more effectively and efficiently."

Continuing the signalization on PCH to Kanan Dume Road is being looked at, but the question of finding funds makes such a project unlikely in the near term, although Measure R funds could be a possibility.

De Leon started his career with Caltrans more than 19 years ago after graduating as an electrical engineer from Cal State Long Beach and a relatively short stint in the private sector. He spent 10 years in Construction and then a year and a half in Design before coming to Signal Operations

He grew up in Montebello but now lives in Long Beach with his family. With a five-year old son and twin three-year-old daughters, De Leon’s spare time is pretty much taken up with his children. “My wife and I work on teaching them their alphabet and spelling, how to ride a bike and shuttle them to and from various recreational activities,” he said. The family enjoys camping and, since purchasing a travel trailer a couple of years ago, has visited 12 states and Canada. “I started a little late in life having kids so, more often than not, I need energy more than time.”