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Road User Voice – July 2015 – On the road….. in the West Midlands

17 July 2015

Our chief executive and road user director have hit the road to find out more about the road network in the West Midlands.

At the end of June they donned hi-vis gear and went to find out more about Highways England and its work. Among their many observations, four things stood out.

Hard shoulder running – is it being used to maximum benefit?
It appeared that drivers are not confident about using the hard shoulder on the sections of managed and smart motorway, even when permitted to do so.

Is the signage right? A red cross indicates when the hard shoulder should not be used, but – while the words “congestion use hard shoulder” are displayed – there is no corresponding green arrow to show when it can be. Odd, given that elsewhere in Britain green arrows and red crosses are used to indicate which lanes are in use.

Is the thick white line, with ‘ribs’ to jolt you to attention if you drift onto them, a psychological (and in a sense physical) barrier drivers are reluctant to cross? It appeared that drivers were reticent about using the hard shoulder and, as a result the theoretical increase in capacity that results from a smart motorway wasn’t actually being achieved.

smart motorway?

Lots goes on overnight that you never see! 
EM Highways (now part of Kier) was carrying out overnight resurfacing on the M42 as part of its contract with Highways England. An impressive sight with well-organised hard-working staff – a good advert for the road industry. By half past midnight, the ‘planing off’ of the old surface of the outside lane of the eastbound carriageway was complete and the first of the new layers was going down. And a lot of work is going into how to deliver more in a given period of time when the road is closed – a direct parallel with the railway.

hi vis spotlight working

Roads are dangerous places
As Anthony and Guy returned from the M42 resurfacing site, news came in that there had been a fatal accident on the M40 not far away – indeed, the road was closed for much of the next day.

And when they visited the National Traffic Operations Centre and the Regional Control Centre the following morning, the emergency services were dealing with a fatal accident on the M6 near Sandbach.

A powerful reminder that roads are dangerous places. Therefore it is good to hear Highways England Chairman Colin Matthews say that improving safety is a top priority for the company. Have we, as a society, become too accepting that accidents on the roads will happen?

Communication with road users is tricky – but essential
A journey down the M54 and on to Shrewsbury demonstrated two of the frustrations road users talked about in Transport Focus’s initial qualitative research.

First, being in a queue of crawling – and occasionally halting – traffic with no knowledge of what was causing the hold up. Was it roadworks? Was it an accident? For a good while there was no way of knowing.

And second, having eventually reached the point where one of the two lanes was coned off, the irritation road users feel when they have been delayed – seemingly – for no reason. The resurfacing was complete and the white lines had been reapplied. There presumably was a reason why a lane was closed, but there was no work going on and nothing to explain why!

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