HOT TOPICS - CONGESTION
Latest News

8 September 2009

Former IHT President David Hutchinson appointed Executive Director of the Highways Term Maintenance Association (HTMA).

David Hutchinson has been named Executive Director of the Highways Term Maintenance Association, as announced today by the HTMA Executive Board.

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3 September 2009

Over 2,000 roadwork accidents a year could be prevented with simple change in attitude

The poor driving behaviours of motorists are responsible for almost all of the 2,200 accidents that occur every year on Britain’s roadworks.

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Contents

Congestion Management – What are the Issues?

CongestionCongestion costs the British economy alone an estimated £20bn a year in wasted time and resources and lost business. Recent Department for Transport figures suggest that drivers waste an average of up to 26 minutes for every 10 miles travelled on England’s trunk roads. Congestion seriously affects our economy, environment and quality of life. Yet demand on the road network continues to grow, with traffic increasing by up to 75% since 1980.

Today there are 620 million private cars worldwide, to say nothing of buses, vans and lorries. On current growth trends, that number is expected to double to a staggering 1.2 billion cars worldwide by 2020. Government targets, set for issues of key national importance, include congestion targets that challenge the Department for Transport to make journeys on the strategic network (motorways and trunk roads) more reliable (by 2007-08) and require the ten largest urban areas to meet congestion targets for movement on their main roads into city centres (by 2010-11). The Highways Agency has estimated that delays on England’s Motorways and Trunk Roads can be attributed to: Volume of traffic 65%; Accidents & Incidents 25%; Roadworks 10%.

Congestion recurs on a regular basis where the volume of traffic exceeds the capacity of the road network. Conversely, congestion caused by roadworks, accidents and incidents is generally non-recurrent, but often contributes the longest delays and is certainly more disruptive to journey reliability. Future strategies to combat congestion and improve journey reliability need to address all these aspects.

The HTMA is active in development of a growing package of measures to manage demand and maximise the efficiency of the road network through: Better traffic management; Influencing travel behaviour; Engineering solutions.

Motorways: The freight problem

It's estimated that a quarter of all main roads in Britain are jammed for at least an hour a day - compared to our neighbours in Germany and France, where that figure is less than 10% of all main roads.

But it isn't just the increased number of car owners that are choking our motorways - there are more trucks out there too, although it's wise to be careful when apportioning the blame - after all the motorways were originally built for freight. The big problem is that all lorries travel roughly at the same speed (all trucks over seven and a half tonnes are mechanically restricted to 56mph). As a consequence, they now bunch together in long lines travelling nose-to-tail. These rolling road-blocks can have a huge effect on the flow of traffic.

On a three lane motorway, when a truck pulls out to overtake another, two out of three lanes are effectively slowed to below 56mph. This forces faster cars and vans into the third lane, effectively creating a 'bottle-neck' where three lanes are suddenly funnelled into one. On a busy motorway any such sudden stoppages can be dreadful. Where you find a block of traffic doing 56mph, the knock-on effect means that traffic travelling behind will be reduced to 30mph. Further back you'll find traffic at a standstill.

In Germany, trucks over seven and a half tonnes are confined to the inside lane during peak daytime hours and restricted from overtaking on busy routes. Trucks are also banned from driving on Sundays in many European countries. Also, more freight is transported by rail and even barges. Perhaps this goes some way to explain why their roads have only a fraction of the problems that ours do.

Facts and Stats

Facts

  • Traffic in England is predicted to increase by up to 10 per cent by 2010 and by up to 36 per cent by 2025.
  • 68 per cent of people think that the level of traffic congestion has got worse over the last three years; only 7 per cent believe it has improved.
  • 37 per cent blame the school run for congestion. People driving with no passengers in the car were also blamed by 35 per cent.
  • 92 per cent of people feel that congestion is ‘a problem for Great Britain’
  • A quarter of all main roads are jammed for an hour a day
  • Only 12% of all journeys are made by public transport - 70% are made by car

Stats

  • Figures from the Dept of Transport show Birmingham’s motorways and major roads suffer the largest delays in England outside of London. M42 eastbound during evening peak - 1 in 10 journeys involve delays of 11 minutes or more for every 10 miles driven. M42 westbound during evening peak - 1 in 10 journeys suffer delays of more than 7 minutes for every 10 miles driven. Source: Congestion On The Strategic Road Network by DfT
  • Nationally the worst journey times are experienced on the M25 and Southern section of the M1.Source: Congestion On The Strategic Road Network by DfT
  • Congestion to West Midlands is estimated to cost the local economy £2.5 billion every year. Source: Black Country Mail 22.02.06
  • England's motorways and trunk roads are the busiest in Europe with 153 billion kilometers travelled each year on a road network almost 6,000 miles in length. Source: Gilles Savary writing in European Voice 02.02.06
  • Motorists waste up to 26 minutes for every 10 miles they travel on England's trunk-road network according to figures from the Department of Transport, which compare actual journey times with those when traffic is flowing freely. Across all roads, traffic rose by 11 per cent to 312 billion vehicles miles a year between 1997 and 2005. Source: The Times 15.02.06

Vote

Do you think congestion in the UK will improve over the next 5 years?

Yes No

Roadworks and congestion

More efficient management of the road network can undoubtedly improve congestion. And one of the things we can manage more efficiently is road works. Nothing is more irritating than being stuck in a traffic jam next to a long line of road works but with no sign of anyone actually working. We can't avoid road works, but what we can try to do is minimise the disruption they cause, although congestion caused by long term roadworks due to capital works or the effect of utility works are beyond the direct control of the maintenance companies.

The HTMA actively promotes methods and initiatives that can significantly reduce the disruptive effect that this restriction of the network has on traffic, including:

  • Reduced Intervention – Reviewing and challenging standards and practices, to reduce the frequency of access to the network for inspection and maintenance.
  • Innovation – Developing techniques that speed up maintenance operations, require less area or restriction of the network to execute the maintenance.
  • Roadspace Planning – Coordinating access to the network; optimising timing of works to avoid periods of heavier traffic; combining works within the same traffic management; avoiding concurrent works on adjacent and alternative routes.
  • Traffic Management Design – Improved designs; traffic modelling to predict effects on traffic patterns; provision of diversion routes.
  • Driver Information – Providing advance and real-time traffic information, on road signs and through the media, to enable drivers to plan their routes and avoid delays.
  • Driver Education – Improving driver understanding and driver behaviour at roadworks.
  • Designing for Maintenance – Involving maintenance experts during design of new infrastructure to design-in more efficient maintenance regimes and facilities.

Technology and congestion

CongestionTechnology might not be an obvious solution, but in fact has a vital role to play in cutting congestion and improving traffic management and HTMA member companies are at the forefront of delivering this technology.

We are involved in piloting Active Traffic Management (ATM) - an innovative scheme, which aims to deliver significant improvements to the flow of motorway traffic. ATM represents a ‘toolbox’ of technologies aimed at reducing congestion and improving journey times. One of the most innovative of these technologies is the controlled use of the hard shoulder as an additional traffic lane to provide relief under heavily congested conditions. This has the potential to increase substantially the capacity of the motorway without resorting to a programme of road building and is now in operation.

The HTMA is also involved in trialing new cone laying machines that will boost safety and reduce congestion at motorway roadworks. Fixed to the rear of traffic management lorries, the machines will place and collect standard road cones, eliminating the need for road workers to stand close to fast-moving traffic. Road users will therefore benefit from the shorter period of time taken to change from normal carriageway to a coned-off area. In addition, traffic cones will be laid and taken up more quickly, enabling more routine maintenance work to be undertaken during each closure and reducing the frequency of road works and congestion.

A new barrier transfer machine, which can lift 12 tons of concrete safety barriers for motorway roadworks into place at a speed of 7mph, is also being used to reduce congestion at roadworks on high-speed routes. Use of this technology will help keep more lanes open for drivers during peak periods. The machine will also offer higher levels of barrier protection to motorway road workers.

The Highways Agency is demonstrating a new Digital Audio Broadcasting traffic radio service.

'HA Radio' is available 24 hours a day providing continuous live updates about key roads and the motorway network covering Bristol and Bath - although it may be possible to receive the service from as far as Weston-Super-Mare, Thornbury and Chippenham.

You can tune into 'HA Radio', until 26th November, by setting your DAB radio to "HA Trial" (you will need to press the auto tune button on your DAB set).

'HA Radio' is intended as a dip-in and dip-out service for use in parallel to existing radio stations' travel announcements. The Highways Agency rapidly update the service with current travel conditions, so users can always get the latest on conditions before they leave on a journey

Other countries already have dedicated traffic radio, and the Highways Agency wants to see if this can be applied to its network, investigating how customers benefit from such a continuously available service. Road users can give the HA feedback via either the HA's website, or by using the Highways Agency Information Line on 08457 50 40 30. Feedback about the service will support the case for wider roll-out of the service.

Accidents and Incidents

Road accidents and other incidents are a very obvious cause of disruption on the road network, often resulting in extensive delays and widespread congestion. The ad-hoc nature of these incidents also increases the frustration of road users.

The Highways Agency (HA) has recognised that better management of incidents promises to deliver the greatest returns in the fight to reduce delays on the motorway and trunk road network. It has instigated a major programme of measures that address this issue, including introduction of the Traffic Officer Service, Regional Control Centres and the National Traffic Control Centre. HTMA members continue to work closely with the HA in developing and implementing these initiatives, including drafting operating protocols, providing training and sharing expertise.

HTMA members have also been at the forefront of improvements in Contingency Planning, building on experience from major incidents and working with emergency services and other agencies to develop comprehensive plans to deal quickly and effectively with the unexpected.

The HTMA supports the HA’s Traffic Incident Management Programme, a series of initiatives aimed at reducing disruption on the road network by improving management of incidents.

Measures include:

  • Incident Investigation – Improving on-site information gathering techniques to reduce the time required before the carriageway can be re-opened.
  • Off-Network Diversion Routes – Planning and maintaining comprehensive alternative routes for diversion of traffic off the network during incidents.
  • Driver Information – Providing real-time on-the-road information on incidents and giving drivers an alternative route.
  • Vehicle Recovery – Improving methods for vehicle recovery and dealing with spilled loads.  
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