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Not road rage but road use - do you create or alleviate congestion?

In 2016 it was estimated that road congestion costs the UK economy a staggering £30bn,1a figure based on the combination of time sat in the car, lost working hours, vehicle maintenance and fuel costs.

These delays and the knock-on effect on hours available in a working day can seriously affect productivity. A survey of businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce put the cost of congestion at £17,350 per business. The same survey found congestion to be a problem for around 90% of businesses, with around 45% viewing it as a ‘significant’ problem.

Other research suggests that, with the UK population forecast to rise by ten million by 2035, it will equate to at least four million more cars on the road2. Over the same period – and despite a slight dip during the recent recession – traffic is predicted to grow by 44% and the proportion of traffic travelling in very congested conditions will have doubled to 17%. Many locations, predominantly those already notoriously well known for their backlogs, will see big increases in the volume and duration of traffic jams. And let’s not forget the environment. Transport accounts for around a quarter of UK greenhouse gas emissions and impacts air quality at the roadside. The Government has set out its plan of action for greenhouse gas reduction in the Carbon Plan, which identifies that transport has a critical role in meeting the Climate Change Act 2008 obligations.

It's not going away

So, with the congestion problem set to worsen and the huge monetary costs quoted above, it is only correct that much of the future road development strategy aims to help relieve congestion pressure. This is where innovative thinking, coupled with taking advantage of the big data and new technology can positively affect the future of road use.

We’ve seen this starting to happen through investment in smart motorways which has introduced four-lane running, improved MIDAS and Ramp Metering systems, and better Journey Time Monitoring Systems (JTMS) infrastructure.

On urban roads, we can see that local authorities are introducing more journey time monitoring, especially around temporary road works, and putting in place ‘smart city thinking’ (see our blog on the latest buzzwords) with Vehicle Management Signs (VMS) to inform road users of the quickest routes and the location of available parking spaces.

Together with the Internet of Things which is beginning to gather momentum and many different systems being integrated, this all bodes good news for reducing congestion on our roads.

Are we missing something?

But there is one other piece of the jigsaw that can play a vital part in keeping congestion under control – the driver! Presently, it seems far too easy for road users to simply shrug their shoulders and look to the authorities to solve this issue.

However, the way in which we drive and interact with others on our roads makes a huge difference to the speed of journeys and potential congestion. Whilst there’s plenty of commentary available on increasing the use of sustainable transport options, there is little information readily available on encouraging drivers to use the road network to its maximum advantage.

Highways England is currently running a campaign to educate drivers on the correct use of lanes on motorways. Pushing knowledge of when you are allowed or not allowed to use lanes (Red X). But better education should also extend to local roads.

For example, are you one of those drivers that queues in the left-hand lane, when there is a clear right hand lane that runs further down the road before merging? Why don’t we like to use the right-hand lane and merge when safe to do so? Perhaps it’s because we are British and like to queue politely. Or maybe it’s nervousness due to a lack of advance information as to whether there is suddenly going to be a ‘right turn only’ sign painted in the lane rather than a ‘merge now’ arrow. And why do drivers using the right-hand lane to zip further ahead cause anger to the queuing traffic sitting patiently in the left lane.

In Germany, their approach to lane merging even has its own name - ‘zipper merge’3. In this system, every car in the lane that’s ending drives all the way up to the front and then takes alternate turns merging with the other lane of traffic. The system uses all the available road space for as long as possible, cutting congestion by an estimated 40%. Crashes are also reduced due to the traffic moving at the same speed.

Local authorities can help the driver understand that this is ok by introducing better signage and visual guidance such as road studs and VMS.

But we as drivers need to learn to share road space nicely with each other, and create the space for others to merge into the traffic flow.

If you would like to talk to us about how we can help you to encourage better driver behaviour and ‘brake’ bad habits (excuse the pun), then please contact us.





Author: Marketing M |Date Published: April 2017

Links: Network Management

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