The (Traffic Engineering) OOPS! File
Oops! (- or how to avoid 'Oops!')
We shouldn't have designed it that way. We shouldn't have built it that way.
How come someone is suing us because they were injured on the road?
Now we have to spend more time and money fixing it up, after we paid someone to design it properly!
You can avoid saying any of these by getting me involved in your project at an early stage.
Asking an experienced road safety engineer saves time and money.
Here are some areas where I have expertise and experience that can help you:
- Road Safety Audits - casting a critical and experienced eye over road and traffic designs
- Road safety audits of Roadwork Traffic Guidance Schemes
- Help with Signs and Line Marking
- Crash Assessments and Investigations
Let me now provide you with some details on these items. After that, I include some images of example projects where I was called in too late (after a crash happened), not early enough (remedial work had to take place) or not at all (the ticking time bomb factor) . . .
Improve the skills of your engineers and other technical people with some targeted training. You don't employ technical people? You rely on other companies to design projects for you? Then I can help by training your people on what to look out for and what questions to ask. To discuss your training needs, contact me.
Here are some areas I can help you with training:
Road safety audit training (I've been a leading presenter for over 25 years)
Embedding safety into your designs - basic concepts; human factors; the connection - road layouts and crashes
Crash investigation techniques (I've been presenting this for over 15 years)
Traffic control devices - general introduction. Getting the basics right
Road safety audit and the Safe System - how do these go together? (see the slides below for part of the story)
Traffic signs - general introduction (I've been involved for over 35 years)
Line marking principles and some of the details (Another long-term area of expertise)
Directions signs - principles, plus the latest details (I led the working group that developed the latest update)
Major project design - thinking about signs early enough to reduce design costs and eliminate redesigning.
Road Safety Engineering 101 for Lawyers - How design connects with crashes, what information to seek, what to look for on site, legislation on managing roads (Vic.)
These two slides are from a training presentation about the connection between the Safe System and Road Safety Auditing. The recent Austroads Guide to Road Safety, Part 6 seeks to show how Safe System Assessments and Road Safety Audits fit into the project development process (see the left slide). In doing so this new guide undervalues road safety engineering experience (the cornerstone of effective road safety audits) and it overplays the value of Safe System Assessments. The slide on the right shows there is a poor appreciation of the value of road safety auditing (by an experienced audit team) at the concept stage.
It's as if practitioners are having trouble finding a useful home for the Safe System in infrastructure projects. Slides © Rob Morgan
Road Safety Audits of Designs - from Early Concepts to Detailed Designs
Forget about the current fad of doing 'Safe System Assessments' at the concept stage and leaving road safety audits till later. Too many road safety and operational problems occur because a design concept was wrong, or the consequences of an early design decision were not appreciated. That can only be resolved by getting an experienced road safety auditor (road safety engineer) to cast a critical eye over the concept (and any details) at an early stage.
If your job is 'project delivery', you'll need to get the right expertise input early enough. There's no point getting a road or traffic project delivered 'on time and within budget' if it doesn't work properly when completed, due to some unexpected road safety or operating problem.
Maybe you don't need a full-blown road safety audit? Maybe you just need me to peruse and comment on a concept - or give you some useful advice on a design detail.
A phone call costs (next to) nothing. Feel free to contact me to discuss any issue.
My experience includes:
- Practicing in traffic management, traffic design and road safety engineering for over 45 years.
- Being the principal author of the original 1994 Austroads Road Safety Audit guide and the 2002 and 2009 revisions. This work still forms the bulk of the current Austroads practical road safety audit guide (Austroads Guide to Road Safety, Part 6A, 2019).
- Carrying out road safety audit and crash investigation training in all Australian jurisdictions since 1994. This training continues today. One benefit of this Australia-wide involvement is that I get to see a wide range of design concepts, road safety issues and problem-solving ideas.
- Carrying out hundreds of road safety audits around Australia - for design projects, existing roads and roadwork traffic management schemes.
- Conducting crash investigations across Australia. This provides me with ongoing experience about road design elements that can result in crashes.
- An expertise in traffic signs and line marking that is probably without parallel outside state road authorities. I have been an active member of the national committee responsible for AS 1742, the MUTCD (Manual of uniform traffic control devices) since 1984. Aspects of traffic signing that I have initiated or had a major influence on, over the years include: freeway-to-freeway interchange signing (a recent initiative of mine), parking control signs (I did most of the design work for these, so they are legible and comprehendable), street name signs (the Standard includes my earlier work on legibility), alpha-numeric route numbering , combined curve and intersection warning signs (I was the first to propose this in Australia), the principal of upward pointing arrows on direction signs, and standardising the use of arrow shapes on direction signs. Much of this is based on my appreciation of 'human factors' in road safety.
- An appreciation of road user behaviour and other 'human factors' issues that influence safe and effective road designs. 'Standards don't necessarily equal safety' is the theme of one of my training presentations: we need to design roads that are 'fit for purpose'. This requires an understanding of road user behaviour.
Select your road safety auditors carefully.
Many practitioners offer to do road safety audits.
Some claim to specialise in it. Sadly, very few are very good at it - too many safety problems continue to slip through.
I trust I will be able to help you. But if I am unable to, I am happy to recommend other people that I know have the right experience, aptitude, attitude and competence.
My audit reports: I will provide you with relevant, direct and succinct advice on any safety-related issues that need to be addressed.
Audits of Roadwork Traffic Guidance Schemes
Roadworks are involved in an undue number of collisions. Changing the traffic layout on a road and having workers close to traffic has the potential to create safety problems, unless they are safely managed.
A road safety audit of a Traffic Management Plan or a Traffic Guidance Scheme is not just about the scheme's compliance with guidelines or standards. What are the potential conflicts and risks? Will it function as intended?
Out on site, an audit of the traffic management arrangements is not simply to check their conformance with the approved plans. It's a check of its ‘fitness for purpose’: will it work safely, in the manner that was intended?
I have undertaken roadworks audits for numerous companies, as well as for road authorities. If I can help you, please contact me.
Help with Signs and Lines
When it comes to traffic signs, I am probably the most experienced person in Australia outside the state road authorities. I have been an active member of the national committee responsible for AS 1742, the MUTCD (Manual of uniform traffic control devices) since 1984.
I have also drafted several sections of VicRoads' Traffic Engineering Manual, Volume 2, Signs and Markings over many years and, more recently, their supplements to AS 1742.
An unfortunate example - Direction signs at Terminal 4, Melbourne Airport (above). The signs on the left were designed by a large traffic engineering company. They follow no Standard: they are illegible at the required distance and they are misleading. I was called in urgently before the terminal opened to help sort out the problem (Urban Information and De Neefe Signs also assisted with the quick response). The signs on the right were made to my designs: they are clear, legible and use the correct arrow shapes.
I can help you with:
- Early sign placement advice on major projects (early within the phasing of the project)
- Freeway signing schemes, including direction signing schemes, route continuity, signing to meet legal requirements
- Arterial Road signing schemes
- Local-scale signing schemes, including low-key, low speed schemes where the last thing you need is over-signing, but you need it to operate legally and safely
- Road safety auditing of large or small schemes that include signs and lines. I understand the 'human factors' side of road safety: how people respond to signs and lines.
- Post-collision assessments of the adequacy of signing, delineation and line marking. Were the signs a contributing cause?
- Advice about AS 1742, the Manual of uniform traffic control devices
- Advice about Road Rules that relate to signs and markings
I have a wealth of signing knowledge that has been of value to road authorities, universities, companies and personal injury lawyers.
As part of my work with the national road signs committee, aspects of traffic signing that I have had a major influence on, over the years include: freeway-to-freeway interchange signing (a recent initiative of mine), parking control signs (I did most of the design work for these, so they are legible and comprehendable), street name signs (the Standard includes my earlier work on legibility), alpha-numeric route numbering , combining curve and intersection warning signs (I was the first to propose this), the principal of upward-pointing arrows on direction signs- and standardising the use of arrow shapes signs. Much of this is based on my appreciation of 'human factors' in road safety.
If I can help you with signing for a project, or auditing a signing scheme, or you simply have a query, don't hesitate to contact me.
Crash Assessments and Investigations
I can help in two ways:
- I can assess the likely causes of individual crashes, including whether any aspects of the road layout or the signing (or lack of it) may have contributed to the crash. This assistance has been particularly valuable in personal injury cases. This work can include reviewing police crash descriptions and any photographs, reading any witness statements, observing the way the site operates, checking traffic control devices against the requirements of Standards and guidelines, and preparing an expert witness statement.
- I can assess crash data for an intersection or length of road, to identify the crash causes at blackspots. From this I can propose effective remedial engineering treatments. I am the principal author of the Austroads guide on this topic (Austroads Guide to Road Safety, Part 8, Treatment of Crash Locations). I also conduct training workshops on this topic.
The site of a motorcycle crash (above): temporary kerbing had been installed (not as per the traffic engineers' plan). It tapered across an open traffic lane and was not delineated. It was evident on-site that the kerbing had been struck several times before being hit by the motorcyclist. The crash occurred in poor light conditions. There was no need to block off one lane, as there were two lanes to turn into. Part of the investigation included identifying which road authority was responsible for the relevant section of road.
This example gets us back to the need for road safety auditing: if the intersection upgrade project had been audited on completion, the wrongly aligned kerbing would have been identified, then fixed - and the crash would not have happened.
Examples from the Oops! file
(A) A ROUNDABOUT DESIGN
A roundabout was about to open. The Council was concerned that drivers could effectively drive straight through at speed, down hill through the roundabout. I undertook a road safety audit. It recommended, among other things, that the layout be physically tightened on the down hill approach, so drivers will be going slow enough to give way if required. My recommendations were then implemented. The roundabout has operated successfully since.
(B) TOWN PLANNING FADS (i): RE-INTRODUCING LOCAL STREET CROSSROADS
In 2009 Dumbaugh & Rae remarked in 'Safe Urban Form' that "While often romanticized by contemporary proponents of neotraditional development, the urban grid was popular in the 19th century not to encourage pedestrianism, but to promote rapid land development."
The re-introduction of local street crossroads (whether give way controlled or uncontrolled), as part of re-introducing gridiron form of urban development, is a negative shift for road safety. One self-proclaimed 'expert' has said there is no safety problem with local crossroads. But as the above table by Elvik (2009) shows, the crash rates for crossroads are generally double that of T-junctions and at local street intersections are up to three times greater - or six times greater than where roundabouts are used. This is a ticking time bomb.
(C) PEDESTRIAN SAFETY
A Council scheme to beautify a local shopping street included the treatment on the left: a pair of high wall with paved brickwork acrodd the road immediately after. The wall hid the pedestrians from the drivers' view and the brick paving gave pedestrians the idea they had priority, which was not supported in law. After I advised the Council of the hazards, the old wall was removed and rebuilt much lower (on right). The paving was replaced by a conventional zebra crossing that both drivers and pedestrians understand.
A road safety audit of the original design by an experienced road safety auditor would have saved the Council money and saved the community trauma.
(D) AN INTERSECTION DESIGN: O.K. UNTIL IT OPENED
An existing intersection had to be signalised, due to increased development in the area. The intersection design (below) was carried out by a large traffic engineering firm (seriously) and then the design was audited by a team of reputable road safety auditors. They found an issue for cyclists, but advised that no major safety issues were identified from the perspective of motorists. They did not recommend any changes except for cyclists (seriously). The new design was built. Just before it opened a smaller company audited the project. They identified one line marking problem, but proposed one sign to solve it. Then the intersection fully opened. That's when the Council started receiving phone calls from irate drivers . . .
Drivers doing the double left turn were conflicting with each other (side swipes). Drivers doing the right turn in the opposite direction were cutting across and conflicting with the left turners. Drivers were travelling straight through in the right turn lane, conflicting with drivers from the left lane when they had to merge.
In response, the Council called me in to carry out a road safety audit. Had I been engaged to conduct the original design audit, all the following problems could have been identified and avoided:
- The strange chevron markings on one corner are pointless. They are not needed.
- The turning lines are too tight (because of the chevron markings) and cause drivers to stray out of their lane.
- There is no standard line marking at the start of the right turn lane (travelling from right to left here) to keep through vehicles out of the right turn lane.
- The crosswalk over the side road is too far away from the corner (risk to pedestrians from left turners from the main road).
- Travelling to the right (above) there is no warning/advice on the need to form one lane. The merge taper is too short.
- There is a bicycle box marking for right turns from the side road: how can that operate safely or legally?
- At the 'Keep Clear', right turns can be made into the side street. This risks rear end collisions (The old intersection had a separate space for right turners to prop).
- Out of sight to the left, the left-bound lane veers out from the kerb, around redundant line marking, before veering left past a refuge island.
The two previous audits were conducted on behalf of developers. One of my recommendations to Council was that they need to establish policies and procedures that keep them more in control of these types of developer-funded projects.
(E) WRONG CONCEPT, FOLLOWED BY NO FINAL FIX UP
A bridge deck needed to be replaced. The project simply kept to that objective, rather than being thought about in a broader traffic context. The approach road in both directions is four lanes wide - though, as is so common on many of Melbourne's undivided four-lane-wide arterial roads, it is only marked with a centre line. I was involved only after the construction contract was awarded: I had to audit the roadwork traffic management and conduct a post-completion road safety audit.
Even how the road safety audits were organised was the wrong concept. Policy required only one audit to be done, so it was decided by the road authority to do it at the end. That is the opposite of what the Austroads guide says: get a road safety audit done as early as possible in the design and development process.
Here is a photo of the bridge when I first saw it (during construction):
On the other side the kerbline follows straight through. On this side it has always necked in, to provide space for the footpath. Yet the substructure of the bridge is the same under the footpath as under the road: it could carry a widened road pavement - and a separate footbridge could be built beside it.
It's the wrong initial design concept. This is more amazing, due to the stream being on the border of two local government area: three road authorities were involved, yet the bridge was not widened. An audit at the design stage would have identified the safety hazards with having one and three quarter traffic lanes in each direction.
Below are photos taken during the post-completion audit:
With one and three quarter traffic lanes each way, the risk of side swipe crashes - or worse - is ever present. Drivers find it difficult to identify how many traffic lanes there are in conditions like this. To overcome these crash risks my post-construction audit report recommended that the road be marked into lanes: in one direction, two full-width marked lanes, marked throughout, coming down the hill, over the bridge and beyond. In the other direction there should be a standard lane drop/merge approaching the bridge (one lane on the bridge, two lanes marked elsewhere). On the bridge there is room for a half-metre-wide painted median to separate oncoming traffic. This was recommended.
To the best of my knowledge these recommendations have not been acted on and the road looks like it is in the photos above.
This is a ticking time bomb.
(F) TOWN PLANNING FADS (ii): LOW-KEY DISTRIBUTORS INSTEAD OF ARTERIAL ROADS
The biggest OOPS! of all. It's over a large area and it will last forever.
When the Armstrong Creek area, on the southern edge of Geelong, Victoria was about to be developed, a concept of having frequent low-key distributors (i.e. 'connectors') was developed, rather than providing fully-developed, separate arterial roads (without direct driveway access) at 1.6 km spacings. This is what got approved and is now being built.
Here's what is happening. The black and red lines are existing arterial roads and green is a freeway. There will be no new east-west or north-south arterial roads in the area. New road connections across the railway are not being provided. There will be two-lane 'connectors' with direct driveways to houses, at 800 m intervals.
Here is what should have happened. Had VicRoads not earlier deleted a section of it's Traffic Engineering Manual that advised this is exactly what is needed in new urban areas (see my Free Download on functional road hierarchies), it might have occurred. Instead, the unsafe town planning fad of low-key distributors prevailed.
This dangerous town planning nonsense is well described in a report by Brown Consulting in 2011:
‘The City of Greater Geelong adopted a road network strategy to interconnect arterial roads with more frequent, narrow, connector roads at 800 metre spacing throughout the Armstrong Creek Urban Growth Area. The connector [i.e. Distributor] roads are generally envisaged to comprise of one traffic lane in each direction, with generous footpaths, shared or dedicated cycle paths, and kerbside parking provided on both sides. These [connector roads] will distribute traffic evenly, avoiding almost entirely the need for major, heavily-trafficked roads which are typically unpleasant and unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, and create a barrier between development on either side.’ and
‘All roads within [the area] are proposed to be connector or lower order roads …’
Such noble thoughts. Such ignorant nonsense.
In 1989 Dr Ray Brindle (town planner and engineer) at ARRB set down fourteen conditions by which any new development would be deemed to satisfy traffic performance, amenity and road safety requirements. Conditions 3 is:
'There are no direct frontages to arterial or district distributor roads, or to connectors.’
In 1986 the Federal Office of Road Safety, in its Safety of Older Pedestrians report said:
'Older pedestrians are most at risk on ‘sub-arterials’ [a.k.a. collectors or connectors], rather than on the busier main roads where it appears that measures to assist traffic to interact safely also benefit pedestrians.'
The Armstrong Creek area will now be blighted forever with higher rates of road crashes and daily congestion. The existing arterial roads will also be more heavily congested than if separate arterial roads at 1.6 km spacings had been provided and connected over the railway. It will be more like a slow, lingering death than a ticking time bomb.
Who benefits from this sort of misguided town planning? It is difficult not to conclude that the only significant beneficiaries are the companies that develop the land. With no separate arterial roads to provide (without driveways) there is more land left to subdivide and sell.
It is quite evident that road safety was not considered in any meaningful way when Armstrong Creek was being developed. Road safety engineering is a separate discipline from other engineering and it needs to be involved just as much as other separate discipline. There are simple processes that can be used to involve road safety engineers in the early town planning considerations. These are discussed in the road safety audit training workshops that I conduct.