ITS California held its’ annual convention and trade show this past week here in Sacramento. More than 200 ITS professionals attended to see the latest products and to sit in on their very timely workshops. Road-Tech was there as well, displaying automated work zone information systems, dynamic message signs, traffic counters, radar signs and other rural and work zone ITS products.
As visitors stopped at the booth, I was struck by the two distinct types of people we spoke with. Either they understood work zones or they did not. They either “got” work zone ITS, or they did not. There is very little gray area in between.
This seems simple enough as I write it here today. But it is something worth considering in more detail. We are competing with the larger ITS world for funding, for projects, and just for attention. ITS professionals understand the tools we use, but often they don’t understand how they should be used or the significant benefits to be gained through their use. To make matters worse, they think they do understand. Everyone drives through work zones so everyone thinks they are experts on work zone traffic control.
This all came to me in an “ah-ha” moment several years ago when I was on the phone with Jon Jackels of Minnesota DOT. I complained that ITS America no longer offered many seminars on work zone or rural ITS at their annual convention. Jon explained that it was because they don’t know anything about work zones. Most in that world come from the technology side: either from the vendors or the agency traffic signal group. Very few of them have ever designed, installed and maintained a work zone.
They understand what their devices and systems can do, but they don’t know what they are trying to accomplish with them. The old saying, “When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail” certainly applies here.
Those of us who care about work zone ITS need to remember this when we talk with others. We take our training and experience far too lightly. When we are selling the need for systems on a project, we should focus more on the benefits of using the system. Don’t just talk in generalities about increased throughput – put it into hard numbers and back it up with an explanation that people unfamiliar with work zone traffic control will understand. And we should point out that 24% of non-recurring congestion is caused by work zones. Often the permanent systems are either torn out during construction or missing altogether. Yet that is where these systems will benefit stakeholders the most.
Let’s keep this in mind the next time we discuss work zone systems with others. Consider their level of work zone experience – will they “get it” after hearing the short version? Or do you need to educate them on more than just the systems themselves?