TRB 2014 – Questions and Random Thoughts

Happy New Year! 2014 means the return of TRB’s Annual Meeting and the chance to find many new and better ways to make our roads safer. Unfortunately, I will not be there but I’d like to pose a few random questions and comments for those of you who plan to attend. In particular I’d like to focus on Session 253 scheduled for 8:30 Monday, January 13th. It is entitled “Work Zone Traffic Control for Safety & Mobility”. Twenty-one papers will be presented during this session. I would like to focus on six of them.

14-1020 Work Zone Deployment of Variable Advisory Speed Limits

The hardware side of this is easy to do. It seems like the algorithms are what hold it back. What have they learned about changes to the speed limit that positively affect speeds and throughput? Is this still a new and relatively unproven system? Or is it ready for wider application?

14-1022 Effectiveness of Work Zone ITS

It’s not clear from the paper description what sorts of systems were evaluated, but I am hoping they will provide definitive cost/benefit numbers. We have all wrestled with performance measures. It is time to pick a few and use them until something better comes along.

14-2186 Using Private Sector Travel Time Data for Project-Level Work Zone Mobility Performance Measurement

I suspect this doesn’t work well. Private sector data is used to measure overall system performance, not localized work zone performance. It looks at mobility over many miles rather than through a work zone that is at most a few miles long.

14-3840 Work Zones Versus Nonwork Zones: Risk Factors Leading to Rear-End and Sideswipe Collisions

In work zones both types of crashes result most often from sudden stops and lane changes to avoid unexpected queuing. 26% of all fatalities in work zones are the result of end of queue crashes. Side swipe crashes come a close second. This is low hanging fruit for the work zone ITS world. We should be using technology to smooth traffic flows through work zones and reduce these crashes.

14-4109 Lane Bias Issues in Work Zone Travel Time Measurement and Reporting

I wonder, is this is related to placing sensors on the shoulder or in the median near the slow and fast lanes? That would form a bias if you did just one or the other. Do they recommend doing both? Or are they advocating measuring all lanes? That would be great, but any measurement is better than what we have in most work zones today.

14-4719 Queue Warning & Travel Time Estimation Near a Work Zone

As I said earlier, this is low hanging fruit for work zone ITS. Both are proven, easy and inexpensive to do now. And no matter what your goal is – improved safety or improved efficiency – there are benefits to both. I hope the presenters from SRF focus on moving these systems forward, rather than just describing how they were used in the past.

If you happen to attend this session, I hope you will let me know what is discussed. I am looking forward to reading all six papers when they become available. I am sure we will get into more detail at that time.

Enjoy TRB, and best wishes for a prosperous and safe 2014 to you all!

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