13/08/2009

Traffic Delays - Is the Problem in our Heads?


The local paper contacted me the other day asking my thoughts about recent traffic delays around Aberystwyth caused by various roadworks. They were asking if the tourist season was the best time of year to be doing this work. Then it occurred to me that I’d been asked a similar question before, but at an entirely different time of the year. And I wondered, is there actually any time at all when people don't mind roadworks?

The tourist season may seem at first like a bad time to do these works, but then tourists aren’t in a hurry, the university students aren’t here, many local people are on holiday and there are no school runs happening twice a day. So the timing could be worse and I suspect reasons would be found against roadworks at any time.

The blockages to Park Avenue/Boulevard St Brieuc in Aberystwyth are being caused by two different sets of work - a sensible bit of co-ordination it could be argued. At the Llanbadarn end bus stops and pedestrian refuges are being built to serve the new government buildings, due to open next month, in an attempt to make it easier for people to reach the buildings without a car. At the same time, at the town end, a new rising water main is being laid to reduce the incidents of sewage flooding in the town centre, currently running at a very smelly three incidents a year.

Then, on the Llanbadarn Road approach, traffic has been delayed by changes being made to the entrance of Penweddig school, aimed at making the road safer for schoolchildren when they return in September. All this is worthwhile work.

Of course, we've all seen situations where roadworks could have been better planned and co-ordinated. But why is it seemingly so important that cars aren’t delayed for even two minutes, not even for clearly important work?

Maybe we ourselves should take more responsibility for our own impatience rather than blame the Council or the Trunk Road Agency for trying to improve services. As a car driver myself (as well as a cyclist and pedestrian) I confess to the occasional bout of frustration at delays when I think I need to be in a hurry. But then, in better moments, I switch the car ipod to
Pharoah Sanders and try to take it as an opportunity to chill out and contemplate the illusion of haste. Maybe the Council should put on relaxation classes.

5 comments:

  1. Now, don't get me started on this! Actually, I have tried to study this increasing problem objectively and calmly.

    The main problem as I see it is control of the private contractors by highway authorities, which, I believe, is lamentable. They are allowed to occupy - I use that word in its worst sense - too much of the public highway for too long. Much of the space they occupy is used to park the equivalent of a panzer battalion of their own vehicles (park off-road!). They work short hours, often not weekends. They do not give priority to vehicles and pedestrians, often / mostly leaving this work until last, instead of giving priority to keeping the highway clear.

    I am not saying this is the case in Ceredigion - I don't know - but, generally, there seems to be too cosy a relationship between highway authorities, utilities and private contractors, with public consideration frozen out. We need much more transparency. If bits of our (NB) roads are to be taken off us, we need to be much more involved in the process. Always publish the temporary traffic orders which allow private occupation so we can all see the parameters and monitor it ourselves, if necessary. Publish the health and safety assessments they are using, including advice from all public bodies, to see if they are reasonable and the public interest is properly taken into account. Remember, the longer and more extensive the occupation, the more the profit; most contracts have this 'ticking clock' built in. And finally, greater oversight and involvement by elected members in such matters as it is such a major, and increasing, problem. There are examples of scandals.

    Alun, back to you. As a councillor are you even informed beforehand of highway works: purpose, time, arrangements, impact? Do you get a chance to comment on proposals in the public interest before road closures happen? More widely, how transparent is the highway authority in its dealings with private contractors, e.g. annual review of the approved contractors list; reports on performance against contract sums and conditions; public complaints; sanctions. This is all public business which we have a right to know.

    This is a multi-million pound industry all over the UK. I fear it is badly supervised and the public pays both ways - direct costs and increasing inconvenience. Qui bono?

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  2. We're obviously coming at this from very different perspectives. However I don't disagree with you. As councillors we do get informed about actual road closures and anyone can access the Council's forward streetworks programme via their website but this is information rather than consultation and you have to be pretty determined to successfully contest anything. My feeling is that a genuine public consultation process might seem like extra work for the Council but would ultimately produce a better understanding of the needs and a better partnership with the public.

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  3. If Ceredigion is publishing their own programme, that's good news. However, what about road works / closures by the privatised utilities? These too cause huge levels of disruption and seem largely unsupervised by highway authorities.

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  4. Those are also listed on the Council's website. However I'm not taking away from your point. As a councillor, our way of monitoring the Council's performance on Highways issues in depth, including their own monitoring of the utility companies, is through the Highways Scrutiny Committee. Although it sounds (from youir first comment) as if you don't live in Ceredigion, I'm quite happy to put the whole issue on the agenda of a future meeting of this committee because I know local people have concerns as well. Then the officers will need to do a full report and we can go through it asking questions.

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  5. You're right; I don't live in Ceredigion but your blog on this issue is, I think, of wider importance and, as you say, it already concerns your constituents so it will confirm you are doing your public duty.

    I made what I believe are the key points in my first message. If you can post the officers report when you get it, I'd be happy to comment if that helps.

    (I'm only anonymous 'cause I don't know what my 'URL' is! Otherwise I'd use a pseudonym).

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