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Support in utilising data to cut congestion on the roads


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Traffic cones on road
Image source: Breeze

Richard Groombridge, strategic product and data development manager at GeoPlace, explains how its street services can help highways authorities keep traffic moving and create healthier environments

The state of traffic is a key factor in the health of our communities. When it doesn’t move it generates more carbon emissions, damages air quality, creates stress and undermines the quality of people’s lives.

It has implications for public health, safety on the roads and economic activity, and one of the crucial responsibilities of local government is to optimise the capacity of roads to minimise congestion, make journeys more reliable and improve air quality.

A big part of this is in creating the conditions for utility companies, contractors and local authorities to complete streetworks in a timely and efficient manner, using permits and the financial incentives of lane rental schemes.

The importance of this has been highlighted by the Department for Transport. Its recently published Plan for Drivers emphasises the need to cut down on disruptive streetworks, with more lane rental schemes and higher fines for works that overrun. It also points to the need for better road data to help authorities use new technology to identify defects such as potholes, and for smarter traffic lights that produce signals to better reflect current conditions on the roads.

The demands on local authorities are likely to increase with a future requirement, recently put out to consultation, for them to provide open data on traffic regulation orders so it can be used by services providing real time information to drivers.

Big ticket items

Phil Cameron, traffic manager at Gloucestershire County Council, makes clear that this is a highly important issue.

“Congestion and air pollution are both big ticket items here,” he says. “The aim of our permit scheme with roadworks management is to reduce the number of days it takes to complete works. Our ideal situation is to allow the essential works to happen in the shortest time frame.

“We also aim for ‘right first time’, which is far better for everyone involved, including the environmental impact of managing defects, which just adds to waste, not only of the time involved but most importantly the excavated materials from the site.”

All this reflects the need of local authorities to have a firm grasp of the localised data on streetworks and traffic flows and the likely effects of specific works, combined with experience of using the relevant powers.

Optimising roads capacity

This is where GeoPlace can provide invaluable support, with a streets consultancy service that helps highways authorities to use data from local and national sources to optimise the capacity of their roads.

The organisation has a range of credentials in the management of streets. It is custodian of the National Street Gazetteer, which is used under statue for noticing streetworks; it manages unique street reference numbers (USRNs), a core element of street data, at a national level; it has reviewed and rebuilt the Street Works Act code list, which helps managers understand complex levels of relevant information; and it provides the DataVia API to integrate local systems with the National Street Gazetteer.

GeoPlace's supporting role for JAG(UK), which represents the best interests of every highway and road authority in the UK, enhances the highways data that local authorities routinely capture as part of their role in maintaining the highways. It is this information that helps the streetworks community understand the highways they are working on in greater detail before works are undertaken.

The organisation provides a range of services for the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee, including managing its annual conventions, its website and the development of the HAUC app. It also plays a leading role in the Road to Net Zero project, which is focused on the challenges of achieving net zero in the UK's street and roadworks sector.

GeoPlace's street services consultancy team is able to draw on the resulting expertise to support authorities in optimising their data in the implementation and management of lane rental and permit schemes, and can provide strategic advice on policy.

A number of specialities are involved, including support for a move to a lane rental scheme. This includes identification of the network, a cost-benefit analysis of implementation, stakeholder consultation, the creation of documents and statutory instruments, staff training and follow-up reviews.

The team can provide similar support in reviewing permit schemes, along with reviews of the sensitivity to streetworks of roads with heavy traffic, the reinstatement of roads after work is completed, street data networks and data on factors such as height, weight and width restrictions and construction records.

Making a difference

There are examples of how these sorts of initiatives have made a positive difference. GeoPlace has documented work by Durham County Council on the introduction of a streetworks permit scheme, adding multiple datasets – such as those on public rights of way and areas of outstanding natural beauty – to the local gazetteer to highlight the impact of works. This has been especially important in ensuring the provision of broadband in environmentally sensitive areas.

Durham has also undertaken a traffic sensitive streets review - an area in which GeoPlace and JAG(UK) have expertise and experience.

GeoPlace has undertaken permit scheme reviews and/or traffic sensitive reviews for Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, Dudley, York and Gloucestershire, to name a few, and made crucial recommendations, implementing change where required to prevent the authority schemes operating at a loss or making a profit.

Phil Cameron’s description of Gloucestershire’s approach reflects the importance of such efforts.

“We are constantly trailing new ways to keep traffic moving through works sites more effectively,” he says. “Good temporary traffic signal control is essential to prevent congestion at works sites.

“Our traffic sensitive review ensures utilities (and other works promoters) have the most up to date information about our streets, so they can plan works to meet our expectations and meet the requirements of the permit scheme.”

East Sussex County Council has used best practice guidance from GeoPlace and JAG(UK) to carry out a traffic sensitive review, identifying critical junctions, compiling traffic counts for streets, taking in bus route information and the primary routes for emergency services; and GeoPlace has also supported the Welsh Assembly in identifying unadopted roads.

Conference spotlight

Some of these issues will come under the spotlight at the GeoPlace annual conference in Manchester on 21 May, with a session on health and green communities in which Sam Guiver, network assurance manager at Suffolk County Council, will talk about its efforts to minimise the disruption caused by streetworks.

It will be part of a broader series of presentations dealing with other elements of the public health and green agendas – covering healthy homes and the energy use of buildings – and topics including connections between people and places, customer services and digital planning.

The event presents a great opportunity to strengthen your understanding of how location data and the contribution of GeoPlace can support your efforts to reduce traffic congestion and improve the delivery of a range of local services.

See more on how GeoPlace can help you keep traffic moving in your authority and register for the GeoPlace annual conference.

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