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Monday , 24 June 2024

Efficient ways of providing Safe road infrastructure

Similarly in response to the low fuel efficiency due to high speeds accentuated by the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, U.S. Congress enacted the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) in 1975 to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks (trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) sold in the US. Fuel economy standards especially on trucking fleets should be a critical national need due to large deficits caused by import of fossil fuels in India. Reducing the overloading or over speeding of vehicles, especially trucks, optimises fuel efficiency and increases safety, an example of perfect marriage of efficiency and safety issues for a common cause.

The current state of Indian road infrastructure planning and management places emphasis on building capacity to reach and connect the nation in a meaningful way. This is both logical and necessary. However, in preparation of the next phase of evaluating the effectiveness of the road infrastructure in realising people’s needs and expectations, emphasis has to be placed on empowering stakeholders from various professions and users in order to create a safe and efficient road infrastructure. The I-95 Corridor Coalition in US is an alliance of 50 partners from 18 state transportation agencies, toll authorities and public safety organisations from Maine to Florida to address the transportation management and operations issues of common interest. This volunteer, consensus-driven organisation enables its myriad state, local and regional member agencies to work together to improve transportation system performance far more than they could by working individually.

The coalition has successfully served as a model for multi-state/jurisdictional interagency cooperation and coordination for over a decade. Maryland and New York, as part of this coalition, have developed a 3-D Virtual Incident Management Training Session for the First Responders. It uses three-dimensional, multi-player computer gaming simulation technology to test, validate, and reinforce the dissemination of best incident management practices across the coalition region as demonstrated at the ITS World Congress in August 2011.

Another component to improving safety through effective stakeholder participation is by developing national standards for safety and operations – they can be developed, owned and enforced through stakeholders’ participation from states and local agencies and through outreach to businesses using a carrot and stick approach. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) have been designated as standards development organisations by the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) in the areas of Advanced Transportation Control systems (ATC), and National Transportation Communications for ITS Protocol (NTCIP) standards.

ITE, AASHTO and NEMA represent the stakeholders from the private, and public sectors and operate under an executed memorandum of understanding (MOU) and have developed 120 plus standards to date in areas such as CCTV, ATC, DMS, TSS that are freely available on their web site as downloads with support from US DOT. These voluntary national standards have not only been used by multiple states and local entities in the US for procuring ITS systems but have received support internationally and have also been adopted in Brazil, Israel and other countries.

While national standards take a long time to develop and enable considerable dialogue in a large and diverse nation like India, it is nevertheless a necessary step in evolving consensus and agreement. National standards need to be adaptable to regional implementations and must have the flexibility to evolve with the changing needs. While there isn’t a direct applicability on any particular country’s standards to the Indian needs, it would be a worthwhile effort to study the methodology and processes in developing such US standards of practice as Highway Safety Manual, Road Safety Audit Procedures and the Manual on Urban Traffic Control Devices to eliminate individual bias and help enforce professional practices.

The provisions of Highway Safety Manual (HSM) states that the practitioners apply predictive methods and analytical tools to improve safety during design and operation of roadways. It assists the practitioners in selecting countermeasures and prioritising projects, comparing alternatives and quantifying & predicting the safety performance of roadway elements considered in planning, designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating. Prior to the HSM, there was no widely accepted tool available to quantitatively assess the impact of infrastructure decisions on safety. A Road Safety Audit (RSA) is the qualitative formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection for all potential road users by an independent, multidisciplinary team. It reports on potential road safety issues and identifies opportunities for improvements in safety for all road users.

The MUTCD is a good design practice compiling national standards for all traffic control devices including road markings, highway signs, and traffic signals. It is updated periodically to accommodate the nation’s changing transportation needs and to address new safety technologies, traffic control tools and traffic management techniques.

The widespread use of technology to gather incident data at local and state level and aggregate nationally to analyse safety and operations problems should be a national mission. When supported by standards, national incident data repositories meet both user needs and adapt the current technologies. In the US, transportation data such as traffic and volume characteristics counts are correlated with weather and archived accident data for an identification of high frequency accident locations and analysis of contributing factors such as weather, traffic conditions, planned events and unplanned emergency events. ITS standards have been developed for weather called CALRUS, for archived data called ADUS, Incident Management called IEEE1512 and traffic data called NTCIP to enable aggregation of data from these sources automatically.

In the US, transportation data such as traffic and volume characteristics counts are correlated with weather and archived accident data for an identification of high frequency accident locations and analysis of contributing factors such as weather, traffic conditions, planned events and unplanned emergency events

Sufficient effort needs to be spent to gather data continually, independent of any one project’s need or mission. This has been the key to ensuring data integrity in US and Europe. Independent of data collection, processes transparent and understandable to both the technologist and the user – like the Systems Engineering for Intelligent Transportation Systems developed by the US federal Highway Administration (FHWA) – need to be evolved in India. The user must get to provide input for these and fully understand the requirements being furnished by the technologists. Systems engineering and ITS standards also ensure that solutions are technology independent and interoperable between vendors.

Transportation technology implementations in India in safety as well as operations shall be even more successful when the technologist and the government entity are on the same page. This can only be achieved through clear identification of needs free of technical jargon and design. Procurement specifications should be solution free with adherence to standardised framework for full lifecycle of development and deployment such as Systems Engineering. Objectives and goals in strategic initiatives should be quantifiable where a solution can be proposed in response to a procurement request. In order for solutions to evolve to suit Indian conditions, agencies procuring technology solutions should only prescribe requirements and not mix these up with design.

As a young nation full of vigour and vitality, India is following a natural path of evolution whose first step is to build national road infrastructure. It, however, needs to conscientiously achieve the balance between the need for optimal, fast and efficient transportation infrastructure and the need for enhanced safety and minimisation of human loss and suffering. As a step in the direction of improving safety, India needs to rely on scientific analysis of data rather than the empirical methods in existence (such as extensive data collection of all incidents and their characteristics) and build a national incident data repository. The next step is invigorating national debate on standards and processes to identify national and regional safety and operational needs. Great operational improvements using technology enable safety improvements as a consequence. Using systems engineering rigor in practice, these lead to design and solutions independent of technology.

(Siva R K Narla is a Master of Science in Civil Engineering — Trasportation. He has held many senior positions in the US since 1991).

Siva R K Narla
Senior Director
Transportation Technology
Institute of Transportation Engineers
Washington, DC

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