As from this week the Active Traffic Management implementation on the M42 has gone into full operation, including the use of the hard shoulder as a running lane during periods of congestion.
I have already mentioned details of the active traffic management in my earlier post: M42 Motorway, Active Traffic Management and Speed Cameras, so I won’t repeat the full details.
The new feature is the final stage which now means that the hard shoulder can be used by traffic. In the event of emergencies then there are special refuge areas at regular intervals. If you are unable to reach a refuge area then the combination of induction loop sensors and CCTV should be able to identify the obstruction and hence close the lane at the appropriate place.
Update: It sounds like this turns out not to be the case. Recent problems have shown that there is little management of breakdowns which has resulted in tragic incidents. The technology is available to be able to provide this, but appears not to have been implemented or used.
As I drove down (South) the M42 joining at junction 6 (NEC / A45 to Coventry or Birmingham / Birmingham Airport), the hard shoulder was already in running status. Instead of having the X sign that has been displayed previously the sign above the hard shoulder should a 50mph speed limit, and the text message boards said “Congestion, Use Hard Shoulder”. As we progressed down the motorway the text boards went blank, but the 50mph was still showing over the hard shoulder. Effectively this meant that there were 4 lanes all showing 50 mph.
As we neared the next junction (Junction 5 for Solihull), the text signs were showing “Use Hard Shoulder for this exit only”, as the hard shoulder actually turned into the exit lane. The hard shoulder was not in use between the next junctions, as it was running at 60mph, whereas the hard shoulder is in use only if the motorway speed is running at 50mph or less.
Although there was a lot of traffic on the motorway all 4 lanes were running at the full 50mph allowed (and enforced using speed cameras). Having the fourth lane appeared to make the motorway flow better, although it’s too early to say that for certain. The traffic in the opposite direction looked much worse and didn’t appear to be using the hard shoulder. It would not be fair to compare with the northbound traffic as there are most likely lots of other factors influencing the traffic.
It appears that finally we will see some benefit after the big traffic problems that have been caused by the construction of the refuge areas and overhead gantries. There are mandatory speed limits, and speed cameras, but it’s all there to keep traffic flowing better.
Details are available on the highways agency web site, although it is out-of-date. It refers to the next stage being switching on the variable speed limit in December 2005.