Coventry West MidlandsGeneral

Press announcement of the M42 cars using the hard shoulder

40MPH Speed Limit SignReaders of my blog may know that the hard shoulder on the M42 has been in use for normal traffic during busy periods for a week now. See: M42 Motorway, Active Traffic Management (ATM) – Driving on the Hard Shoulder.
The press are now announcing that today is the launch of the new scheme. The advanced traffic management has been a little unpredictable over the last week, so I suspect that this is now “official”. I heard the announcement on two radio stations this morning, and it’s on the BBC news web site (BBC News: M42 hard shoulder open to drivers).

When the hard shoulder is available as a running lane the traffic has been flowing very well. There was a slight delay this morning, which ironically I believe was due to the press presence. The only place where we slowed below 50mph was passing the Solihull junction where the bridge was lined with press photographers, and TV cameras, and there were also some people wearing Hi-Vis jackets. The slowdown was perhaps due to people slowing down to look at what the activity on the bridge was.

When driving on the hardshoulder generally the traffic joining the motorway (if in the left hand lane), can drive straight into the hard shoulder, and then as the next exit gets closer the hard shoulder is for exiting traffic only. This works well as the biggest congestion was at the junctions, so those entering the motorway do not have to merge immediately into the flowing traffic, and those exiting have plenty of opportunity to move out of the other traffic. There is no need to keep trying to change lane to go faster as all the lanes are governed to the same speed using mandatory speed limits and speed cameras. The biggest congestion before happened at the junctions, in particularly when traffic was joining the motorway.

It does mean that drivers need to be aware of what is happening and look for the signs well in advance, so that they know that they don’t necessarily have to try and merge into the current motorway traffic, and so that they don’t stay in the lane as the approach an exit, unless they want to exit. There is ample warning given.
The only problem may be for drivers that don’t speak English, as the signs are written in English and need to be followed.

One radio station announced this as a controversial new scheme, although I think that is over hyping it a bit. It’s certainly different, novel and shows “thinking out of the box”, but I don’t think it’s really that controversial. The question is whether this scheme which cost Millions of pounds less than adding a full fourth lane will be enough to cope with future traffic. It appears to meet the current demand quite well.
It does mean that in the event of an emergency drivers should try and get to a refuge area (approx every 500 metres). For most breakdowns this should not be a problem, but if a car is unable to reach a refuge area then it would be detected (automatically, and using the highways agency staff), and the lane would be closed. This gives the added advantage that any lane can be easily closed in the event that a car is unable to get over to the hard shoulder (on some motorways this is hard to achieve due to the infrequency of the signs).

So far it looks like the advanced traffic management is working well, although only time will tell if it’s enough to keep on top of the demand. It’s made my daily commute a little bit better. 🙂