Understanding congestion

A large part of road safety that often isn’t well understood is traffic congestion.  Too many cars on our roads can lead to problems where disruptions in the flow of traffic lead to accidents.  With our primary roads in Bermuda being littered with driveways and entrances to side roads, traffic flow disruptions can be frequent as people being courteous by letting people in and out can cause problems for those behind them, just as when the flow of traffic wants to go one speed, and one driver cares to go another.   

If traffic congestion isn’t a topic you’ve studied in much detail, here’s a novel video that’ll give you the gist of it.

Note the cars driving around in a circle smoothly and with no congestion up until the point where a small blue car hits its brakes to slow down.  This simple action causes every car behind it to also slow down, despite his attempt to quickly catch up to the car ahead right after.  This slowing effect propagates through the entire line of traffic bringing the cars at the other side of the circle to a standstill. 

This sort of scenario occurs when traffic follows each other too closely or when roads become too congested to allow large enough gaps between cars.  Such stoppages can easily be caused by many situations such as drivers going against the flow of traffic.  Examples include driving 35kph when everyone behind them expect to go 50kph or when a driver stops to let someone in or out.  Often unknowingly, a driver can cause a long backlog of congestion to build up behind them which can bring cars a ways back to a halt.  Even worse, it has the prospect of causing accidents to occur as drivers following too closely or not paying attention can careen into the rear end of the car ahead of them, or worse as they attempt to avoid the collision.  Backlogs also cause those on bikes to ‘third-lane’ in frustration at the abundance of single passenger cars that add to the congestion.  The larger this backlog gets, the greater the risk that any one car can cause undesirable affects. 

In many places, Bermuda is nearing it’s limit for the number of cars that it can handle at any given time and yet the depth of publicly published studies produced on congestion in Bermuda is disappointingly non-existent.  What traffic analysis and modeling occurs to ensure that our roads can handle added congestion?   Could we invest in congestion tracking solutions as a means to better understand the areas that cause congestion so they can be addressed?  Would introducing legislation allowing car sharing initiatives to be created be effective in reducing the number of cars on our roads?   Would a trial of a congestion tax during busy hours be a viable way of determining whether the implementation of a congestion tax would be effective? 

Further, although the speed limit is officially 35kph, the unwritten accepted speed limit is nearer to 50kph.  When everyone is expecting to travel near 50kph and one car travels at 35kph, congestion can build up behind them like in the video above and that backlog becomes increasingly susceptible to accidents.  Although government and police officials are quick to remind us that the speed limit is 35kph, are we causing more problems than we’re solving by maintaining that limit when the flow of traffic really is closer to 50kph?

What can we do to reduce congestion and make our roads safer?

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Road safety marketing

Those responsible for the recent marketing campaign for road safety deserve considerable credit for the effort they’ve put in to encourage safe driving, something I neglected to mention in my earlier post. However, this writer does question the impact shock marketing will have on their end goal of reducing the number of accidents and deaths on our roads.

The issue this writer has with shock marketing is that it just isn’t motivating enough. Seeing beat up bikes and people faking dead on the side of the road doesn’t provoke a personalize response of “wow… that could be me”.

In order to provoke such a response one may be inclined to use a more subtle yet heart wrenching tactic. Indeed, it is sadly rare to have not known someone who has perished on our roads and it is the use of these personal connections that would be most effective.

This writer suggests that for the next road safety campaign portraits of every individual to have died on our roads over the last 10 years be obtained.

Each portrait is then to be blown up to poster size with large writing on it displaying “In loving memory of”, their name, what they died on (bike/car) and the date they perished.

Then take each poster and display them one after another, about 50 meters apart for the length of the drive into town.

Then, on the last poster, use the same style but this time use a black silhouette emblazoned with a big white question mark.
For the name, put YOU? and put the date as TBD, 2008

This kind of marketing isn’t a sudden shock but a gradual one that would rock your very soul. First by building the personal connection with every unfortunate soul to have died on our roads. Then driving it home by getting them to truly see themselves as the next posible victim.

(written on my mobile)

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Counterintuitive advertising

Somewhere out there a marketing guru must be thrilled with the irony of promoting road safety by putting it in jeopardy.   The situation is bemusing as the recently launched Road Safety campaign encourages you to ignore distractions and focus on driving, except for when it comes to road safety ads.

Road safety is an important initiative, however, much like the ad campaign, sometimes it can be taken a bit too far.  There has been a lot of talk of means to improve road safety on the island and in contributing one voice, this dormant volcano sometimes referred to as a blog shall show some signs of life.

Some ideas, such as graduated licensing and the proposed curfew for young drivers, are good.  Others, such as this guerilla marketing campaign, are not so good, as is evidenced by today’s article in the Royal Gazette.

“Police spokesman Dwayne Caines confirmed there was a four-car fender bender this morning on Kinley Field near one of the accident displays.

Promoting road safety shouldn’t be about causing accidents.


(Photo courtesy of Glenn Tucker of the Royal Gazette)

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