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Toll Facility Safety Study Report to Congress
4 Findings - Factors Affecting Safety at Toll Plazas
Through in-person and telephone interviews, the team gathered information regarding the key factors that can affect safety at toll plazas. This section presents these safety issues - and for each safety issue presents mitigation strategies that have been successfully used across the country. The findings are organized according to four categories. The first two categories focus directly on the issues called for in the legislation:
The final two categories present additional information that was uncovered during this study that is still very relevant to the topic of highway safety at toll plazas, but that does not directly address the requirements of the legislation:
Beyond these four categories, the study also uncovered information about other safety challenges at toll plazas that are not highway-related - such as ergonomics, worker exposure to the environment, and worker risk of assault. These additional findings are presented in Appendix F. In addition to this, information on workshop participants' thoughts on all of the strategies (both those presented here and those presented in Appendix F) can be found in Appendix H.
4.1 Design of Toll Facilities
This section presents information regarding ways in which toll agencies have responded to safety issues at toll plazas through design. This section includes a discussion of:
4.1.1 The Effect of Design or Construction of the Facilities on the Likelihood of Vehicle Collisions with the Facilities
There are a number of issues that may increase the likelihood of vehicle collisions with toll facilities. These include:
There are a number of ways in which the design or construction of the facility can reduce the likelihood of collisions with the plaza related to the plaza configuration, channelization of traffic, and the use of signs and markings to identify the ETC lanes well in advance of the plaza.
126.96.36.199 Plaza Configuration
Toll authorities have tackled the challenge of improper lane choices / last-minute lane changes in a variety of ways. Many agencies make it a standard practice to position their dedicated high-speed ETC lanes to the left side of their plazas (i.e., toward the center of the roadway), with the idea that the customer expects faster-moving traffic to be primarily to the left side of the roadway. This practice appears to be effective except in situations where there are on-ramps or off-ramps in close proximity to the plaza, in which case positioning the ETC lanes to the left side of the plaza can cause unnecessary weaving maneuvers. To reduce weaving in these situations, some agencies position dedicated-ETC lanes to both the left and right side of their plazas as shown in Figure 4-1.
Figure 4-1. Dedicated ETC Lanes Positioned at Both Sides of a Plaza
Another strategy that some agencies feel works well is to position the dedicated ETC lanes in the same location at all plazas including those that are reconfigured throughout the day as traffic density changes. This assists ETC patrons with identifying the proper lane when approaching the plaza. Another agency reported that when reconfiguring their plaza to include dedicated ETC lanes whereas previously cash and ETC were accepted in all lanes, they reviewed ETC usage in all lanes to determine which lane(s) would be best for dedicated-ETC based on prior usage.
Safety can be further compromised when truck traffic which normally travels in right lanes seek out ETC lanes. A common issue is that trucks are prohibited from traveling in the left lane on many roadways, which can pose a weaving problem if the dedicated-ETC lanes and/or the truck-only lanes are located to the left side of the plaza. To address this concern, the Illinois Toll Authority solicited feedback from truck drivers on the best configuration for their truck lanes. They recruited a number of commercial truck drivers and asked them to drive their facility and indicate where they would ideally like to access the plaza. Truck-only lanes were then situated based in part on these responses.
188.8.131.52 Channelization of Traffic
One way to reduce last-minute lane changes at plazas is to channelize traffic well in advance of the plaza (as shown in Figure 4-2).
Figure 4-2. Concrete Barriers and Attenuators Physically Separate Traffic Upstream of an Illinois Tollway Plaza
Channelization can also be used to delay the merging of traffic downstream of the plaza. Some agencies take this a step further, making it a policy to separate ETC and cash-paying customers until the cash-paying customers have accelerated to two-thirds of the normal operating speed. Barriers can also be used to prevent vehicles in the left-most lanes (typically ETC lanes) from making unsafe maneuvers to reach off-ramps located just downstream of the plaza. The drawback to physical barriers is that they can be costly to install and costly to maintain. A less expensive alternative is to use a buffer lane in lieu of physical barriers; or to extend the longitudinal markings further upstream or downstream of the toll plaza to assist with lane delineation (as shown in Figure 4-3).
Figure 4-3. Pavement Markings and Cones Delay Merging Downstream at the NYS Thruway's Holland Tunnel Plaza
High-visibility flexible delineators can also be used to separate traffic at plazas, but they pose their own challenge with regard to maintenance. The Florida Turnpike has found it effective to use wide yellow sergeant-striped delineators in place of the solid white delineators that they previously used to separate traffic. They also found that motorists are more responsive to delineators positioned in a "bowling pin" configuration instead of in a straight line.
For those agencies that face the additional challenge of lane assignments changing throughout the day at a particular plaza, pop-up delineators can be a solution. However, some agencies in colder climates have found that pop-up delineators do not perform well during snowy and icy conditions. To address this, the NYS Thruway designed a new pop-up delineator in-house that operates off of air compression and survives the winters.
184.108.40.206 Signs and Markings to Identify Electronic Toll Collection Lanes
Agencies have implemented a number of strategies to direct non-ETC drivers away from ETC lanes. These include adding signs - for example supplementing "brand" signs such as SunPASS with generic signs such as "Pre-Paid Only" (to make it more clear to out of town travelers who may not be familiar with the brand name), and using specialized lane markings, such as differentiating high-speed ETC lanes with purple paint on the outside edges of the lane (as shown in Figure 4-4).
Figure 4-4. The Use of Pavement Markings to Identify Dedicated-ETC Lanes
In addition to this, several agencies use pavement markings to assist drivers with lane selection at the toll plaza. Some agencies paint messages on the pavement in the lanes such as CASH ONLY, or the name of the ETC system (e.g., EZ PASS). Other agencies have painted lane numbers on the pavement to match the lane numbers on the canopy signs, which aids motorists in choosing the proper lane well in advance of the plaza.
220.127.116.11 Designing for Open Road Tolling
There is clearly a trend toward ORT in the industry. By a strict definition, ORT refers to fully-automated electronic tolling in an "open road" environment, allowing vehicles to travel at highway speeds when passing through toll collection points. Under this definition, customers must either possess an electronic transponder, or be assessed toll charges via license plate recognition technology. By this strict definition, safety is improved as there is inherently lower exposure: there are fewer worker-vehicle interactions since there is no plaza, and there are fewer vehicle-vehicle conflicts since less traffic is traveling through a plaza. Also, noise and emissions are lessened due to the reduction in vehicles starting and stopping.
Beyond this strict definition of ORT, a number of agencies have implemented what might best be termed hybrid ORT operations: that is, they include a combination of mainline, full-speed ETC along with fully separated cash lanes. Typically, cash-paying customers must exit the roadway or shift to a separated toll plaza in order to make cash payment at a traditional, staffed plaza. An example of this is shown in Figure 4-5.
Figure 4-5. Open Road Tolling in Illinois
A new safety challenge that hybrid-ORT has introduced is the issue of managing queue spillback onto the mainline from the cash payment plaza. Queue spillback can result in rear-end collisions. Preventing this involves both design and operational solutions. For the Illinois Tollway, which recently converted all of their mainline plazas to hybrid-ORT facilities (a cash payment plaza separated from the mainline traffic by physical barriers), this has been a challenge that they have had to actively monitor and manage. At the planning stage, they modeled each of their plazas to estimate queue lengths at various times of the day, and designed longer deceleration lanes at plazas where they expected longer queues. As an ongoing effort, they have been monitoring the number of cash transactions occurring at each plaza and performing targeted marketing to residents in areas near plazas with a high percent of cash transactions in an effort to increase adoption of ETC, thereby reducing queues. The issue of queue spillback is expected to be less of a concern over time as more and more customers switch to electronic payment, but is likely to be an initial challenge for any agency switching to ORT.
4.1.2 The Safety of Crosswalks Used by Toll Collectors in Transit to and from Toll Booths
When asked about their biggest concern relative to toll plaza safety, nearly every individual that the study team visited with or talked with gave the same response - a worker being struck by a vehicle. While such incidents are relatively rare,7 they have occurred, and the potential certainly exists for them to occur again. Among the factors that have contributed to such incidents in the past (or to more recent close calls) are the introduction of ETC lanes, the uncertainty of driver actions in mixed-use lanes, the inability of operators of large trucks to see someone crossing directly in front of them, the dangers associated with closing a lane, and worker complacency.
To improve the safety of these crossings and/or to reduce exposure of workers to traffic, agencies are using a number of strategies as discussed in the following sections.
18.104.22.168 Direct Access to Toll Booths for Workers
The most aggressive mitigation strategy to protect workers from vehicular traffic is to provide workers access to booths without requiring them to cross active traffic by-pass toll lanes. This can be accomplished with the use of tunnels or bridges (example shown in Figure 4-6).
Figure 4-6. Tunnels Provide Access to Booths without Exposure to Traffic
Approximately half of the agencies visited by the study team have built such structures for their larger plazas. However, these structures rarely prevent workers from being in the roadway altogether. Most of the structures do not have entrances for each and every lane; consequently workers are typically required to cross two to three lanes. Even if collectors can avoid crossing a lane by using the structure, they still sometimes find themselves in live traffic - whether to pick up dropped money, to assist customers having problems with their ETC transponders, or to close a lane. Further, the use of such structures by collectors is typically not mandated (even when present), and many of the agencies that have them report that the use of the tunnels/bridges remains quite low. The reasons for this are varied - workers avoid bridges without elevators because of the need to climb stairs, tunnels are often dank and the entrances slippery, and using a tunnel or bridge can take more time than simply crossing a lane.
Another strategy for minimizing the number of lanes that a worker must cross is to provide break areas on either side of the plaza. Some agencies with plazas or with staffed lanes at either end of the plaza (with ETC lanes in the middle rather than on the far lanes) have placed break rooms on either side of the plaza to minimize the number of lanes that workers must cross. These are found to be effective where they have been implemented, but they can be costly and they are often simply impractical given space limitations and lack of right-of-way.
Two final design strategies for minimizing worker exposure include:
22.214.171.124 Policies and Procedures for Crossing
For those cases where workers must still cross travel lanes (either because a tunnel or bridge does not have an entrance to every lane, or because such a structure is not present), agencies have implemented a variety of different crossing procedures, both formal and informal. As an example, nearly all agencies require workers to make eye contact with vehicles before crossing. However, this is the only procedure that was common to all agencies visited and interviewed. Other crossing procedures include the following:
Figure 4-7. Handheld Stop Sign Aids Collector in Crossing Travel Lanes
Figure 4-8. Clear Plastic Shoulder Bag for Collectors to Use when Crossing
126.96.36.199 Location and Demarcation of Crosswalks
One interesting finding from the study was related to the level of diversity in the location and demarcation of collector crosswalks. For the most part, crosswalks are located just downstream of the booth - minimizing the exposure time of the employee in walking from the crosswalk to the booth. However, a few agencies have alternative approaches. One places their crosswalks upstream of the booth. This reduces the issue of vehicles not being able to see collectors crossing behind booths (and collectors not being able to see vehicles around booths as shown in Figure 4-9). However, it also forces collectors to cross traffic lanes in an area where vehicles do not typically stop.
Figure 4-9. Booths can create a Visual Obstacle when Crossing
Another agency has their crosswalks positioned at a significant distance downstream of the booths. This provides collectors with somewhat better sight lines (e.g., so that they can see around the booth) and a greater distance between when the vehicle begins accelerating (at the booth) and the crossing point. However, it also means that collectors can have a more difficult time making eye contact with stopped vehicles and with fellow collectors in booths who might be able to offer mutual support.
There was also significant diversity in the methods used to demark the locations where collectors should cross. Most agencies use crosswalks painted on the pavement (as shown in Figure 4-10) and jersey barriers or railings (with openings at the crosswalks) to encourage workers to use the crosswalk. However, a small number of agencies are not as restrictive as to where collectors could cross - while they may still use painted crosswalks, they do not physically channel collectors to openings with gates, etc., for fear that these barriers could present dangerous obstructions if a collector was outside of the crosswalk area and needed to quickly get out of the travel lanes.
Figure 4-10. Painted Crosswalk for Workers with Fencing to Channelize Workers to Cross at the Crosswalk
188.8.131.52 Signs for Employees
Related to crosswalks, many agencies have implemented some type of mitigation strategy to remind workers that they are crossing live lanes of traffic. At the most extreme end, some agencies make use of a device called a ManSaver Safety BarTM. As shown in Figure 4-11, these are physical gates adopted from use on fire trucks. These gates must be carefully opened to enter a travel lane (i.e., the worker must stop and pull the gate either upward or toward themselves), but can be easily pushed through to get out of the travel lane once on the other side of the crossing. To ensure that collectors cross at the ManSaver bar, one agency that the study team visited has begun using chains at the sides of the crossing area to in effect channelize workers to a specific crossing area.
Figure 4 11. ManSaverTM Safety Bar
At the other end of the spectrum, a number of agencies have simply stenciled or painted messages on the curbs abutting the travel lanes. These messages include LOOK' and WATCH FOR TRAFFIC (examples shown in Figure 4-12 and Figure 4-13). Through conversations with collectors, the general consensus is that such messages tend to be effective for new employees or when first added, but that over time they become part of the background and are ignored.
Figure 4-12. Various Signs and Markings Remind Collectors of the Dangers of Crossing Lanes
Figure 4-13. Signs and Stickers in Plaza Building and Toll Booth Remind Workers about Safety
Two agencies visited use signs at toll lane crossings to mark ETC lanes so that employees can easily identify lanes where traffic does not stop. One agency uses signs that read E-Z LOOK, with eyes drawn into LOOK and an arrow pointing in the direction of oncoming traffic. The signs are metal and mounted on the side of the bullnose facing in toward the lane at crossing locations. The same agency also uses red on white signs that read BE ALERT HIGH SPEED TRAFFIC. Another agency uses signs that are installed on the backs of booths and read WARNING - EZ PASS TRAFFIC DOES NOT STOP.
184.108.40.206 Garments for Improved Worker Visibility
Vests are typical safety garments provided to toll plaza employees (Figure 4-14). Beginning in November of 2008, all workers within the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway who are exposed to traffic or to construction equipment within the work area shall wear high-visibility safety apparel, defined as personal protective safety clothing that is intended to provide conspicuity during both daytime and nighttime usage, and that meets the Performance Class 2 or 3 requirements of the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 publication entitled "American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear."8, 9
Figure 4-14. Safety Vest
In terms of variations on the standard vest, one agency has recently adopted a safety smock which is light-weight, has short arms, and is waist length. It is fluorescent yellow green with orange sections and retro-reflective strips.
Depending on the climate, some agencies issue collectors a retroreflective jacket (as shown in Figure 4-15). Another agency issues toll collectors a 3-in-1 coat. The coat is lined and fluorescent yellow-green. The sleeves can be unzipped and removed for spring and fall and the lining unzips so that it is more vest-like in the summer.
Figure 4-15. Retroreflective Jacket
Another agency has gone to using battery-powered flashing vests for employees who work in the toll lanes, and still another reported moving toward a high visibility safety vest with five-point breakaway. The vests were ordered in response to news reports that vests would get caught on passing vehicles and workers were being dragged several hundred feet. The vests are fluorescent yellow green, and are supplied to each employee and replaced as needed. The agency reported that the collectors provided input to management when the vests were being selected and the breakaway vest has received a positive response by employees.
Three agencies reported that they are considering development of new uniforms that will have safety features built in, thereby eliminating the need for safety vests.
220.127.116.11 Reducing Slips, Trips, and Falls while Crossing
In terms of strategies to mitigate slips, an obvious solution that most agencies reported is simply making it a priority to keep the crossing areas clear of debris and oil. Beyond this, many agencies use grooved or textured pavement in the crossing area to provide better traction (for example, the Golden Gate Bridge has recently begun using a material called FlexCreteTM, a fiber-reinforced aerated concrete, in place of standard concrete at their crossing areas).
For colder climates, ice and snow can present a challenge. One agency has made a point to position drain gates below the curb at all crossing areas to avoid ponding water, which can lead to icy conditions. Another agency ensures that all of their walkways are covered to help reduce snow and ice on the walkways. Denver E-470 has recently begun issuing collectors crampons (shown in Figure 4-16) which can be worn on the outside of their shoes to provide better traction on snow and ice.
Figure 4-16. Crampons Can Help Collectors Avoid Slips in Snowy and Icy Conditions
Finally, as previously mentioned, several agencies focus on hands-free crossing with the use of shoulder bags to carry belongings (with the idea that having both hands free will make it easier for collectors to catch themselves if they fall). One agency now issues cash bags instead of cash drawers to facilitate hands-free crossing for their collectors (as shown in Figure 4-17).
Figure 4-17. Cash Bags Can Facilitate Hands-Free Crossing
In an attempt to mitigate trips, some agencies use brightly colored striping on the edges of stairs and curbs to improve visibility and depth perception. For those agencies with tunnels or overhead access to booths, many stressed the importance of having handrails on both sides of stairways (as shown in Figure 4-18).
Figure 4-18. Handrails on Both Sides of Tunnel Stairways Can Improve Safety
4.1.3 The Use of Warning Devices, such as Vibration and Rumble Strips, to Alert Drivers Approaching the Facilities
Toll plazas present unique challenges to drivers. Many plazas operate much like a complex intersection in that there are on-ramps or off-ramps in close proximity to the plaza creating excessive weaving maneuvers. Additionally, many agencies face challenges in dealing with truck traffic and over-sized loads, particularly in regard to trucks "mixing" with automobiles. Finally, speed variance between ETC and cash-paying customers is a safety challenge faced by all agencies with plazas accepting both electronic and cash payment.
18.104.22.168 Rumble Strips
Although agencies reported mixed feelings regarding the effectiveness of rumble strips, nearly half of the agencies that the study team spoke with use rumble strips or grooved pavement to alert drivers that they are approaching a toll plaza. The rumble strips are typically positioned in advance of the flare for the plaza although some agencies position them closer to the plaza (as shown in Figure 4-19) to provide toll collectors with an auditory warning that a vehicle is approaching.
Figure 4-19. Rumble Strips
As for the agencies who do not use rumble strips, some commented that the noise they generate is disruptive to nearby residential areas while others reported that rumble strips cause problems with snow plow operations.
22.214.171.124 Informing Motorists of Changing Conditions
Frequently changing conditions at toll plazas can contribute to driver confusion and distraction. These variable conditions include lane closures, changes in lane direction (at some facilities), changes in lane configuration (ETC versus mixed use), and the presence of maintenance activities (scheduled and otherwise). Strategies to combat these particular sources of driver confusion typically center on providing better information to motorists. For example, an increasing number of agencies are employing the use of Variable Message Signs (VMS) upstream of the toll plazas to warn drivers of unexpected conditions such as incidents and maintenance activities. The NYS Thruway is experimenting with the use of digital signs upstream of the plaza indicating which lane numbers are currently accepting ETC and which are cash or mixed use (see Figure 4-20).
Figure 4-20. Dynamic Signs Display Current ETC Lane Numbers at a NYS Thruway Plaza
To reduce the occurrence of rear-end collisions resulting from queues, one agency positions visibility maintenance trucks and/or flaggers at the end of the queue any time it extends beyond the sight of the plaza. This can be a very effective strategy, but is also resource intensive.
126.96.36.199 Providing Advance Warning to Motorists of Approaching Plaza
All agencies use advance signing to warn drivers that they are approaching a toll plaza. Specific messages include TOLL PLAZA AHEAD, PAY TOLL AHEAD, etc. In addition to these warning signs, some agencies use lane designation signs in advance of the plaza. For example, one agency has a plaza where drivers can exit to an Interstate or onto a local road immediately after passing through the plaza. After experiencing a number of vehicular accidents in the area immediately downstream of the plaza, the agency has implemented advance signing that directs drivers to the side of the toll plaza where they will need to be depending on their direction of travel downstream of the plaza. Since installing the lane designation signs, the agency has not experienced any accidents downstream of the plaza.
188.8.131.52 Increasing Conspicuity of Facilities and Workers
Some agencies are installing messages on signs and on the pavement at the toll plaza to caution drivers about employee presence in the toll lanes. One agency has installed pedestrian crossing warning signs with flashing amber lights at the beginning of the toll island to caution drivers. Signs are also posted in holders on the front of the bullnose. One of the messages used is SLOW DOWN - PROTECT OUR WORKERS.
Another innovative strategy reported by West Virginia Parkways is the installation of white strobe lighting on the canopies at all toll plazas to highlight their facilities during inclement weather. They feel that the strobe lighting has been helpful in ensuring that drivers will see the upcoming plaza in foggy driving conditions.
4.1.4 The Use of Traffic Control Arms in the Vicinity of the Facilities
Nearly all agencies use some form of traffic control arms in the vicinity of their facilities, even if only in advance of a booth to close a lane. The gates used to designate a closed lane are typically manually operated by a worker who must physically walk into the lane to open and close the gate.
184.108.40.206 Reducing Speeds and Reducing Toll Violations
Gates downstream of the plaza are typically used for speed reduction, toll violation reduction, and/or traffic control. In terms of where these traffic control arms are used and how they operate, there is a great deal of variation. Some agencies use gates in all of their lanes, including their ETC lanes, but a majority of agencies use them in their manual lanes only. In many cases the gates are automated (i.e., they automatically lift as a vehicle equipped with an ETC transponder approaches), but in many cases the gates will not lift until the collector finishes the transaction. Agencies that do not use gates report several reasons for their decisions: the industry trend toward open road tolling, volume is too high through the plaza, expense, and maintenance.
The appearance of traffic control arms vary in terms of color schemes, messaging, and materials. Many agencies construct their gates out of materials that will minimize damage to vehicles in the event that a vehicle drives through the gate. Some agencies affix signs to their gates with messages such as STOP or DO NOT BACK UP. In addition to this, many agencies use some sort of reflective materials on the gates to increase visibility.
Many agencies felt that gates played a role in successfully controlling speeds - whether or not they were installed for this reason. Where gates are in use, all customers, including those with electronic payment, must wait for a gate to lift before proceeding through the plaza. Typically the gates lift automatically as an ETC vehicle approaches, so that ETC customers can proceed safely through the plaza without stopping as long as they maintain a reasonable speed - typically below 15 miles per hour. While effective in reducing speeds through toll plazas, doing so may be in contradiction with agency objectives to maximize throughput and mobility.
220.127.116.11 Informing Motorists of Lane Closures
Agencies use a variety of methods for conveying a closed lane to motorists. Some agencies simply close a lane with a traffic cone or gate (some examples are shown in Figure 4-21 and Figure 4-22). While this creates a physical barrier to help discourage drivers from entering closed lanes, it can be dangerous for collectors to physically close the gate. In addition to this, some agencies have faced problems with motorists not seeing closed gates. In an effort to make the gates more visible, one agency has installed unique three-foot high orange reflectors on their gates (similar to driveway markers). Since the addition of the reflectors, the agency reported that there has been a significant reduction in the gates being hit. Beyond this, many agencies have signs on their gates to further communicate to motorists that the lane is closed, and to draw attention to the gates. In terms of messages, some use a LANE CLOSED sign or a DO NOT ENTER sign. One agency used to use a STOP Sign on a gate, but moved away from this after noticing cars approaching the gate and waiting for it to open. Other agencies have moved away from written signs entirely, feeling that they add to visual clutter and confusion; they now simply employ Red X's or Green arrows to indicate lane closure status that can be changed remotely, thereby reducing worker exposure to vehicles.
Figure 4-21. Gates in use to Indicate that a Lane is Closed
Figure 4-22. Options for Conveying a Closed Lane to Motorists
4.2 Enforcement Practices
This section presents information regarding ways in which toll agencies have responded to safety issues at toll plazas through enforcement practices. This section includes a discussion of:
As discussed in the previous section, the introduction of ETC, and particularly of high-speed ETC lanes, has introduced a new concern at plazas: speeding. Prior to the advent of ETC, every customer was required to come to a complete stop in order to collect a ticket or pay a toll. Now a good portion of customers are not required to stop at all, and in some cases, they are able to maintain near highway speeds while passing through a plaza.
Many toll agencies have a dedicated police force which can make it easier to enforce speeding and other traffic violations. For others, State and local police patrol their facilities, but there is no regular schedule for their patrols. Others contract with State Police to ensure that regular enforcement services are provided.
Some agencies are unable to enforce speed limits at their plazas due to State or local laws. For example, one agency is unable to enforce speeds at their plazas because of laws requiring "Reduced Speed Ahead" signs and the need to step down the speed limit over a distance that is too long for to be practical at their plazas. For those agencies who are able to enforce speed limits, a variety of different tactics are used. In some cases speed enforcement activities are accomplished using radar from a vehicle positioned either in the plaza parking lot or on the shoulder downstream of the plaza. Other times an officer is positioned on the toll island with radar, and when a speeder is identified, the officer calls the vehicle description out to a chase cruiser downstream of the plaza. Another method is to use decoys for speed enforcement by placing radar inside an inconspicuous vehicle, such as a dump truck, on the shoulder at the plaza. A final method is to park unmanned police cruisers at the plaza to give the impression of enforcement presence which can assist with speed reduction.
A fair number of agencies across the country use cameras as a means to record toll violators; however, very few agencies use cameras to record traffic violations. Many are unable to use cameras for this purpose due to State or local laws that disallow the use of cameras due to privacy concerns or other concerns; others find it cost-prohibitive. For those who are able to make use of automated enforcement, speeding is the traffic violation typically monitored.
No agencies reported being affected by jurisdictional issues that they feel negatively impact safety in the vicinity of toll facilities. While a handful of agencies reported that law enforcement practices minimally affect safety in the vicinity of their toll plazas, an overwhelming majority of agencies reported that they feel that there is no negative affect on plaza safety due to law enforcement activity.
Of the facilities visited by the team, those that reported having the lowest incidence of speeding were two agencies that had an aggressive automated enforcement program: the NYS Thruway and the PANY/NJ. Although there is no hard data to substantiate this observation, it seems plausible that their extensive automated speed enforcement program may be the main success factor in keeping speeds under control at their plazas. Like most other agencies that have an automated enforcement program, cameras record violators and then the agency notifies violators by mail of their offense. What makes their program unique is that they suspend ETC tags for a period of time for repeat or excessive violators, a practice that is particularly effective with trucking firms due to the toll discount associated with having a transponder.
Of those agencies that do have some form of automated enforcement, most choose to inform motorists that the toll plaza is photo enforced, and in most cases this is done with white on black regulatory signs.
Increasing enforcement presence at plazas is another way that some agencies combat speeding (Figure 4-23 and Figure 4-24 show examples of how different agencies demonstrate enforcement to motorists). In fact, some agencies feel that it is critical to all safety programs - so much so that one workshop participant even noted that no strategy would be effective without a strong enforcement program. Increasing enforcement presence is obviously an easier feat for those agencies that have a dedicated police force or well established relationships with the local police force. Different tactics are used when enforcing traffic violations. In some cases police conduct speed enforcement using radar from their vehicle - either from the plaza parking lot or from the shoulder downstream of the plaza. Another speed enforcement tactic used by the police is to place an officer on the toll island with radar. When a speeder is identified, the officer calls the vehicle description out to a chase cruiser that is downstream of the plaza. The police also sometimes use decoys for speed enforcement by placing radar inside an inconspicuous vehicle, such as a dump truck, on the shoulder at the plaza. Some agencies reported that the police will also park unmanned police cruisers at the plaza to assist with speed reduction.
Figure 4-23. Enforcement Presence at an MTA Plaza
Figure 4-24. Sign Notifying Motorists that Plaza Is Photo Enforced
One agency reported that they have succeeded in reducing speeding by getting legislation passed that allows for doubled fines for speeding in toll areas. In this particular case, the legislation applies only to toll plazas where the speed at the plaza is reduced to 30 mph for ETC lanes. This agency has open road tolling where the speed limit is not reduced and increased fines for speeding do not apply at these areas. Other strategies include:
Figure 4-25. Pavement Markings Reinforce the Speed Limit in Dedicated ETC Lanes
Figure 4-26. Speed Limits Are Posted at Each Lane to Reinforce Speed Limits
Figure 4-27. The Use of Transverse Pavement Markings to Reduce Speeding
4.3 Maintenance Practices
There are a variety of strategies in use across the country specifically to reduce the occurrence of incidents and injuries related to maintenance activities in and around toll plazas. Some of these strategies include:
Equipping maintenance vehicles with partial red lights (i.e., amber on front, red on back) to give motorists the impression of enforcement presence. The PANY/NJ believes that this has helped them successfully lower speeds around incidents and maintenance work. Beyond this strict definition of ORT, a number of agencies have implemented what might best be termed hybrid ORT operations: that is, they include a combination of mainline, full-speed ETC along with fully separated cash lanes. Typically, cash-paying customers must exit the roadway or shift to a separated toll plaza in order to make cash payment at a traditional, staffed plaza. An example of this is shown in Figure 4-5 above. This type of arrangement can also present some new challenges that are worthy of discussion.
4.3.1 Maintenance Activities with Open Road Tolling
One potential safety-related drawback to ORT (both fully "open road" and hybrid-ORT) is equipment maintenance since, in most cases, repairs that take place over the roadway would require that all lanes be closed. However, the Florida Turnpike has addressed this concern with a unique overhead gantry design that allows maintenance workers access to equipment without closing lanes or disturbing traffic (see Figure 4-28). The gantry provides an area large enough for maintenance employees to work above the roadway, and all ETC equipment is positioned on a lever that allows workers to pull the equipment up into the work area. Additionally, there is a screen shielding workers from passing motorists to avoid distraction, and there is a fine mesh material at the base of the gantry below the work area to prevent the danger of debris dropping onto the traffic below during maintenance activities.
Figure 4-28. Florida Turnpike's Overhead Gantry for ORT Allows for Maintenance Activities without Road Closure
4.4 Human Factors Issues
There are a variety of strategies in use across the country that specifically address human factors issues. Some of these strategies include reducing the incidence of vehicles stopping or backing up in high-speed lanes, mitigating sensory overload, and mitigating driver inattention as discussed in the following sections.
4.4.1 Reducing the Incidence of Vehicles Stopping or Backing Up in High-Speed Lanes
Some agencies have deployed mitigation strategies that are aimed at preventing vehicles from stopping in high-speed lanes. For example:
Figure 4-29. "DO NOT BACK UP" Sign to Reduce Unsafe Motorist Behavior
4.4.2 Mitigating Sensory Overload
The final significant source of driver confusion identified in the site visits was simply sensory overload, or the challenge of reading, recognizing, and appropriately acting upon the multitude of messages and signs presented to a driver approaching a plaza. Among the solutions sites have explored to combat this issue are:
Figure 4-30. One Option for Conveying that Cash is Accepted in All Lanes
4.4.3 Mitigating Driver Inattention
In addition to the various sources of confusion inherent in the design, layout, and operations of plaza facilities, drivers also introduce their own activities that contribute to inattention and distraction. While not unique to toll plazas, many customers engage in cell phone conversations, read maps, and undertake a variety of activities that have been demonstrated to cause driver distraction and crashes on all roadway facilities, not just toll plazas. In addition, a subset of drivers, colloquially referred to as "wavers," undertake a form of distraction that is unique to plaza facilities. These individuals fail to properly mount their ETC tags and instead hold them up to the windshield, out the window, etc., with little regard to traffic conditions around them. While there is not much that can be done to mitigate against the actions of these individuals, agencies have pursued strategies such as public education campaigns, providing warnings against the practice in billing mail-outs, and instructing toll collectors to look for and discourage the practice if possible.
4.4.4 Educating Drivers about Electronic Toll Collection
A drawback noted by the Illinois Tollway in their switch to hybrid-ORT is that their cash lanes now have a higher percentage of inexperienced users. They feel that this has increased the amount of erratic driving behavior at some of their plazas as the motorists who are less familiar with the facility can no longer "follow" the experienced motorists through the plaza.
A final challenge associated with hybrid-ORT is that vehicles that are not ETC-equipped may stop in travel lanes due to confusion over how to make payment. One agency that faced this challenge was the PANY/NJ, which recently changed the lower deck of the George Washington Bridge over to ETC-only during nighttime hours (the plaza is unstaffed at night and equipped with an automated enforcement system that charges customers by mail), and they initially encountered a wide range of unsafe maneuvers (e.g., vehicles turning around, backing up, cutting across the plaza). To address these issues, they added signs at each booth that say "YOU WILL BE BILLED," and they added an intercom system to provide customers access to supervisory staff on the staffed upper deck toll plaza. They also changed their signs to direct non-ETC customers to the right side of the plaza where they will pose less of a danger to other motorists in the event that they do come to a stop or attempt other erratic behavior. The sign that they have evolved to at the right side of the plaza is "ALL OTHERS."
6 Teamsters Safety & Health Facts: Distracted Driving, Cell Phone Use, and Motor Vehicle Crashes http://www.teamster.org/content/distracted-driving-cell-phone-use-and-motor-vehicle-crashes [Return to note 6. ]
7 The accident and injury data obtained through this study did not include any fatalities and the project team learned of only one fatality from the agency interviews. [Return to note 7. ]
8 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 226 / Friday, November 24, 2006 / Rules and Regulations, Page 67792. http://www.tsps.org/Standards%20Revisions/Hi-Visability%20Requirements.doc [Return to note 8. ]