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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
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This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-13-048    Date:  October 2013
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-13-048
Date: October 2013


Driver Expectations When Navigating Complex Interchanges

Appendix B. Task 4 Moderator Guide

This appendix shows the moderator guide used to lead the task 4 focus groups.

I. INTRODUCTION [10 minutes]

Good (afternoon/evening). I'm glad you could take time out of your day to be here. My name is Christian Richard, and I am the moderator for today's discussion. Helping me out today will be my co-moderator, Monica Lichty. The purpose of today's group is to talk about a number of topics related to yourselves, driving, and your experiences at freeway interchanges. As you were probably told by the person who called you, we will be here for about an hour and a half.


Before we begin, I'd like to make some self-disclosures. Monica and I are scientists that work for a company called Battelle, which conducts research for clients on a wide variety of subjects. My particular group does research investigating ways to make roadways safer and easier for drivers to use.

Our discussions here today are part of a larger project looking at the design and construction of highway interchanges. Monica and I are travelling around the country talking to groups like yours and giving them opportunities to share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings about interchanges. That's what we'll do here tonight.

Just so you know, my job is only to report what you have to say back to my client, the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation. I have no vested interest in your answers. I am not here to sell you anything, and my job will continue regardless of how you answer. Thus, I encourage you to be honest, and feel free to offer both positive and negative comments.


As you also may have noticed, this session is being videotaped. This is not because we want to keep track of "who said what" but more to keep a record of today's information for our report. Monica and I are doing a number of these groups in multiple cities, and it would be difficult for us to remember the specifics of each group without having something to help verify what we're reporting. I assure you, the tape will be used for no other purpose, and the recording will be destroyed once this project is over.


Before we get started, I'll go over some ground rules that will help us get the information we need and help you get an idea about how focus groups work.

  1. The first is to please speak clearly and one at a time so that everyone in the group can hear you. Also, keep your voice level at least as loud as mine is now so that the microphones can pick up what you say.
  2. Since focus groups are conducted with complete confidentiality, we are using first names only. None of you will be identified by name in our report or anywhere else.
  3. You are each being paid for your time to be here because we are interested in what you have to say. Thus, it is important that we hear from everyone. There will be times when you may be the only one in the group that feels a particular way. Please speak up when this occurs as this group represents a larger population. You may not think the same way as anyone in this room, but you may be representing the ideas of thousands of other people that are not here tonight. All opinions are valuable. There are no right or wrong answers.
  4. We are also here today to get information about your opinions and experiences. This is important because you are the drivers that have to navigate interchanges. It's also why we are more interested in hearing about your own experiences than those of others you know. As you may have already experienced, highway engineers don't always get their road designs right. This cartoon [PPT slide 2] points out the fact that sometimes design ideas don't always make perfect sense in practice.
  5. The last thing is that, at any time, you can feel free to get up and get additional refreshments or go to the restroom if you would like. We will also take a short break about halfway through the session.

Are there any questions about how this focus group will work? OK, before we begin, let's go around the room and introduce ourselves by giving our first names and a brief description of where we'd be and what we'd be doing if we weren't here right now.

Now that we all know each other, let's get started.

II. WARM-UP EXERCISES [10 minutes]

I mentioned earlier that this group is part of a larger project that is gathering data about what drivers expect to see at interchanges.

Before I go any further, I want to make sure we are all talking about the same things when I refer to interchanges. Specifically, I'm talking about the collection of ramps, exits, overpasses, signs, lanes marking, and other things you encounter when one freeway intersects with another freeway or a set of busy local roads. Most of you are probably familiar with clover leaf interchanges. [PPT slide 3] This is the kind of roadway that I'm talking about.

So, raise your hand if you have ever been lost, missed an exit, or driven on an interchange that you found to be confusing. [Look at responses.] This is one of the main things we will be discussing tonight.

As an aside, have you ever driven in an interchange that looked like one of these [PPT slide 4]?

These complex interchanges show up in the real-world as well, not just in cartoons [PPT slide 5].

We will be talking a lot about challenging interchanges in the next hour, but first, I'd like to start off by talking a little bit about simpler interchanges. Ones that most people would find easy to drive through. As a group, let's try to draw a typical interchange based on what you normally expect to encounter at a simple interchange. [PPT slide 6]

Imagine you are driving down a freeway with 3 lanes and you need to exit onto a major local road.

  1. Where would you typically expect the exit to be?
    - How many lanes would it have?
  2. What happens to the freeway lane that leads up to the exit?
    - Does it end after the exit or does branch it off and continue down the freeway?
  3. Where do you expect the signs to be along the road?
  4. How far ahead do you expect the signs to be?
  5. Do you expect more than one set of signs?
    - What purpose should they serve?
  6. What should the signs say?
  7. Do you expect to rely on lane markings at all?


For the next part of the focus group, were going to talk about specific interchanges. We will be viewing video footage of a vehicle driving through three different interchanges; the videos were filmed from the driver's perspective. As we view these videos, imagine that you are driving on these roadways for the first time, so you have to rely on the information from the video to figure out how to get through the interchange.

All three of the videos were filmed in Portland, OR.

We will discuss each interchange, one at a time. For each interchange, our discussion will follow a similar format.

  1. First, we will play the video, stopping at two to three points along the way. During these times, you will have a chance to read the signs. At some of these points, we will ask you to answer a question in the booklet in front of you. During this video, we ask that you do not discuss the interchange with the other people in the group because it is important to form your own expectations as you watch the video.
  2. The second time, we will play the video all the way through, uninterrupted, so that you can get an idea of the flow and timing of the entire drive.
  3. After these two viewings, we will watch the video one more time, stopping at some of the same points to discuss things as a group. We will discuss some of the same questions as the first time through, but also feel free to add any other thoughts that you have.

Discussions about driving can cover many topics but we are most interested in finding out what you are thinking as you're "driving" along the roadway, how you expect the roadway to look, and what signs you expect to see.

So now if everyone can turn to page 2 in your booklet, we'll start the scenario.

III-1) Interchange 1: Visually Challenging Option Lanes

For this first drive, you are crossing a bridge on I-405, and your objective is to get onto US-30 West.

Booklet Question 1: It is important to us to get your initial impressions, so please do not go back and change your responses after move on to the next question.

Critical Point 1: Read Overhead Guide Signs

  1. Does anyone know what the arrows mean? (intro to arrow-per-lane signs.)
    • What information goes with the arrow (above and below)?
  2. What do you expect will happen beyond this point?
    Since you can't see what's ahead, do you think the signage should be different?

Critical Point 2: Read Exit Signage

  1. Which lane did you choose to go to 30 West?
    • Did anyone choose the middle lane? What is the reason?
    • Did anyone choose the right lane? What is the reason?
  2. The middle lane is called an option lane, because it typically gives you the option to go one way or the other. In general, what do you think about option lanes?
    • Would you prefer to use them or stay out of them?
  3. Is there anything that makes you uncomfortable/that you don't like? (Reference to option lane with forced decision.)

Critical Point 3: Read Final Signage

  1. How well do the arrows indicate where the lanes go?
    • Did you use them to make your decision?
  2. If you stay in this lane, where will you end up?
  3. Does 30 West go over or under the bridge?
  4. Is there anything that makes you uncomfortable/that you don't like?

Before we move onto the next scenario, we will take a 5-minute break. Feel free to stretch your legs and grab a snack.

III-2) Interchange 2: Four-Lane Split with Complex Advance Guide Signs

For this drive, you are currently on 30 West, and your objective is to reach the City Center.

Critical Point 1: Read Arrow-Per-Lane Signs

  1. What does it mean that there are multiple destinations on the same sign?
    • Do you take the same lane to get there?
    • Do the destinations share the same exit?
  2. In general, what do you expect this type of information to mean on an interchange sign?
    • Do you ever get confused abbreviations, place names, or other destination information on interchange signs? (Note that this is an optional question.)

Critical Point 2: Read Diagrammatic Sign

This is called a diagrammatic sign, because it provides more of a "picture" of what the lanes do. Are you familiar with these?

  1. What does this sign tell you about the interchange geometry?
  2. Which direction do you go to get to City Center (North or South)?
    • This sign looks inconsistent if you interpreted the previous sign in terms of destinations rather than lanes.
  3. How literally do you interpret "diagrammatic" signs? Do you expect there to be three or four lanes when the split occurs?

Critical Point 3: Read Split Diagrammatic Signs

  1. At this point, what kind of idea do you have about what's ahead?
  2. Do the arrows tell you anything about what happens in each lane?
    • Would you ever interpret these as "Arrows-per-lane?"

Critical Point 4: Read Final Arrow-Per-Lane Signs

  1. Did the previous signs adequately prepare you for this?
  2. What, if anything, are some of the things that may have made you uncomfortable in this situation?
    • Timing.
    • Gore point.
    • Complexity of information.
  3. If you were driving in this interchange, would you try to read the signs? What information would you be looking for the most? How would you get the information you need from them?

III-3) Interchange 2: Poorly Signed Left Exit with Multiple Lane Changes

For this drive, you are going to pretend that you are using a map to get to a destination that you are unfamiliar with. Your objective is to get onto Interstate 5 South. So please look at this map before we begin. Essentially, you are going North over the bridge on I-405 to get to I-5S. The exit is at the end of the bridge.

Critical Point 1: Read Overhead Signs

  1. What do you think about this batch of signs? (Were they useful? (Note that this is an optional question.))
    • What information would improve these signs?
  2. Which lane would you choose for I-5S?
  3. If you don't have any useful information, what would you try to do about which lane you are in?

Critical Point 2: Read Side-Mounted Guide Signs

NOTE: there is also a guide sign on the right

  1. Did you expect to see signs mounted on the sides? (Where do you expect important information to be displayed at an interchange?)
  2. What would you try to do in this situation? Would you try to get into the left lane?
  3. In general, what do you think about multiple lane changes at interchanges?
    • How do multiple lane changes rate in terms of difficult they make interchange driving and increase in stress levels?


Thank you again for taking the time to come out and talk with us this [afternoon, evening]. Before closing, are there any additional thoughts you'd like to offer about the topics we discussed? [If not, conclude the session, if so, briefly allow additional thoughts to come forward.]


Before you leave, we ask that you please complete a questionnaire. This questionnaire asks some basic demographic questions and a few questions about your driving history. You may skip any of the questions that you do not feel comfortable answering. When you are finished, please return it to Monica or myself. We will be in the lobby handing out the stipends and getting you to sign receipts.


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