New Jersey Pilots Connected Vehicles Program to Protect Safety Service Patrol Staff

NJDOT safety service patrol vehicle. Source: NJDOT

Each day New Jersey’s safety service patrol (SSP) workers put their own safety at risk to assist motorists in need and to assist other first responders. In addition to warning other motorists about recent traffic incidents, they remove disabled vehicles, provide gasoline, and perform vehicle repairs. Safety service patrol workers use temporary signage, traffic cones, flares, and portable variable message signs (PVMS), existing overhead message signs, the NJ511 phone and website systems as well as the SafeTrip application to warn motorists about their presence.

Unfortunately, collisions involving safety service patrol workers still occur. Cars often travel at excessive speeds near staff who work on the scene of such collisions. In 2015, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports that a work zone crash occurred once every 5.4 minutes in the United States. The impact of crashes can be catastrophic. Every day 70 work zone crashes occurred that resulted in at least one injury, while every week 12 work zone crashes occurred that resulted in at least one fatality. The NJDOT’s continued efforts to reduce work zone fatalities since the 1990s has resulted in one of the lowest rates in the nation. Despite this, at least one service worker has died in a New Jersey work zone each year since 2007. In 2016 seven fatal crashes occurred in New Jersey work zones, including the death of one service worker.

The automobile manufacturing industry is in the technology development phase of putting connected and automated systems fully in place.  Once deployed, first responders and/or their response vehicles would be detected by these systems to prevent crashes resulting from oncoming traffic.  Until those systems are deployed, the most used applications to alert motorists to roadside incidents, stopped police vehicles and other types of hazards is by Google, Waze, or HERE.

To help ensure the safety of service patrol staff, NJDOT has initiated a pilot study that will examine the effectiveness of using connected vehicle technology to alert the motoring public to the presence of safety service workers at an incident site. Starting in September 2018 NJDOT will pilot the use of a Beacon Hazard Lights technology to alert drivers to the presence of workers when safety service vehicles turn on their hazard lights. The piloting of the technology has received the support of the NJ State Innovation Council and a State Innovation Council Incentive Funding grant of $39,600 awarded by FHWA.  More information about the STIC Incentive Funding source can be found here.

According to Ross Scheckler, the managing partner of iCone, the product supplier for the hazard light technology to be piloted in the NJ study, the firm seeks to build technologies that will increase the availability of data about work zones to the traveling public.  Their tools alert drivers in real-time to the presence of workers, lane-closures and construction related back-ups by making them available on the cloud, where state traffic centers and navigations companies like HERE and Waze can pick them up.  A primary goal of the technology is to let drivers of vehicles know that the rescue truck or the flagger is in the road miles ahead so that the driver or the automation system can slow down and move over, or maybe choose a different route.

In the New Jersey pilot program, the iCone technology will transmit the location of worker vehicles within two minutes of the activation of a vehicle’s hazard lights. The location updates every 15 minutes and is re-transmitted if the vehicle moves more than 500 feet.

Data from 31 SSP vehicles will alert drivers via 511NJ as well as mapping & traffic apps

Thirty-one Safety Service Patrol (SSP) vehicles in Harding and Cherry Hill Yards will pilot iCone’s GPS technology to alert drivers using the 511NJ website and mapping, and traffic apps including Google Maps, Waze, and Here.  A Texas DOT study found that deploying iCone’s traffic beacons reduced crashes at a busy highway up to 45 percent (WorkZoneSafety.org). In addition, beacons deployed on roads resulted in crash cost reductions between $6,600 and $10,000 per night. Arlington is one of more than 450 partners including city, state and country government agencies, nonprofits and first responders to partner with the Waze Connected Citizen Partner program, a free data-share of publicly available traffic data, to deliver road and construction work information to cars.

Different states have used iCone’s technology in various ways, according to Mr. Sheckler. For example, Nevada has focused on relaying lane closures through iCone’s “Smart Arrow Board” modification product. Colorado on the other hand, has focused on the location of traffic cones around work zones through the ‘iPin’ product.  New Jersey’s initiative will examine the effectiveness of iCone’s technology on service patrol vehicles.

One benefit of the approach being tested is that the data appears to be comparatively low-cost and effective in reaching the traveling public through available traffic flow applications.  Mr. Scheckler, iCone’s product supplier representative, notes that most states can quickly accommodate to the data flow that the firm produces since the data feed is modeled off the Waze format.  “When states aren’t ready to integrate the data flow, the data still goes out to millions of cars through partners like Waze, HERE and Panasonic. This works so well that in states that haven’t started picking up the feed, we still have contractors using our equipment because they want their workers to show up in the car.”

iCone’s Vehicle Hazard Light Radio Adaptation GPS device. Source: iCone

In New Jersey, one of the program’s goals is to enhance awareness of the State’s Move Over Law enacted in 2009. The law requires a driver who sees an emergency safety vehicle to approach cautiously and, if possible, make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the emergency vehicle. Emergency safety vehicles include those operated by fire or police departments, ambulance services, tow trucks and highway maintenance or emergency service vehicles, many of which display flashing yellow, amber or red lights. Drivers must create an empty lane of traffic or prepare to stop, if possible, or face fines of no less than $100 and a much as $500.

NJDOT plans to evaluate the success of the program during Year 1 and determine interest and opportunities for collaboration with transportation agencies in other states and first responder organizations. NJDOT is part of TRANSCOM (XCM), a coalition of 16 transportation and public safety agencies that improves communication and technology by the use of traffic and transportation management systems and in partnership with technology companies. XCM currently provides NJDOT incident data to Google, Waze, and Here as well as the 511NJ web and phone platform, however SSP vehicle location data is not integrated into any of these programs.

Sources:

Cowan, S. (2018). Spring 2018 STIC presentation: Connected Vehicle — Road Service Safety Messages. Retrieved from: https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/CIA-Team.pdf

Hsieh, E. Y., Ullman, G. L., Pesti, G., & Brydia, R. E. (2017). Effectiveness of End-of-Queue Warning Systems and Portable Rumble Strips on Lane Closure Crashes. Journal of Transportation Engineering, Part A: Systems, 143(11), 04017053. Retrieved from:  https://ascelibrary.org/doi/abs/10.1061/JTEPBS.0000084

National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse. (c2016). 2016 New Jersey Work Zone Fatal Crashes and Fatalities. Retrieved from https://www.workzonesafety.org/crash-information/work-zone-fatal-crashes-fatalities/#new%20jersey

Ullman, G. L., Iragavarapu, V., & Brydia, R. E. (2016). Safety effects of portable end-of-queue warning system deployments at Texas work zones. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, (2555), 46-52. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3141/2555-06

Road Diets Are Making Roads Safer in New Jersey

Across the country and in some New Jersey municipalities (at least 50 in the last six years), road diets have been implemented as a low-cost safety countermeasure for motorists and non-motorists alike by reducing travel lanes, vehicle speeds and freeing up space for bicycles and pedestrians. Road diets are recognized by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as one of twenty “Proven Safety Countermeasures” to reduce serious injuries and fatalities on American highways and roads.

According to the FHWA, a road diet most commonly involves converting an existing four-lane undivided roadway to a three-lane roadway consisting of two through lanes and a center two-way left-turn lane.

Digitally-enhanced photo shows potential changes for Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick. From Costs and Benefits of a Road Diet Conversion, 2015.

Implemented across the US for at least two decades, road diets have become standard practice and increasingly widespread as their benefits, including economic development, have become popularized. Studies indicate a 19-47% reduction in overall crashes when a road diet is installed on a four-lane undivided facility. For some roadways, these improvements have reduced crashes by up to 70% (See Reston, Virginia case study).

In New Brunswick, a partial road diet has been installed on Livingston Avenue, prompted by concerns expressed by many residents in 2014 when three children in a crosswalk were struck by a vehicle. There are plans for a complete road diet in the future. According to the Middlesex County Engineer’s Office, the project is currently obtaining federal aid and state approval to begin work. This road diet was supported by a cost-benefit evaluation that found the benefits of safety improvements would overwhelmingly exceed the costs over a 20 year period.

In Burlington City, NJDOT implemented a road diet on Route 130 to create a buffer for vehicles and pedestrians after many years of work with local officials. For six consecutive years, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign named Route 130 as the state’s most dangerous road for walking with 11 pedestrians killed by vehicles between 2012 and 2014. These hazardous conditions particularly affected students, who had to cross the divided highway to get to Burlington High School. The death of 17-year old Antwan Timbers, a sophomore at the school, inspired classmates to fight for safer streets around their school and state with the “25 Saves Lives” campaign, which advocated for legislation to reduce speed limits to 25mph near school zones along Route 130. The road diet reduced the roadway from six lanes to four lanes. Large “School Speed Limit 25mph” signs and “No Turn On Red” signs were also installed at busy intersections. Additional improvements are planned for the spring of 2018.

Passaic County’s road diet in Wayne has resulted in reduced dangerous crashes.

In Woodbury, NJDOT converted Route 45, a multi-lane roadway into a road with one travel lane in each direction, a left turn lane and bicycle lanes. According to the FHWA, the roadway was plagued with excessive speeding, improper lane changes, parking difficulties, and safety concerns. The road diet succeeded in reducing crashes and vehicle speeds while helping pedestrians feel safer. The improvements had no negative effect on emergency vehicle response times, which had been an initial concern of the Woodbury Police.

Passaic County has been active in installing road diets on several of their oversized suburban throughways. In 2016, case study research examined more closely the approaches that the County had taken and explored the lessons that they learned and some outcomes of implementing successful road diet projects. For 2018, the County is working with the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority to bring road diets to three additional corridors – including narrowing a roundabout.

In Ewing, NJDOT and Mercer County and other local partners are conducting a study to identify and recommend improvements to make Parkway Avenue, near NJDOT headquarters, a safer corridor. Parkway Avenue was one of two corridors (out of 99 potential locations) identified as a feasible, suitable and beneficial location to implement a road diet in NJDOT’s 2015 Road Diet Pilot Program. The public may keep up to date and share input on the Parkway Avenue Safety website.

 

See more information on how road diets work, the benefits they provide, and New Jersey case studies: