Human factors and road design: an important combination given the road safety Nov 30, 2017
Prof. dr. Tom BRIJS
“Road safety is more than only infrastructure and safe vehicles. Among other things, the behaviour of road users becomes more important.” This was the starting point of the workshop Human Factors and Road Design in Utrecht (The Netherlands). A group of mobility experts from different domains participated in this event that had the intention to share knowledge about the creation of safe and great road designs. In addition, co-organiser Prof. Dr Tom Brijs (IMOB – UHasselt) had his own purpose: gaining more insight into the areas where there are knowledge gaps.
On September 21, 2017, the workshop Human Factors and Road Design took place in the LEF Future Centre in Utrecht. It was organized by VIO (Vereniging Infra Ontwerp – Association Infra Design) and Rijkswaterstaat. Together with a team of human factors specialists, a fascinating workshop was held that emphasized on real life examples of specific and complex road designs. Although there areseveral design guidelines, it is not always easy to put them into practice.
In theory, road design guidelines make sure that the road user can expect comparable traffic situations throughout the whole country. But in daily life, motorists, truck drivers, cyclists, etc. do not always know exactly what is expected of them. The human factor – how the coherence of design elements is experienced by the road user – plays a very important role in this. “There is no such thing as THE road user”, says Prof. Dr Tom Brijs (IMOB – UHasselt). “People act and react differently. That is why it is difficult to draw up one particular design that fits all.”
Before the start of the workshop, a number of participants indicated that, at this moment, the human factor is not always taken into account when a road design is being developed. Therefore, the event was an ideal opportunity to start training this skill. After traffic psychologist Chantal Merkx enthused everyone with her presentation on human factors, the participants were divided into four groups. Each group would deal with a specific case involving road design and human factors.
Three cases were related to the Dutch road infrastructure, namely (1) the parallel system of the A4/A15 Maasvlakte Vaanplein, (2) the taper merge of the A2 Hintham – A59 exit Rosmalen and (3) the Diverging Diamond Interchange in the province of Utrecht. Prof. Dr Tom Brijs of the Transportation Research Institute (IMOB – UHasselt) was the outsider of the group. For his case, the participants were asked to think about a traffic situation in Belgium, and more specifically in Flanders, that will change temporarily. In this casus, one of the four roads that lead to a roundabout will ,together with a part of the roundabout itself, be closed off. This means that a different solution must be found for through traffic. Three subgroups worked on this topic. Each group applied a different approach, but they all worked out a broad, but clear solution.
Conclusion of the day? The human factor is of great importance when implementing road designs, but it is not an easy fact. “Not a single road designer completely ignores the human aspects, but it is often not explicitly appointed. Its influence is thus implicitly present”, says Prof. Dr Tom Brijs (IMOB – UHasselt). “Furthermore, time pressure plays an important role. Road designer are lacking time to examine a design problem from different angles with regard to human factors.” Exchanging and updating the knowledge as well as increasing the awareness of the importance of human factors during workshops as these stays certainly at issue.