This guest post has been contributed by Michael Selfe, a member of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation’s Road User Campaign. The Campaign’s objective is to improve the quality of travel by road in the United Kingdom, especially on the country’s main roads. We will be publishing regular contributions by Campaign members who will share their personal views and thoughts about motoring.
When you are next driving on a motorway take an occasional glance at the hard shoulder [the strip of road beside the slow lane] and notice how many vehicles are parked on it. You will see very very few. Even if a vehicle has taken refuge and awaits recovery, there is often an unused patch of land nearby which could be made into a layby. Surely the answer to the problem of congestion on some of our motorways is staring us in the face?These hard shoulders are built as strongly as the road and could be used at peak times when congestion is severe. However, we must never forget that their primary purpose is to provide a safe haven for broken down vehicles, and access for the police and others to get to accidents. On the M42 South of Birmingham, a pilot is taking place which combines both roles: the hard shoulder is now used for traffic at peak times, while still providing a safe refuge in times of need. This is very sucessful but expensive with frequent gantries, constant monitoring, and construction of extensive laybys to provide safe refuge in case of breakdown when the hard shoulder is in use as a running lane. This trial could be extended, with safeguards such as always having a lower speed limit on the hard shoulder and inner lane when they are in use. And of course the hard shoulder only need be used to keep vehicles flowing at a reasonable speed when traffic is heavily congested or at a standstill. This in itself can can reduce pollution and cut accidents.
Opening the hard shoulder as a running lane does not prevent widening at a later date when funds are there.
This is a very new way of using the hard shoulder in the UK, though it has proved successful in other European countries and the M42 trial is going well.
As drivers what are your views ? Would you like to see the pilot extended to other parts of the UK motorway network?