Who’s on first?


Optimising capacity of a road network through traffic incident management is a key strategy to managing congestion. With the realisation that it is not feasible or affordable to build our way out of congestion has come an interest in finding smarter ways of maintaining a given level of service.

However, congestion management may not be a core issue for all organisations involved in network operations and incident management. Public safety agencies are concerned about collecting evidence and fire and rescue cultures have a strong worker safety bias – and getting traffic moving is not a primary objective.

Evolving roles
Many road and traffic agencies are evolving from being solely a road asset manager, to becoming a network operator and taking on responsibility for traffic management, with the specific aims of improving journey time reliability and safety and reducing the impact of roads on the environment.

Previously, that meant most of the investment tended to go into improving the asset, not how it was operated, now there is renewed interest in investments in procedural or network operational areas. Incident management also involves multi-agency stakeholders.

This requires the alignment of stakeholder priorities and responsibilities, aiming to embed business drivers to ensure a common direction. An example is the adoption of an open roads or quick clearance policy a regional level. Then responders within diverse stakeholder organisations need to be fully aware of both their roles and those of others.

Incidents and congestion
A large proportion of congestion (see Cost of Traffic Incidents), particularly non-recurrent congestion, is incident-related. Faster, more effective incident response can therefore have a major impact on improving journey reliability.

In the event of a serious collision police will want to investigate thoroughly just what has gone on as there may be a potential criminal investigation, and the longer the investigation takes the worse the congestion which results can be.

There is technology available which can significantly reduce the time taken to carry out crash investigations and re-open the road, but there is little incentive for the police to invest in it because it doesn’t align with their key objectives.

In a number of jurisdictions the road agency has taken a lead role in championing new technology and procedures, advocating the benefits and assisting with funding or building the case for shared funding.

Quick clearance is the key to success in incident management but each organisation involved in managing and operating roads needs to be clear as to what its responsibilities are and what the others are doing.

For traffic incident management to be successful involves policy and institutional alignment:

  1. alignment of responder agency core objectives
  2. having incentives to drive organisational behaviour, such as key performance measures that are regularly reported and
  3. a clear understanding by all on the benefits of quick clearance.


‘Who’s on first’ – Abbot & Costello comedy routine

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