As part of my role I spend a lot of time travelling around the country visiting operational sites and suppliers. During my travels it has been interesting to observe how things change during the seasons and also the effect of changes in the economic climate. Longer grass on verges and in open spaces is to be expected as local authorities look to save money by changing cutting regimes. This is not really a problem as long as frequencies are adhered to, it just may not look as manicured as it used to. This situation, however, becomes a bit more critical when you look at the maintenance of sites adjacent to high speed roads and motorways.
There are several areas where I have noticed a significant change over the last few years in grass cutting, road signage, gully cleaning, hedge cutting and in particular the maintenance of sight lines. It is my understanding that when working next to a busy carriageway where the speed limit is 50mph or above, there should be adequate signage in place to warn drivers. On higher speed routes and central reservations this will involve traffic management and possibly lane closure.
Worryingly, on several occasions I have seen individuals litter picking and cutting grass at the edge of motorways with nothing more than their hi-vis and a van on the hard shoulder with its hazard lights on to protect them. This doesn’t exactly look like a safe working practice to me! I appreciate that coning off the hard shoulder and/or having a lane closure vehicle and mobile safety barrier in place is expensive for a litter picking or grass cutting operation, but what price do you put on the safety of your staff? Even when lanes have been closed off to protect the workforce I am aware of several incidents where impatient drivers have driven through cones to beat the traffic, in the worst example, by a police car!
Another indicator of cost cutting affecting road safety is the decreasing standards in sight line maintenance, such as grass at the edge of junctions where when the grass is tall it is very easy to lose sight of a cyclist, especially if the road joins at a lower level. If you ever travel on the A46 towards Coventry you will notice that prior to the slip road to Kenilworth there are several spectacular skid marks probably caused by drivers seeing the exit sign at the last moment as it is obscured by overhanging branches – an accident waiting to happen. Similarly, overgrown hedges can obscure sight lines and road signs. The majority of rural hedges are usually well maintained and when cut by professionals are an impressive feature of the landscape. But, when done badly or left for several years between cuts it can look like they’ve been attacked by a helicopter – and it’s a pity the finishing touches around telegraph poles and road signs always seem to get missed off.
Reducing maintenance frequencies is all well and good in an effort to save costs but when it starts to endanger the lives of road users and workers on the roads, some common sense must apply. Maybe those making the decisions on roadside maintenance should drive the routes they are responsible for and look at the hazards from the motorist’s perspective. Sat Navs may make road signs redundant for many, but they don’t tell you what’s coming round the corner. Just behind that overgrown hedge you can’t see past as you edge into the main road, BANG, there’s a motorbike!
Group Head of Fleet and Assets