Meet the people who watch out for you while you are out and about
It’s the summer holidays – a time when the roads are often quieter… but also a time when getting to your destination on time, particularly if you are heading for a day out or to the airport, can be crucial.
It’s also a time when highway authorities and utility companies take advantage of lower traffic levels and better weather to do disruptive repairs and improvements.
So who can help you get where you are going and tell you if there’s a problem on your route… read on.
Imagine having a job that involves 61 cameras on county council roads and another 12 on Highways England routes, 3,000 miles of road, traffic queues, an eagle eye view of some dreadful driving manoeuvres and occasional police chases and monitoring the 52,000 cars that use Oxford’s Southern Bypass every day.
Meet the council’s nerve centre for monitoring traffic in the county giving Oxfordshire County Council the information it needs to pass on to the public about the traffic hotspots on any given moment of any given day – and helping with the crucial job of keeping the county moving and contributing to supporting our thriving local economy.
Amy and Naveed – two of our traffic systems operators spend their working lives on the roads without ever leaving the office. They’re the two members of the county council’s traffic control team who watch the cameras and make sure prompt information is given to those who deliver online and broadcast traffic monitoring – including BBC Radio Oxford.
Broken lights, breakdowns and chases
As Amy explains: “We usually have our first chat with the BBC at 7am while we are getting up to date with what the cameras are showing on the main routes and then get ready for the first peak traffic time of the day.
“Sometimes it can be busy but all the roads run reasonably smoothly and on other days you can see some interesting things unfold on the roads.
“We have seen some awful driving and even a police chase. But most of the time we can see traffic building up as we head towards the peak times and pick up problems that might escalate, such as broken traffic lights or breakdowns.”
Keeping Oxfordshire moving
The combination of Amy, Naveed, the banks of screens at the council’s highways office in Kidlington and the traffic cameras strategically placed across Oxfordshire help keep people informed and keep Oxfordshire moving with the help of the BBC’s traffic and travel reporter Al Ryan.
Al said: “The working relationship we have here, as well as the technology, really makes all the difference.
“Thanks to the bank of screens I can see pictures from up to 53 cameras at any one time right across the county. And thanks to Amy and Naveed and the links they have with Highways England and the police I get excellent first hand information the moment it comes in.
“I can also easily call across to the traffic signals team if a listener contacts me about a set of traffic lights that aren’t working and I also get to hear about unexpected road closures.
“One major advantage of being based here is that I can get important messages out that the council know will help people. A great example of that was during the winter when the county council teams were out in all weathers gritting and ploughing snow. They were also sending back information on road conditions and any routes that were impassable so that I could tell the listeners to avoid them.”
Busiest road in Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire’s road network is almost 3,000 miles long there’s a massive amount of people travelling at the busiest times. The Southern bypass in Oxford is the busiest county council controlled road in Oxfordshire with a peak of almost 52,000 cars using that route alone on an average day.
Naveed explained: “One of the most useful things you can have at your disposal as a commuter is information.
“Knowing what the roads are like not just where you are, but also a mile or two further on, can be invaluable. And if you know there’s a problem on your route before you even set off you can alter your plans so that you don’t get stuck.”
The team use a combination of traffic cameras which display live images on the screens in their Kidlington base, information from web-based services Tom Tom Live and Waze. And, while these are helpful, they don’t always show the same things so some quick work is done to check before deciding to warn listeners. Tom Tom, for instance, gets its information from its own Sat Navs that are in people’s cars and if someone parks up for a while with the Sat Nav still on that can show up as a long delay.
Naveed has been a professional driver for a number of years with the Royal Mail and still keeps his hand in with the occasional weekend shift for the NHS transporting doctors and health care professionals to people are unable to leave their home. His advice for anyone thinking of making a longer journey, particularly if it’s somewhere you are unfamiliar with is simple.
He explains: “Be prepared, know where you are going and plan your journey. You never know when you could be delayed, particularly if you are travelling further afield on the motorways. Have a torch in your boot, make sure your water and oil is topped up and your phone is charged. And think about pre-setting the tuning on your radio to the local stations that are along your route if you are going a long way so you can listen the local traffic news.”
The saying “you are not in traffic, you are traffic” may be true, but that’s not much consolation when you are heading off to work. That’s why the BBC traffic reports are an important tool for the county council and drivers.
Keep your eyes on these routes
The usual areas to watch in Oxfordshire include the A34 from Bicester to Chilton, A44 from Peartree to Wolvercote, A40 Witney to Oxford and Abingdon Road in Oxford. However, because the county council and utility companies often have to carry out repairs and improvements on the roads, Amy and Naveed, also make sure that things like the Woodstock Road work in Oxford is highlighted to Radio Oxford listeners.
But the job isn’t just about relaying information via the media. They also monitor the impact of work and traffic management on the wider local roads and report back to the people on site. It’s not always possible to change things, but when minor tweaks can help and are possible – such as giving longer green time on temporary traffic lights to specific directions at certain times of day – the site teams always try.
Knowing that delays are because important work is being done such as road resurfacing on a major route or fixing a water main so that local communities don’t lose their supply can help reduce stress levels, even if only slightly, when you are sat in a jam.