While much of the world stands anxiously, awaiting the pandemic to be quelled, construction is moving forward.
National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) is always an important celebration of our continued efforts of safety in the field but this year it seems more poignant than ever. At a time when we have limited control over an ominous threat, let’s focus on something that we have more control over, that has been threatening our construction industry and the public for decades. This year’s Federal Highway Administration NWZAW theme is “Safe Work Zones for All: Protect workers. Protect road users.”
With several hundred field staff, designers, and planners whose primary purpose is to improve the safety of the traveling public while safeguarding our own personnel, RS&H is acutely aware of the importance of safety so we are celebrating this week by looking back on lessons learned from one of our CEI projects in Key West, FL.
Supporting Safety Goals for All
The Governors Highway Safety Association estimates that pedestrian fatalities account for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities – a percentage that has risen alarmingly over the last decade. In the Florida Keys, where unfamiliar tourists and active locals wander back and forth between destinations, pedestrian safety is especially important.
In 2018, RS&H’s Marathon, FL CEI team was enlisted to partner with Florida Department of Transportation District 6 to manage a highly anticipated pedestrian safety project, the State Road (SR) 5/North Roosevelt Boulevard High-intensity Activated Cross Walks (HAWKs) construction project. The Department fast-tracked design of the project by nearly a year, due to encouragement from local law enforcement and City officials who were eager to improve the pedestrian safety along the bustling corridor.
“I am particularly proud of our work on this project,” said RS&H Senior Project Engineer Jacki Hart. “It was met initially with skepticism from the public, but in the end residents and drivers are happy with the final product, which improved pedestrian conditions immediately.”
The project included modifying five existing mid-block pedestrian crosswalks along SR 5/North Roosevelt Boulevard between the Triangle and 2nd Street in Key West. These high-profile crosswalks included full traffic controller systems, signals, conductor and conduit installations, structural uprights with drilled shafts, as well as maintenance of traffic for milling and resurfacing operations and striping.
Managing the Project and the Public
While crosswalks on North Roosevelt Boulevard were already in place, they did not operate at top efficiency because they weren’t managed by the pedestrian. Pedestrians would simply cross the street, resulting in near misses and sight problems for drivers.
The goal of the HAWK project was to provide pedestrians with control and improved crossing opportunities. Studies have shown that HAWKS significantly reduce pedestrian crashes in areas of high incidence. These crosswalks are managed by the pedestrian who can activate a red light, eliminating the option for drivers to blow through the crosswalk.
However, there were concerns from the public regarding traffic flow and even aesthetics. Adding stop lights along the corridor had the potential to back up traffic. Furthermore, the large structures required for the HAWK system threatened to interrupt the small corridor’s local vibe.
This made public outreach a significant part of RS&H’s construction and inspection management. Hart and her team, including Project Administrator Jackson Taylor as well as all field staff, communicated often with the public – at county commission meetings, through one-on-one meetings with local businesses, and every-day interaction with pedestrians while in the field.
Implementing a Safety Project, Safely
Setting expectations for travelers during and after construction was key to delivering a safe project. Meticulous construction phasing was used to minimize impacts to drivers and businesses. RS&H communicated regularly with the Department and public to keep everyone abreast of progress.
“Our goal was to make sure everyone – everyone – was on the same page,” Hart said, “including the Contractor’s Senior Management who was 4 hours away, the Department, the City and all stakeholders and of course the traveling public. This project had huge benefits and communication was key to both getting construction done on time and alleviating public concerns of negative impacts.”
With that, it was also important to educate the public on how these HAWK crosswalks would operate so that drivers and pedestrians knew what to expect once construction was complete. And, while the statistics speak for themselves – pedestrian safety has increased, rear-end collisions have decreased – the project might not have been met with such public acceptance if all parties hadn’t worked together to inform Keys’ locals of the changes to come.
Increasing Safety Concerns
As work zone and pedestrian safety continue to ring the alarm across the country, increasing concern from policy makers, DOTs, and construction personnel alike, RS&H continues to promote a culture of safety. We have made safety a top priority for the firm and are working to embed it in all aspects of our operations, even as we face a new, invisible threat in the form of COVID-19. To improve both construction and pedestrian safety statistics, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard through advanced training and continuous improvement, which is what RS&H strives to do.