Most people would agree that the number of cars on our roads is increasing while funding and support for new roads is decreasing. Greater traffic volumes, congestion, and accidents concern many drivers and land owners on our roads. If we are not building new roads to accommodate this traffic, we must find another way to manage the cars.
Can we make our roadways safer and more efficient through better design and regulation? The answer is yes, when good access management is applied to our roads.
How serious is the need for Access Management? In a rough, conservative estimate, the yearly number of access related accidents is 5.5 million nationally. More than 21,000 of these accidents, or about 404 a week, are fatal. This number of fatal access accidents is about equivalent to 2 DC-9 plane crashes a week. Access accidents across the country could be reduced by 30 percent to 50 percent through access management. In order to reduce accidents, we need to recognize the magnitude of access-related accidents although they do not necessarily occur in the same place.
The goal of access management is to encourage the safe and efficient flow of traffic. This goal is achieved through the regulation of driveways, medians, median openings and traffic signals. Good access management results in fewer accidents, increased capacity and reduces travel time on our roads. Access management allows our roads to handle more cars without decreasing the level of service or building new roads.
Access management not only improves safety and traffic flows, it can decrease the costs associated with access accidents. Each year, 11 million vehicles are involved in access accidents; 2.8 million people are injured; 900,000 passengers are injured, 300,000 of whom are children under 15 years. The cost (losses) of access related accidents is estimated at $90 billion.
How does access management accomplish these goals? The regulation of traffic movements limits the number of places where cars traveling in different directions cross. Each intersection of different driving movements is called a conflict point. Conflict points frequently occur at intersections, driveways on busy roads, or places where drivers make left hand turns across traffic. The more conflict points present on a road, the greater the number of accidents on the road. Access management reduces the number of conflict points and separates the remaining points so drivers have to deal with only one conflict at a time. This allows drivers more space to anticipate and react to conflicts.
Conflict points are controlled through permits for access to a main road, by road improvements for better design, and cooperation between local governments to plan for the safe development of their roads. New Jersey adopted the State Highway Access Management Code in April of 1992. This code applies the principles of access management to all state roads. It also allows county and municipal governments to work with the Department of Transportation to develop local access management plans. When the municipal, county and state institutions work together to develop access management plans or policy, the results are more likely to be coherent and effective. Access management must fit into the overall picture of planning, zoning and land use in order to achieve its goals. When the different levels of government agree on common goals and work together to develop plans, the overall planning process is more integrated. As more communities adopt access plans, the effects of good access management are seen across the state.
Mercer County is beginning to develop a county access code. Similar to the state access code, the county access code will apply to roads under county jurisdiction. This code will address the safety and efficiency concerns in the county. The county access code will be developed through a public process and will build on previous codes and adapted to address specific local needs and concerns.
Access management is being more widely used as its benefits become clear. As more planning is done across various levels of government, we can expect safer, more efficient roadways in our communities.
All statistics were provided by Phil Demosthenes of the Colorado Department of Transportation; they are rough conservative estimates for national, annual access related accidents.