They made the person responsible for this BMW sign their name on the back. Well, you wouldn’t want anyone to find out who you were, would you?
They made the person responsible for this BMW sign their name on the back. Well, you wouldn’t want anyone to find out who you were, would you?
Do you remember the M6 closure due to a bus fire on 11 April? I do. I was held up for three hours in the traffic jam which ensued. So I emailed Highways England (HE) as follows:
I was one of the drivers delayed by over three hours yesterday on the M6 southbound between Congleton and Sandbach due to the bus fire. What I don’t understand, or appreciate, is the lack of communication which could have prevented me joining the motorway in the first place, thereby adding to your problems and ruining my day.
At the point of entry (Junction 17) at about 11.15 there was no warning of the congestion ahead and traffic had not backed up to that point to give me a visual clue. As soon as I joined the carriageway I met the congestion. I counted two overhead message boards during my journey which were both blank.
They could have informed drivers of an estimated delay time, diversion arrangements or the fact that all traffic would be leaving the motorway at the next junction. This latter arrangement was not signed at all – drivers were just left to see it for themselves. Much lane changing was the result of drivers guessing what was happening.
You let us down badly that day. And not for the first time. I regularly encounter situations on our motorways where information is inadequate or not provided. I appreciate that motorways are fast changing environments but you are supposed to be professional and competent in managing traffic. I remain to be convinced.
This was HE’s reply:
[May I] take a moment to explain a little about the type of signs that we set on the motorway network.
There are two roles fulfilled by the Variable Message Signs (VMS) in use on the Motorway Network; ’tactical signals’ that warn of incidents less than 5km (or two junctions) ahead of you, or ‘strategic signals’ that warn of issues beyond the range of tactical signals.
The tactical signals are set by the appropriate Regional Control Centre (RCC) based on information provided by the maintenance contractor, traffic officers on the ground, data feeds or from CCTV observations. These are the signs that warn of ‘Debris’ or ‘Workforce in the Road’; immediate dangers to the road user.
The strategic signals are set using pre-set signing plans by our National Traffic Information Centre (NTIC). The strategic signs are put in place to warn long-distance travellers that their chosen route may be compromised and giving these road users the opportunity to choose an alternative. They use a combination of pre-supplied plans from contractors and data from the RCCs.
These are set when the closure is confirmed from the roadside, as each closure is confirmed; signs are set for each closure.
We do not have any strategic VMS placed on slip roads or roundabouts prior to entering the motorway, so are unable to warn drivers that way. By the time you had entered at J17, it was ‘too late’ for the use of strategic warning signs as traffic was already committed to their route, and there was no alternative available. This was compounded by the fact that there are several VMS that are out of action between J17-J16 due to the ongoing Smart Motorways work (J16-J19). VMS closer to the incident were working, but were being used for safety-critical tactical messages, which were in place to help with queue control.
I replied asking why there are not strategic signs warning motorist at the point of entry. It seems contrary to everything Highways England purport to stand for to allow motorists to join a well established, lengthy traffic jam. The incident was one hour old when I joined the motorway.
This was HE’s further response:
The main reason that we cannot place VMS on motorway roundabouts or slip roads is that we are prohibited from doing so by the Department for Transport (DFT), due to the potential safety implications.
We do not want to place motorists in a position where they may decide to switch lanes on a busy roundabout at the last minute, or even turn around on a slip road – which has happened on occasion. This obviously raises several safety concerns. You may have noticed that at certain locations there are speed VMS just prior to joining the motorway, unfortunately this is the most we can do.
Another problem that we have is that in most cases, motorway roundabouts do not come under the jurisdiction of Highways England, instead being looked after by the local council. It is down to the local council to instal their own VMS on any appropriate feeder roads.
The M6 through Cheshire is now high on my list of motorways to avoid (joined by the M25 and most of the M1). And Highways England? Well I agree with Jeremy Clarkson.
This was clearly a very topical subject locally – our meeting on 28 June had been advertised in the Congleton Chronicle, and we had 62 people there, of whom 22 were visitors, and so we had to do a quick shuffle to move out of the small side room at Astbury Village Hall into the main hall.
John Philips, the Project Manager, and Arun Sahni, both civil engineers for Highways England who are working on the project to convert the stretch of the M6 from junction 16 to junction 19 into a ‘smart motorway’, came to talk to us about the work involved.
Arun started off by explaining with the help of pictures and graphics some of the civil engineering and technology that goes into such a huge project. The work on the J16-J19 length of the M6 was originally scheduled to take two years, but unforeseen problems such as the discovery of a huge wall of concrete buried underground alongside the carriageways near J19 had added considerably to the timescale – this concrete all had to be dug up because the new surfacing would be made of flexible material, so could not be laid on a solid base. The old concrete had all been recycled, so that some of it would be used in the current construction and some used elsewhere. Highways England was able to report that 98% of the waste from the site had been recycled and re-used on the same project.
Incidentally, Arun informed us that when this new technology was originally proposed, the term used was ‘Managed Motorways’, but the Transport Minister at the time used the term ‘Smart Motorways’ and unfortunately this inaccurate description – the motorway itself doesn’t do anything – stuck.
Highways England manages 1,700 miles of motorway and 2,700 miles of trunk roads in the UK, which still only comprises 2.4% of the entire road network. Traffic density is forecast to increase by 44% by the year 2035, which is why they have to try to increase road capacity wherever possible. Converting the hard shoulder means the road can carry more vehicles without impacting on the environment, as no additional land is needed.
Several years ago, the M42 around the outskirts of Birmingham became the pilot motorway during peak hours for what was then called Dynamic Hard Shoulder Running. Traffic officers used cameras to check that the shoulder was clear before opening it to traffic, and if there was any obstruction at all they put a red cross on the gantry for that lane, with arrows to move traffic across into the live lanes. Gantries were constructed at intervals of 500m or less to facilitate early warnings of problems. It was found that journey times improved by up to 24%, and the personal injury accident rate dropped by 55.7%. Noise and pollution levels also went down, as traffic was no longer crawling or stop-starting in the worst areas. It was noticed, however, that only 12% of the vehicles that could use the hard shoulder were actually using it, presumably because people didn’t understand how it worked.
The new term for the stretch through our area is ‘all-lane running’, where what used to be the hard shoulder is in use all of the time provided there are no obstructions, and there are refuges built in at approximately one- to one-and-a-quarter-mile intervals for vehicles to pull into if they or their passengers have problems. The matrix signs will usually overhang lane 1 where there are no gantries. They will show open lanes in yellow, closed ones in red, arrows to direct traffic into adjoining lanes, advisory or compulsory speed limits, and have two lines at the bottom of the sign for a limited amount of written information (restricted to 12 characters per line).
Highways England have commissioned about 100 miles of ‘smart motorway’ so far, and have installed cameras that provide 140% coverage of the carriageway area – the reason for the over-capacity is that if a camera breaks down there should always be other cameras to cover the same area. The cameras also have infra-red lenses so that the operators can see equally well at night in rural areas like Cheshire, where there is no road lighting. Highways England operate their own cctv coverage of the stretch at their Sandbach HQ because the existing camera network has had to be taken out of commission.
John then took over to talk about the work being carried out on existing structures such as over- and under-bridges, many of which are at least 50 years old now and suffering decay caused by road salt. The opportunity was being taken to survey all such structures, carry out repairs, and add protection for the future. All of the existing drainage system was equally old and time-expired, so it had to be replaced and extended to cope with the extra width of the carriageways. The new lanes had to be moved across as much as possible so that the new infrastructure could be fitted into the left side of the existing hard shoulder. The new lanes 1 and 2 would be the same width as the present ones, but the new lane 3 would be narrower than the existing one, and lane 4 would be narrower still, as lorries and coaches would not be allowed into that lane in normal circumstances.
In order to fit the four lanes in where there were only three plus a narrower hard shoulder previously, some space also had to be stolen from the central reservation, which meant that both the shoulder and the central reserve had to be strengthened to withstand having traffic running on them constantly. The old steel central barrier was being replaced by a concrete one, which was either created on site by a machine or could be brought in ready for installation. The method used depended to a certain extent on the road layout – bends were easier to cope with using the machine that made the barrier as it went along.
The work on the J16-J19 stretch commenced (rather appropriately) in March 2016, and was now due to finish in March 2019. This 30km length of carriageway carried some 120,000 vehicles a day, and current statistics showed that 60% of cars that broke down in the roadworks area were moved within 30 minutes. Sixty-five HGVs had broken down or stopped in the same section during the work period to date, often due to their digital tachograph systems running out.
The next section of the M6 in this area to be converted will be from J15 to J13, but that work will not commence until the current stretch is finished and working.
OUR PRIZE-WINNERS FOR 2017
Councillor Olivia Hunter, Mayor of Cheshire East, presented the Spirit of Ecstasy Trophy for the Best Car Associate on Test to Phil Hughes (left, above).
Sareda Dirir, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, presented the Mullock Shield for the runner-up in that category to John Sherratt.
The Bentley Trophy for the Best Young Driver on Test was won by Richard Greatorex, who was away at university, so Councillor David Brown, Congleton Town Mayor, presented it to his father.
Sarah Sillars, Chief Executive Officer of iAM RoadSmart, presented the Best Biker Trophy to Andy Lumley. On his Advanced Riding Test, Andy achieved our Motorcycle Section’s first iAM F1rst pass.
Our 2017 Annual General Meeting, held on Wednesday 26 April at Astbury Golf Club, was a great success and our key note speaker was CEO Sarah Sillars.
Sarah opened her keynote address to the AGM by commenting that she was both impressed and energised by the commitment of iAM RoadSmart’s volunteers. Out of 92,000 RoadSmart members, 5,000 were active volunteers. (The Trustees were volunteers, too.)
It was a measure of the iAM’s standing that we were the only road safety charity invited on to the Department for Transport Minister’s Forum. The Minister had told Sarah, ‘Don’t tell me what we need [to have or to do to improve road safety]: you take control and do what you can about it.’
Our commercial customers included BP, E.ON and the Health and Safety Executive. We were the nation’s biggest provider of road safety rehabilitation courses: we were in effect a ‘Driver Retraining Academy’.
Sarah introduced the different skill levels of learning a foreign language as a parallel to what we need to provide for drivers and riders. Our Advanced Tests were the equivalent of degree-level language studies. But just as many people going overseas wanted only enough language skill to be able to get around in another country, so many of our potential customers wanted only to improve their driving or riding, without having to go all the way to Advanced Test level. These people didn’t want our present product: we needed to offer lower levels of guidance as well, which would make us more accessible.
Modular training courses would help us to achieve this: we must maintain our standards, but communicate with more people. Sarah’s target was that we should raise our number of ‘involved’ members to 121,000 this year.
Before Sarah became CEO, the IAM had a 23-page strategy document. Now, our strategy was defined in seven bullet points.
At present, while 95% of drivers and riders among the general public thought they were good or very good, we had only 4% market recognition. Sarah was emphatic that this needed to improve. We needed to move online with a popular site like Mumsnet and Gransnet to attract interest from the wider road-using public. We needed to capture not just the ‘Saturday and Sunday evening’ market, but the ‘Monday to Thursday evening’ market as well. As part of this process, we were introducing new online training modules.
Overall, Sarah set out a prospect of a refreshed and re-energised iAM, and after the meeting she expressed her appreciation of our members’ positive support of the direction we are moving in.
I have been re-reading the 1974 impression of Roadcraft. There is much to be found in these old motoring books. One section I like (which has subsequently been dropped) is entitled ‘Linkages of Controls’. It is introduced with the following statement (pages 8 and 9):
‘Drivers already know the following controls, but they should always consider them in combinations of two.’
It then lists (and I paraphrase):
I find that linking controls encourages a smoother drive because it encourages flow, and flow depends on good timing… which needs accurate planning.
Another link which I find useful is linking first gear with the nearside door mirror. When I engage first gear it is often because I intend to move off and, just before I do, it is usually appropriate to check all round starting with the nearside door mirror – the famous ‘three-mirror take-off’. The position of first gear is a physical reminder to look in that direction, towards the nearside mirror.
It is also good to link dipped headlights with the use of windscreen wipers. Can you think of any others??
We have arranged a slow riding session on Sunday 30 April for group members, invited bike groups and friends. It will take place on the large car park at Bentley Motors, Pyms Lane, Crewe, starting at 10.00 am, and will last approximately 2 to 2½ hours.
It will be interesting and fun, and will certainly test your slow riding skills. We have ample car park space, allowing for a number of practice courses, which will ensure maximum opportunity and time to practice and very little ‘waiting your turn’.
The session will again be led by Gary Green: he’ll provide briefings and explanations on how to control and turn the bike at slow speed, demonstrate the techniques to ride courses like the slalom, figure of eight, and right-angle turns, etc, and then help everyone as you have a go yourself. Even if you’ve been before you can always brush up your skills, particularly if you’ve changed your bike.
I enjoy watching Formula 1 (when it’s on a terrestrial channel!), and one day would have liked to go to Silverstone to actually be there. Only the crowds put me off. So I was particularly grateful to my family for sending Robert (my son) and me to have a guided tour of the circuit.
A two-hour tour starts in the Visitors’ Centre. Guests are divided into groups of about 10, taken to a minibus and driven around some of the areas that are difficult to reach on foot.
The British Racing Drivers’ Clubhouse and library, and the impressive medical centre (a fully equipped hospital), were particularly memorable.
Then we were driven to the corporate entertainment area, media centre, race control (fully equipped with television screens covering the whole circuit), commentary boxes, pit lane and garages. In the garages Robert and I were distracted by two shiny new cars. Neither of us recognised the model but the make is well known. As the guide was telling us about the garages, a security officer came to our group and told us to leave immediately. That particular garage was closed for secret testing of the cars Robert and and I were viewing: I can say no more!
We stood in the pit lane outside Lewis Hamilton’s garage and studied the marks on the ground (some of which are not visible on television) that guide the driver and the mechanics to exactly where the car will be when it comes in for a tyre change. The mechanics train all year, with a particular emphasis on upper-body strength to operate the power tools quickly and accurately. They are athletes in their own right.
Then we went to the drivers’ briefing room (and sat in Lewis Hamilton’s seat), before making our way to the drivers’ podium (via the trophy room), where the obligatory photograph standing on the winner’s rostrum had to be taken. [Why aren’t you waving your arms in triumph, Tim?]
Our guide had worked at Silverstone for many years. He was entertaining and informative. On race day, one of his jobs is to collect Bernie Ecclestone from the helipad and take him wherever he wishes to go.
Finally, as an extra, we had a ride on the international circuit with a racing driver in an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. We enjoyed two laps on a greasy circuit where the driver enjoyed exploring the limit of grip as much as flat-out speed.
A most enjoyable trip, which I recommend.
by ‘Spanish Jon’
Twelve bikes recently returned from a stunning trip to the Picos in Northern Spain, organised by Graham. Eight of us had our partners as pillion, so there were twenty of us in total, on a wide variety of machines. We all left home on Tuesday 27 September, with all but one of us arriving in Spain on the Santander ferry, as planned, the next day…. Exactly why one of us missed the ferry is another story involving a lost passport and a kind postwoman, but perhaps best ‘left on tour’.
Brittany Ferries bill this 24-hour crossing from Portsmouth rather optimistically as a cruise. The Pont Aven is their current flagship, and is certainly a very big and upmarket ferry (at 184m long/2,400 passengers/250 cars). The infamous Bay of Biscay was kind to us and we had calm crossings in both directions, with plenty of time to get to know each other better in the bars and restaurants.
We had booked a hotel near Potes, arriving there on Wednesday evening after a short 1½-hour ride from the port. Our instructions for Thursday were simple and very civilized – assemble in the hotel car park with full tanks and be ready to leave at 10 am.
To get us in the mood, Graham took us on a ‘tyre and sump warmer’ up to the Mirador viewing point at over 1,500m altitude on the N-621 mountain pass. For Picos newbies like your correspondent, this was something of a shock, without doubt the most technically challenging road I had ever ridden. (‘Had,’ note: Graham soon found many more….) Not predictable like the more famous Italian passes where a left bend usually follows a right as you ascend, but sprinkled with blind corners, often tightening into 180º hairpins, no traffic but random cows higher up, all clearly well trained to leave their smelly deposits just out of sight around corners. Above the winter snow-line even the Spanish don’t maintain their road surfaces as well, so there was also some loose surface, but no UK-style potholes. Unfortunately, the pass was closed for repairs just before its highest point, blocking a key route out from Potes for us for the entire holiday and necessitating some major route re-planning by Graham.
After stopping to admire the statue and views we set off for the Fuente De cable car where we had lunch at the 1800m high station, which has simply stunning views over the Picos.
Then it was off to Covadonga through ‘The Gorge” and down ‘The Blue Railing Road’ (our names for these favourite sections of the AS-114). Because of the closed pass we got to know these roads very well.
We have nothing like them in the UK. ‘The Gorge’, while not as extreme as the Mirador, is tight and technical, right up against a towering rock face on one side and a plummeting drop the other as it snakes its way down the side of the said gorge through amazing scenery a biker like me dares barely glance at. The Blue Railing Road, on the other hand, is fast and sweeping with long wide open bends that go on for ever (well, at least 15 km) with the alarming drop at its outer edge protected by – you guessed it – blue railings.
Friday took us to Riaño for lunch. En route we used another pass, the Puerta de Piedrasluengas, and took in the views over the Liébana valley from its viewing point before stopping for coffee in Cervera de Pisuerga. This route also introduced us to ‘The Corkscrew’ (P-215), which needs no further explanation. Riaño itself sits on the shore of a massive artificial reservoir created in the 1980s by damming the Esla River to deliver hydroelectric power. The builders thoughtfully constructed excellent roads and bridges across the water, clearly just for bikers like us to enjoy. Certainly there were very few cars to get in our way. Because of the closed pass we were forced to use the Blue Railing Road and the Gorge to get home. Such a trial.
Saturday took us on our longest ride so far, to the excellent lunch stop we had discovered in Riaño (thanks Den), but this time via Cangas where many of us had a rather long, unscheduled stop chatting to some natives (remember, what goes on tour, stays on tour). After lunch it was Puerto de Tarna on the CL635 and down the ‘bumpy road’ (we are nothing if not original, and Graham likes to find at least one track…) to Puebla de Lillo on the LE-333. On to Boñar for a fuel stop before a faster journey home using an unusually straight piece of road (for us), the CL-626.
As we passed through Guardo on our return we happened on a helpfully totally unsigned and brand new roundabout over the crest of a small rise. As we unwittingly approached we were all perhaps guilty of some target fixation on a horribly gravel-strewn lay-by exit, right on a corner (note to non- bikers: we really hate gravel on bends). The gravel was the clue to the hidden roundabout construction. No sooner were we scanning distance again
but we were on a roundabout from nowhere. In my mirrors I saw confused bikes going in all directions as we tried to navigate the new construction. Happily there was no drama and an orderly line continued over the mountain to home.
After the long day on Saturday, we had a gentler and shorter sightseeing day on Sunday, via the Gorge and the Blue Railing Road (sigh) to the coast and Ribadesella.
Here we spent two hours exploring the town, some of us enjoying a vintage car and truck display on the quayside before heading on the N-634 back to Cangas and on to the pink limestone Basilica at Covadonga where we spent an hour exploring the magnificent building and having coffee.
Sadly, that was our last day: on Monday we started late and took the scenic route back to Santander and the ferry. We had ridden 1000 miles in 4 full days of riding on roads that we can only dream of in the UK; perfectly maintained, grippy tarmac with very little traffic, no rain and stunning scenery.
Add in the great company and banter and there was a great holiday. Thanks for the company of Graham ‘O Great Leader’ Board; Scott ‘Fruit Fly’ and Virginia Walker; ‘Top Gun’ Den and Andrea; Martin ‘Stephen Spielberg’ and Gill Barrett; Steve ‘Memory Man’ Gibson; Paul ‘Daddy Bear’ and daughter ‘Goldilocks’ Rogerson; Paul ‘Scouser’ and Gerry Burke; ‘Pistol’ Pete and Lin Maxwell; ‘Saxy’ Andy Homoky (he wishes…); ‘Gentleman’ John and Zoe Homoky; and Gerry ‘Waltzer’ Dodd and Joan.
A great trip!
‘I’ve learned that what has a good beginning needs also a good ending‘
Spoken by the hero, Adam Tremain – Day Taylor, The Black Swan
We spend time learning pre-driving safety checks to make sure all is well before we set off on a journey.
There are a number of model sequences to choose from. The DVSA suggest:
Other formulæ are more complicated, particularly if they were developed for use by the police (except the CID who, we are told, reduce the checks to ‘We’re in, we’re off!’).
Roadcraft has suggested drills on pages 255-258, and includes personal checks for the driver to consider on page 254. It certainly helps to create a positive start to an observed drive, as well as serving as an important safety function, if you spend a moment running through some basic checks.
I used to find on driving home from work that my seat and mirrors occasionally needed adjusting to compensate for my natural tendency to slouch. Then, the following morning, re-adjusting because I naturally sat up more.
There seems to be less advice about what to do at the end of a journey.
A drive, whether observed or not, is not concluded until the vehicle is parked, secured and the engine shut down. Often, the only reversing manœuvre on a drive is performed at the end, when the driver reverses into a parking bay.
It is very tempting to allow the relief of completing the drive (and parking) to overwhelm us, and the final securing of the car, switching off auxiliary controls, checking dials, etc, before stopping the engine can be rushed or random. Watch a professional musician at the conclusion of their performance. They will have practised what they do with their hands and instrument, how they stand, bow and walk off the stage, so that these basic logistics complement the performance.
It is important to spend a moment checking all is well before we leave the car, and taking pride in the standard of the whole drive.
[I have only learnt relatively recently, from Honest John in The Telegraph, that to avoid gumming-up the oilways in a turbocharger after an engine has been worked hard it is best to let the engine idle for a while before switching off – 30 sec after a long motorway run, up to 2 min after towing up ascents. No cool-down is needed after normal town driving. This takes me back to the idling time needed before shutdown after landing with big turbofan engines, which was usually covered by the taxi to the stand. Ed]
On Wednesday 22 June, our Group scored an IAM-wide ‘F1rst’ with a presentation by Bentley Motors of the marque’s history and the technology incorporated in modern luxury cars, together with an opportunity to view the Company’s new Bentayga SUV.
So far, fewer than 200 Bentaygas have been manufactured, including the development models. Instructors Steve Moore and Tim Oakes from Bentley Driver Training brought one along for us, and gave us a lively and skilful two-man coordinated talk.
The great English engineer W O Bentley founded his firm in 1919. His aim was to make ‘a fast car, a good car, the best in its class.’ He believed in racing, and Bentleys won at Le Mans in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930. Over the following decades, the Company had a very up-and-down history, but re-entered competition to win at Le Mans in 2003.
Bentley Motors is now owned by the Volkswagen Group, forming part of VW’s Sports and Luxury Brand Group, which includes Porsche and Bugatti. From producing around 1,500 cars a year when it was bought by VW, Bentley now has 4,000 employees worldwide, operates in 58 countries, and is producing around 14,000 cars a year.
The Bentayga has a six-litre twin-turbo W12 engine, built solely at Crewe. It produces around 530 bhp, yet in a steady motorway cruise, with one bank of six cylinders deactivated, can give up to 26 mpg. It is a practical vehicle: you can have it fitted with a towbar to take your luxury motor cruiser with you. Reversing with a trailer is no problem: the Trailer Assist facility uses a video screen and a knob on the dashboard to allow the driver to ‘point’ the trailer where he wants it to go, and the car will then steer itself accordingly.