Social distancing – it’s the new buzz word. I’m loathed to use new phrases, buzz words, etc, but unfortunately in this new climate of invisible viruses that cause the entire world to grind to a halt, we can’t afford to stick our heads in the sand and ignore a simple precaution that can help save lives.

Unfortunately, social distancing is also here to stay. There is clear evidence (see the referenced articles at the bottom of this article) that governments around the world are hurriedly working through ideas to temporarily implement this during lockdowns. There is no reason to believe that this will not filter into the temporary traffic management industry once we can get back to building things. There is no magic solution to the virus that sees the world (or even New Zealand) returning to ‘normal’ anytime soon. So, how do we, in the temporary traffic management industry adapt and account for the need to maintain social distancing through our work sites?

It’s going to require lateral thinking, and engagement with Road Controlling Authorities (RCA’s) – they’ll need to approve and encourage consistency across their areas to ensure that everyone is following the same guidelines. Clear and concise direction from NZTA may not come quickly through CoPTTM change notifications – we as practitioners might just have to navigate this with sound risk-based thinking ourselves.

What are the options though? Well, it’s the wild west out there now, this is the time to come up with innovative solutions and present them to NZTA and the RCA’s as potential options. Everyone keeps talking about businesses needing to pivot to meet the new situation (ugh, and there I go again using buzz words!) – this is our opportunity to move in a new direction and be prepared to meet the new needs of the industry. Don’t be bogged down thinking things will return to ‘normal’, this won’t happen any time soon, and when they do, your business will be out-of-business if it hasn’t adapted.

But anyway, enough doom and gloom, what options do we have out there? Well, the rule of social distancing is that people need to keep 2m minimum away from each other. So, that’s a good start.

Keeping people completely separated would be even better:

  • What about utilising one side of the road for one direction of pedestrian traffic, and the other side of the road for the opposite direction?
  • Better yet, to keep pedestrians from having to potentially cross busy roads, what about wider temporary footpaths that are separated with a ‘lane’ for each direction of pedestrian travel?
  • Alternatively, we could give more jobs to those that have lost theirs and provide more Traffic Controllers at a site who actually stop pedestrians at each end and allow only one direction to travel through at a time? Much like a stop/go operation for vehicular traffic.
  • Taking that a step further, gates at each end would save the labour cost and automate the entire process.

 

Regardless of what options are ultimately standardised across the industry, we can expect to see more use of pedestrian fencing systems, bigger closure areas to accommodate widened temporary footpaths, and more Traffic Controllers on site to help control people movement.

These are just a few ideas I’ve had this morning while contemplating this issue. I look forward to seeing the many other innovative ideas out there, once people have accepted the reality of the current (and ongoing) situation.

 

Reference articles:

Calgary Herald – Canada

NBC Philidelphia – USA

Newshub – New Zealand