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Dynamic Message Signs and Speed Radar Detectors Deployed to Address Special Events and Safety

Date:
September 17, 2020
Topics:
ITS, Resources

In Missouri, RDOs provide rural transportation planning services in areas not designated as MPOs under a contract from the Missouri DOT to the Missouri Association of Councils of Government. This partnership gives rural-serving RDOs an opportunity to identify transportation concerns and potential projects through ongoing outreach and dialogue among the local, regional, and state levels. In the northwestern part of the state, three RDOs have worked together to advance work in transportation safety across the jurisdictions they all serve. 

In 2015, Green Hills Regional Planning Commission (RPC), Mo-Kan Regional Council (Mo-Kan), and Northwest Missouri Regional COG (NWMORCOG) applied together for funding from the Northwest Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety to acquire a dynamic message sign that is shared among the RDOs (known collectively as RPCs in Missouri) and can be deployed in any of the communities they serve. A speed radar trailer and traffic counters are also available to be used across the three-RDO region, which encompasses 20 counties in northwest Missouri while Mo-Kan serves an additional two counties in Kansas. Recognizing the potential opportunities for DMS, Mo-Kan used a portion of its MoDOT planning grant to purchase an additional LED sign that has also has traffic counting capabilities in 2018.[i] 

Project Purposes

Area local governments can request to use the DMS to display notices for any special event or traffic disruption, as shown in the images on page 20. Local governments must complete an agreement to reserve the sign, pay a $250 deposit in case of damage, and pay a $50 maintenance fee and $0.50 per mile travel fee (which is deducted from the deposit upon return of the sign). The fee is waived if the intended purpose is safety or other public benefit. This allows rural, local governments to access an ITS asset with flexible applications for minimal cost. The speed radar trailer is available to local entities within the three-RDO service area under a similar arrangement.[ii]

An LED dynamic message sign is a flexible ITS asset available for local governments to communicate information for special events or ongoing issues such as safety in small communities that do not have their own law enforcement. Image courtesy Mo-Kan.

MoDOT or Kansas DOT are often responsible for the roads and right-of-way where local agencies and organizations seek to use the signs or speed radar trailer. As a result, when the RDOs receive a request to deploy one of their ITS assets, they coordinate with the state DOT about placement of the sign, duration, and the wording to be used.[iii] 

Whether owned by one RDO or jointly by three, having DMS and other assets such as the speed radar trailer available to local communities has been beneficial for a variety of applications. At times, these assets are used to address ongoing challenges, with messages about reducing speed in smaller towns that do not have their own local law enforcement. In other cases, the signs are used to manage temporary events, such as when flooding closed an interstate and trucks and other through-traffic had to pass by an elementary school on a detour route through a small town. For special events, such as the adventure cycling event Bike Across Missouri (BAM), air shows, and the total solar eclipse of 2017, the signs have been used to provide information on parking or amenities or to warn of slow traffic or other roadway conditions related to the events. During May, DMS has alerted motorists to bike-to-work month, with reminders of cyclists in the roadway and for motorists to share the road.[iv]

The DMS, speed radar trailer, and traffic counters can be used by themselves or in conjunction with another safety asset developed by Mo-Kan and the St. Joseph Area Transportation Statistical Organization (SJATSO). SJATSO serves as the MPO for the St. Joseph, Missouri urbanized area, which falls within the counties served by Mo-Kan.[v] Together, Mo-Kan and SJATSO applied to Northwest Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety for funding to develop the region’s first Safety and Innovation Mobile Lab to support pop-up safety demonstrations. The Safety and Innovation Mobile Lab trailer (shown in the image on page 21) contains materials that local agencies can use for temporary safety installations, allowing them to test out modifications such as traffic configurations such as bike lanes, pedestrian bump outs, or new pavement markings such as crosswalks or “sharrows” before making a major investment in upgrading their infrastructure. The trailer contains roadway grade materials such as caution cones, delineators, pavement tape, chalk paint, and stencils. Permanent paint can be used for installations known to be needed in a location, such as painting a stop bar at a stop-controlled intersection.[vi]

The Safety and Innovation Mobile Lab trailer is stocked with materials that local governments can use in temporary safety demonstrations. Image courtesy Mo-Kan.

The DMS, speed radar trailer, and traffic counter owned by Mo-Kan are important tools that can be deployed along with the resources in the Mobile Lab trailer. DMS can be used to inform transportation users that there is a pop-up installation and to expect a change in how they are used to traveling through the area. The sign’s data collection capability is useful for pre- and post-event data without being obvious to passing motorists, although the speed radar trailer is also available and provides count, time of day, and speed of passing vehicles, and local police have offered use of a speed radar gun to transportation planning staff. Other information on motorist behavior, such as whether drivers made full stop at stop signs within an elementary school zone where the Safety and Innovation Lab was used to create permanent pavement markings, has been observed and recorded by planning staff seated in a nearby parked car. Technology solutions to capture those data points were not available.[vii]

Outcomes

The DMS and speed radar trailer have been useful for addressing recurring conditions, such as speeding, as well as providing safety and information support for non-recurring special events. In addition, these ITS assets, the Innovation Mobile Lab trailer, and observation by transportation staff provide a set of tools for conducting and assessing transportation safety interventions. The first pop-up demonstration project using these tools occurred at Minnie Cline Elementary School, where a pop-up was held in 2018 (depicted in the image on page 22). This gave the administration and staff important information to protect students traveling to school. While motorist behavior improved, it was not to the desired level. The project evaluation results guided further interventions such as continuing to use adults as crossing guards (rather than older students helping younger students to cross), high visibility vests for the crossing guards, and a solar-powered flashing stop sign obtained by SJATSO with funding from the Northwest Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety.[viii]

Over time, the RDOs in northwest Missouri and SJATSO hope that use of ITS in conjunction with other tools will result in improved safety outcomes, including protecting bicyclists and pedestrians and reducing speeds where needed in certain zones. These tools can also promote economic activity through improvements in safety leading to improved walkability and resident and visitor access to businesses and services.[ix]

Resources

Minnie Cline Elementary School staff and students paint crosswalks and stop bars along with SJATSO and Mo-Kan transportation staff. Image courtesy Mo-Kan/SJATSO

These ITS assets have been acquired at minimal cost to the region. The Northwest Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety (serving a 20-county section of the state) provided $13,600 for the first DMS purchased jointly by the three RDOs, which is stored in the Green Hills service area. The coalition also provided Mo-Kan and SJATSO with its Blueprint Grant for $4,600 to purchase the trailer and stock it with initial supplies, while Mo-Kan and SJATSO provided approximately $10,000 in supplies, equipment, and the value of staff time, and Buchanan County provides space in its Hazmat building to store the trailer. Mo-Kan used funds from its planning partnership grant with MoDOT to secure the second DMS for $14,700.[x] 

On an ongoing basis, user fees offset some of the cost of maintaining and insuring the signs, speed radar trailer, and other equipment. MoDOT’s planning partnership grant is an important source to supplement those local funds. In terms of staffing needs, one message sign can be deployed on-site by just one person, while the other DMS is larger and requires two staff. Each time the ITS assets or Mobile Lab are deployed, staff take the time to coordinate not only with the agencies responsible for roadway ownership and maintenance, such as the state DOTs for many area roads, but also emergency management and area stakeholders. Mo-Kan and SJATSO will work together to restock safety supplies in the Innovation Lab trailer as needed.[xi]    For more information, visit the RDO and MPO agencies’ websites: www.mo-kan.org, www.nwmorcog.org, www.ghrpc.org, and stjoempo.org.


[i] Personal communication with Rebecca Thacker, March 2019

[ii] Northwest Missouri Regional Council of Governments (nd). Transportation, https://nwmorcog.org/programs/transportation

[iii] Rebecca Thacker (2019). Presentation to the National Regional Transportation Conference

[iv] Rebecca Thacker (2019). Presentation to the National Regional Transportation Conference

[v] Personal communication with Rebecca Thacker, March 2019

[vi] Rebecca Thacker (2019). Presentation to the National Regional Transportation Conference

[vii] Rebecca Thacker (2019). Presentation to the National Regional Transportation Conference

[viii] Rebecca Thacker (2019). Presentation to the National Regional Transportation Conference

[ix] Personal communication with Rebecca Thacker, March 2019

[x] Personal communication with Rebecca Thacker, March 2019

[xi] Personal communication with Rebecca Thacker, March 2019

This report was delivered to the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2020. It was primarily authored by NADO Program Manager Rachel Beyerle and NADO Associate Director Carrie Kissel. Many transportation agency staff and others assisted with this project in a variety of ways. We offer deep and heartfelt thanks to all the individuals who have provided information and images, consented to be interviewed, and offered editorial guidance in support of this research. This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation under requisition number HOIT190194PR. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. DOT or the NADO Research Foundation.