Tag Archives: signage

New Project: Protecting RICWS and DMS From Wind Damage

MnDOT recently entered into a contract with the University of Minnesota (UMN) to complete a research project to keep wind from damaging rural intersection conflict warning signs (RICWS) and other digital message signs (DMS).

The project is titled “Understanding and Mitigating the Dynamic Behavior of RICWS and DMS Under Wind Loading.” Lauren Linderman, assistant professor at UMN’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering, will serve as the principal investigator. Jihshya Lin of MnDOT will serve as technical liaison.

“This project will find out the behavior of the DMS and RICWS under AASHTO defined design loads and develop the retrofitting system to avoid the experienced problems that will improve the public safety, reduce the maintenance cost and minimize impact to the traffic,” Lin said.

Background

RICWS have exhibited excessive swaying under wind loads, leading to safety concerns regarding failure of the support structure at the base. It is believed the heavy weight of these signs has brought the frequency range of these systems too close to that of the wind excitations. There is a need to investigate the wind-induced dynamic effects on these sign structures and to propose modifications to the systems to reduce the likelihood of failure. There is also interest in investigating the dynamic behavior of the DMS, particularly the loads on the friction connection.

This research project involves a field investigation to determine the structural performance of these two types of sign structures. Laboratory tests using a towing tank facility and a wind tunnel will be performed on scaled models and opportunely modified models to improve performance and minimize unsteady loads.

The outcome of this project is expected to develop an understanding of the RICWS and DMS sign structures and to provide modifications to improve the structural performance of the RICWS sign structures while maintaining the crashworthy requirements. The results will help to ensure the uninterrupted service of these sign structures, which are important to public safety.

 

Project Tasks

  • Task 1A: Development of Field Instrumentation Plan and Instrumentation Purchase
  • Task 1B: Experimental Determination of Load Effects and Dynamic Characteristics of Post Mounted DMS in Field
  • Task 2A: Development of Numerical Models to Investigate Post Mounted DMS Sign Demands and Fatigue
  • Task 2B: Validation of Numerical Models to Investigate Post Mounted DMS Sign Demands and Fatigue
  • Task 3A: Investigation of Design Loads and Relevant Fatigue Considerations for DMS
  • Task 3B: Analysis of Design Loads and Anticipated Fatigue Life of DMS
  • Task 4: Experimental Determination of Dynamic Characteristics of RICWS in Field
  • Task 5: Development and Validation of Numerical Models to Investigate RICWS Signs
  • Task 6: Numerical and Experimental Investigation of Drag and Vortex Shedding Characteristics of RICWS Signs Using Scaled Models
  • Task 7: Numerical and Small-Scale Experimental Investigation of Modifications to RICWS Sign Panel to Reduce Effects of Vortex Shedding
  • Task 8: Numerical and Analytical Investigation of Noncommercial Means to Damp Motion of RICWS Blankout Sign Structure
  • Task 9A: Research Benefits and Implementation Steps Initial Memorandum
  • Task 9B: Research Benefits and Develop Implementation Steps
  • Task 10: Compile Report, Technical Advisory Panel Review and Revisions
  • Task 11: Editorial Review and Publication of Final Report

The project is scheduled to be completed in March 2019.

Reducing Driver Errors at Two-Lane Roundabouts

Researchers studied driving behavior at four multilane roundabouts to better understand the relationship between traffic control designs and driver errors. Data collected showed that certain traffic control changes decreased turn violations but failed to eliminate yield violations. Researchers were unable to identify long-term solutions for improving roundabout design and signage, and recommended further research to improve the overall safety and mobility of multilane roundabouts.

“Even though the study did not provide a silver bullet on how to prevent crashes at multilane roundabouts, it did create an efficient tool to analyze and quantify driving behavior data,” said Joe Gustafson, Traffic Engineer, Washington County Public Works.

“This study has advanced our knowledge in multilane roundabout safety and is one step closer to providing much needed improvements to roundabout design guidance,” said John Hourdos, Director, Minnesota Traffic Observatory, University of Minnesota.

What Was the Need?

Roundabouts have been shown to improve overall in-tersection safety compared to traditional traffic signals. However, noninjury crashes are sometimes more frequent on multilane roundabouts than on single-lane roundabouts due in part to driver confusion. Common driver errors such as failing to yield and turning violations on multilane roundabouts have contributed to an increase in noninjury crashes.

Given the benefits of improved mobility, traffic throughput and injury reduction of multilane roundabouts, reducing the noninjury crash rate at multilane roundabouts is important to facilitating their use by Minnesota cities and counties. Identifying solutions to reduce common driving violations would be more sustainable than the current practice of converting multilane roundabouts back to single-lane roundabouts.

In a previous study on a two-lane roundabout in Richfield, Minnesota, researchers demonstrated that traffic control  changes could reduce some of these driver errors. However, more data was needed to support study results. Understanding driver behavior and improving traffic control devices are key factors in designing safer multilane roundabouts.

What Was Our Goal?

With limited research on modern multilane roundabouts, the Minnesota Traffic Observatory sought to collect more data to evaluate the correlation between traffic control design features and collisions. Instead of conducting manual observations, researchers used an innovative video analysis tool to collect and process recorded videos of driving behaviors at test sites. Based on the analysis, they attempted to identify driver behaviors and error rates to help reduce noninjury crashes at multilane roundabouts.

What Did We Do?

The research team selected four multilane roundabouts in Minnesota — two in Mankato, one in Lakeville and one in St. Cloud — to observe undesirable driving maneuvers. At each roundabout site, researchers mounted video cameras at key locations to record one to two weeks of driving behavior. Only one roundabout could be observed at a time because only one set of specialized video equipment was available.

The raw videos were processed to produce a data set for analysis. Researchers used TrafficIntelligence, an open-source computer vision program, to automate extraction of vehicle trajectories from the raw footages. They used the same software to correct any errors to improve data reliability. The resulting clean data from the recorded videos were supplemented with historical crash frequency data reports obtained from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Collectively, data from both sources allowed researchers to thoroughly investigate the frequency and crash types from the four roundabouts. A statistical analysis of the data revealed that turn violations and yield violations were among the most common driving errors.

Researchers also looked at how violation rates vary with the roundabout’s location and relevant design features. Based on these findings, researchers proposed signage and striping changes to reduce driver errors at the two Mankato test sites. After the changes were implemented, they collected additional video data.

What Did We Learn?

This study provided one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of driving behavior at multilane roundabouts. Researchers were successful in finding solutions for reducing turn violations, but they were unable to identify solutions for yield violations despite the vast amount of data.

Minor differences in the design at each roundabout presented specific challenges. The analysis focused on how each varying design feature impacted driving behavior. Proposed traffic control changes such as extending solid lines between entrance lanes, adjusting the position of yield signs and adding one-way signs successfully decreased turn violations. However, data from before and after traffic control changes showed an insignificant impact on decreasing yield violations. Importantly, the study produced a list of ineffective traffic control methods that can be eliminated from future studies, saving engineers time and money.

The TrafficIntelligence tool was crucial in efficiently processing and cleaning large amounts of raw video. With improvements made to the software program, the tool should be an asset to future research on roundabouts and to other studies requiring observations of driving behavior.

What’s Next?

The traffic control changes that were successful at reducing crashes at two-lane roundabouts should be implemented by traffic engineers. In particular, large overhead directional signs or extended solid lines between entrance lanes should be installed to help reduce turning violations. The analysis method used in this study could also be used for a robust before-and-after evaluation of future modifications to traffic control devices.

Additional research could further scrutinize the data already collected, and researchers recommend that more data be collected to examine additional traffic control methods and other intersection design elements to improve the overall safety and mobility of two-lane roundabouts. This research could also serve as an impetus for the study of numerous roundabouts in a pooled fund effort involving several states.


This post pertains to the LRRB-produced Report 2017-30, “Evaluation of Safety and Mobility of Two-Lane Roundabouts,” published July 2017. A webinar recording of the report is also available.

How Better Sign Management Could Save Minnesota Millions

Replacing traffic signs at the right time is an important science.

Waiting too long can endanger lives and expose an agency to a lawsuit. But replacing traffic signs prematurely could cost a single city tens of thousands of dollars per year.

If fully implemented, new recommendations developed by MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board (LRRB) could save public agencies as much as $41 million over three years by helping them better manage their signs and meet new federal requirements on retroreflectivity without replacing signs prematurely. Here’s how:

Reducing Inventories

At a purchase price of $150 to $250 a piece, plus $20 per year for maintenance, the cost of an unnecessary traffic sign adds up. (Maintenance costs involve replacing signs that have been vandalized, knocked down, or that no longer meet required levels of retroreflectivity.)

In a case study of townships in Stevens County, Minnesota, researcher Howard Preston found that nearly a third of traffic signs were not required and served no useful purpose. The average township has 180 signs, which results in an annual maintenance cost of $3,600. The average county has 10,000 signs — an annual maintenance cost of $200,000.

Public agencies could save a collective $26 million* just by removing unnecessary or redundant signs from the field, Preston said. A traffic sign maintenance handbook developed by the LRRB and MnDOT guides agencies through that process.

Longer  Lives

Traffic signs have more life in them than the typical 12-year manufacturer’s warranty, Preston said. But how often agencies replace them varies throughout the state.

Whereas small municipalities may replace signs on an individual basis through spot-checking for retroflectivity, MnDOT has a schedule. Each of the agency’s 400,000 signs is replaced within 18 years of installation.

Preston found that MnDOT could safely extend the service life of its signs to 20 years, which would save an estimated $1.3 million within the first few years of implementation.

Assuming (in lieu of a research-backed benchmark) that local municipalities would likely start replacing signs around the 15-year mark to ensure compliance with the federal law, Preston estimates that townships, cities and counties could avoid a collective $6 million in unnecessary costs per year just by adhering to the minimum 20-year replacement schedule recommended by the study.

Agencies are required by federal law to have a method in place for ensuring that signs maintain adequate retroreflectivity. A replacement schedule based on science is one way; regular physical inspection is another.

Researchers, who consulted other state’s studies and also examined signs in the field, determined that the life of the modern sign in Minnesota is at least 20 years.

It’s possible that traffic signs actually retain their retroreflectivity for 30 years or more, but further study is needed since sheeting materials on today’s traffic signs haven’t been deployed long enough to know, researchers say.

A test deck at the MnROAD facility will track the condition of Minnesota signs over the next decades — and perhaps push the  recommended replacement cycle longer.

*This figure  and the $41 million total above account for cost savings calculated over an initial, three-year period. Ongoing cost savings thereafter may be different, according to Preston.

Related Resources

Sign Maintenance Management Handbook (PDF, 13 MB, 119 pages)

Traffic Sign Life Expectancy study

Emergency alternate route selected in I-35 pilot project

When a semi carrying millions of bees crashed three years ago on Interstate 35,  a five-mile stretch of freeway near Lakeville  had to be shut down, and it took several hours to re-open.

A new pilot project under way in southern Minnesota would move traffic more quickly during accidents like these by having a predetermined route along I-35 to redirect motorists.

Currently, when the Minnesota State Patrol decides to close a freeway, motorists are left to their own devices to determine where to go.

A sign similar to this will go up along the I-35 alternate route to guide redirected traffic.
A sign similar to this will go up along the I-35 alternate route to guide redirected traffic.

“The use of emergency alternate routes are very helpful in rural areas where other roadway options might be limited,” said project consultant Andy Mielke of SRF Consulting, who helped the state of Wisconsin establish similar routes along its interstate.

The MnDOT-funded research project establishes a permanent alternate route parallel to the interstate in Freeborn, Steele and Rice Counties.

MnDOT worked with local officials to identify the best alternative roads and is in the process of procuring signs to permanently affix along the I-35 alternate route this summer.

Picking a route

Identifying an emergency route wasn’t easy. Engineers had to consider the proximity to the freeway, whether a route was direct enough and whether the roads could handle heavy truck traffic.

A planning committee that included MnDOT, the State Patrol and three county engineers developed a route and procedures for everyone to follow.

“All of the responders know where the traffic is going, so they’re all operating off the same sheet of music,” Mielke said.

The alternate route system is intended to reduce traffic delays, minimize secondary crashes, speed the emergency response and keep truck freight moving during a large accident.

More than 5,000 trucks per day travel Interstate 35.

I-35EmergencyAlternateRouteMap
Proposed alternate route.

“If you’re a truck driver sitting in congestion, time is money,” Mielke said.

The planning team identified messages that can be automatically deployed on message boards along 35 during an emergency. The route will only be activated if the freeway is fully blocked or once all other methods of moving traffic are exhausted.

The interest for the project came from MnDOT District 6 Traffic Engineer Mike Schweyen, who participated in Wisconsin’s planning for an emergency alternate route in the La Crosse area.

An I-35 Corridor Emergency Alternate Route Operations Guide has been created. The route plans just need final approval now from the county boards.

This project could be an example for the rest of the state to follow. Other MnDOT districts are considering establishing alternate freeway routes in their districts.

Related Resources

Alternate route plans for Freeborn County, Steele County and Rice County (PDFs) (subject to final county board approval).