Expert opinion of road engineer

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As known to most of you, I’m only looking into the “infrastructure” issue and not the provision of public transport services. However, as these rely on the capacity of the underlying infrastructures, I got quite concerned. The discussion below is understandably revolving around service related issued that need to be fixed, and for which solutions can be found and implemented within a short timeframe once agreements are reached. My fear however is that there is a serious danger that even best service concept
will get “stuck on the road” for lack of the needed infrastructure capacity.

To recap:

  • out of professional interest I read the documents called the “mobility plans”
  • one element that puzzled me were the bus timetables, showing some bus timings looking perhaps achievable in quiet hours of the day but not necessarily during rush hour. Just one example: Mamer-Tossebierg to EE2 (i.e. behind school car parkings) in 2 minutes, and 3 minutes later arriving at Belle Etoile.

So I went to the mobility plan presentation by the transport ministry in February. After the meeting I approached Mme Weyckert from the ministry, asking her how the road and parking capacity issues had been considered, of particular concern as there are only two access and one single exit lane to/from the school campus which are shared by cars and public transport, and pointing out to her the rather unfortunate configuration – according to the plans put on the school website – that cars attempting to leave the school parking have to cross incoming traffic once or even twice at the
roundabout near the school, risking a self-blockade.

  1. Mme Weyckert kindly responded that capacity issues were ‘not’ the remit of the Ministry, but of Ponts&Chausees (P&C). So it appears the Mobility Plan was drawn up on an empty roads assumption, at least did/does not consider the existing road saturation during the morning peak….which may explain the bus timetable assumptions…..or other constraints.
  2. after a lengthy process and with great support of Director Tournemire, a meeting with P&C became possible. P&C, and their consultant, showed us calculations that the roundabout in front of the school should offer just about sufficient capacity, if (a) no more than 20% of pupils are taken to school by car, and (b) they arrive ‘equally distributed over one hour’, i.e. between say 7h30 and 8h30. The reply when gently challenging the latter assumption and suggesting that most parents would like to get their children to school within a say 20 minute time slot before start of school hours was that designing a system with enough capacity for such a situation was not possible.
  3. the perhaps even bigger surprise came, when asking about the parking capacity at  the school (kiss and go for kindergarten children, 105 spaces for 1050 primary children etc), that P&C was not aware of “what’s happening inside the school fence”, and therefore did not assume any interaction between parking capacity and the public road space.
  4. it is great to see that 80% of parents are in principle ready to entrust their children to public transport, as shown by both the recent EE2 survey and the somewhat more detailed … survey. Leaving potential survey bias aside, this is however subject to conditions being rightly met, such as supervision, routes, timings etc – that’s what some colleagues are focusing on.

Transport engineering and travel behaviour experience however says that such trust must be gained: (Close to) 100% of parents will use the car in the first couple of days (that is, together with EE2 staff, almost 2000 cars – equivalent of a bumper-to-bumper queue of cars between EE1 and EE2). If they see that the bus system works fine the buses and navettes will fill up.

The big trouble I see coming is the outcome of the school roundabout providing only just about enough capacity for 20% car users according to P&C, and these being disciplined enough to arrive in equal numbers from 7.30 onwards, and ignoring the parking space limitations. Therefore the buses and navettes will be stuck in the car traffic jam, for lack of a separate access route to the school for public transport, and will offer no alternative to “beat the jam” – hence likely will fail to get close to the 80% modal share hoped for (whether supervised or not).

At P&C I argued that the least that should be done, was an audit of the mobility concept incorporating the capacity constraints of the road access infrastructure at EE2 as well as the parking constraints, while applying realistic assumptions on the desired arrival times at the school. In an iterative process this would feed back to achievable bus timetables.

Hereby I want to underline/reinforce this argument. With so much time having passed without tangible result (at least result visible to an outsider), a very opaque division of responsibilities and omission of crucial interdependencies, and the daily life of more than 1000 families at stake, in my personal opinion seen through the glasses of a transport engineer it is by now time to show a “big gun” to the authorities: Each vehicle needs a roadworthiness certificate before entering service, for new major roads nowadays an independent road safety audit is required by EU directives. Along the same lines, the new school campus should not be allowed to start operating before an independent audit confirms that the school mobility concept is mature, implementable and workable, and therefore ensuring an orderly operation of the school by making it possible that pupils (and staff) can arrive at reasonable and predictable times.

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  1. And on 12th of July 2012 I got this answer from APEEE: “The transport’s plan presented on 28th was NOT the final plan, and was not presented as such: it was presented as the latest available information. The basic lines are unchanged, however the detailed content continues to evolve and improve. We will not fail to inform once we know the situation. Kind regards”, which is of course not very encouraging for the whole situation……………..