It's now a full four years since Highways England came into being and Transport Focus convened its Road User Panel to ensure that it could keep abreast of views across all users of England's motorways and major 'A' Roads.
The Panel meets quarterly and brings together a broad range of over 20 organisations including the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Royal Automobile Club (RAC), Sustrans, and Living Streets (to name just a few). The panel offers a forum for discussion on key topics, provide an opportunities for panellists to update Transport Focus about their work, and give participants a chance to get an updates on Transport Focus projects like its recent work on disabled motorists, and satisfaction of cyclists, pedestrians and equestrians when they use or must cross the strategic road network.
April's Road User panel focused on the achievements and challenges over the past four years, key pieces of research such as Getting to the heart of Smart – road user experiences of smart motorways and a look to the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS 2) from 2020 and a future with 'digital roads'.
With the new Strategic Roads User Survey (SRUS) fast approaching its first birthday, the Panel will continue to provide a useful collective forum for the many different types of users of England's motorways and major 'A' roads. Likewise, through its engagement with panel Highways England can continue to showcase how its operational staff are using Transport Focus's road user insight to inform the way they manage upgrading projects required to deliver the roads investment programme designed and to keep the country moving.
Curious to see how far Transport Focus's work does make a difference for road users, I drove around the West Midlands recently to see in various places what Highways England, some of its contractors, and the operators of the M6 toll are doing to deliver road improvements.
At the elevated section of the M5 at Oldbury you could feel as and see how challenging it can be to complete works in the face of huge traffic volumes on busy roads. It was also great to see the influence of Transport Focus paying out in the form of practical if simple 'wins' for road users such as junctions numbers clearly signed in contraflows; activity information boards and overall project progress update boards.
It was also valuable to get a sense of precisely how and where the route for High Speed Two will have to thread through the dense road network to the east of Birmingham – a development that will give rise to a lot of major roads projects.
Finally, I saw just how important it can be to keep road users in the loop about even the simplest repair and upgrade works. I saw one emblematic example of this at some repair works to an overbridge on the M50 where – thanks to effective local community relations paying close attention to detail - a platform has been installed to permit shorter horse riders to dismount safely when crossing during works!
Anthony Smith is Chief Executive of the independent transport user watchdog Transport Focus.