Tag: Infrastructure

Do Speed Limits encourage law breaking?

How often do you drive the posted speed limit? If you’re like most drivers, not often.

Why do we speed?

This is probably a more complex question than my short summary will answer, but in the following is a lot of truth.

People drive their vehicles to just under their tolerance of risk. If a road is in great shape and the geometrics (curvature, sharpness of hills and sags, curve super-elevation, etc.) are good, we drive according to these conditions. We often complain about the slow driver (who is obeying the posted speed) clogging up the roadway.

In the political jurisdictions where I live, highways and a lot of roads are purposefully designed to a higher standard than the posted speed limit. The advisory speeds are also set lower than the geometric design.

I’d say typically. Freeway design speeds are 20 km/h above posted. Trucks are speed limited to 5 km/h above posted and probably the majority of cars drive close to 15 km/h above posted. Secondary routes are a bit trickier. Primary two lane highways most likely have the 20 km/h cushion. Regional roads will be designed with anywhere from speed limit plus 20 km/h to as low as speed limit plus 0 km/h.

There is a clause in the Ontario Design Manual that states “A design speed equal to the maximum posted speed is acceptable …. for minor collector and local roads.” A common Canadian design manual recommended posted speed plus 10 km/h. Assuming you can safely drive 20 km over the posted speed is not a given.

At what speed do the police ticket speeders? This probably varies depending on time of month, traffic, etc., but I heard from the horse’s mouth that often freeway speeds up to 19 km over the posted limit are not bothered.

It appears that the condition of our roads, the allowance permitted by our law enforcement, the fact that truck speed limiters are set higher than our posted speed plus our propensity to drive to the edge of risk all lead to most of us breaking the legally established speed limits. Speed limits as presently set do encourage law breaking.

There are some jurisdictions that have increased freeway speed to somewhere just below the road’s design speed. The actual average speed increases less than 2.5%. This is as a result of those who actually obeyed the lower speed limit now moving at the new “reasonable” speed limit. Also, the accident rate has not increased.

With the speed limit was set properly, there would be no assumption that a driver can speed safely.

In order not to promote law breaking, speed limits should reflect the road’s geometrics. If the speed limit is reasonably set, the police then should enforce it. No exceptions. With cruise control, we can keep a steady speed. With the low cost of GPS units, we can know our speed accurately (I have a vehicle where I think the manufacturers set my speedometer wrong on purpose).

There is no need for anything but say 3 km/h leeway. The police should be out there, visible (ie no hiding – entrapment) and tagging anyone speeding.

Speed limits should encourage compliance not promote law breaking.

The Plaidneck

The fallacy of just cutting labour

I worked in the MUSH sector for my entire career. I was in the infrastructure management, construction and maintenance field. We were constantly refining our requirement for work and our methods of performing that work.

During a 40 year career, various management philosophies came and went. They were usually just variations on the basic theme. What should be done and how to do it.

What work should be done is easy.

Got to do – that which is legislated

Aught to do – those tasks which when done will save/preserve/make safer

Want to do – those tasks which are nice to do but truly don’t add value.

Defining value wasn’t always easy but most often we could figure out if the task was truly worth while. I was lucky and had a staff who were knowledgeable and committed.

With this familiarity of our work and using the 80/20 rule (80% of the value of a task is contained in 20% of the items) allowed a very small management group to quickly review many items within a reasonable time.

We then considered on how to do the work. The common cry is “cut labour”. This thrust comes from a misguided method of accounting where labour is listed as a line item (Once when discussing how to do a task, I said point blank, you can cut in-house labour, but I’ll just hire someone. The response was you can’t do that. I countered that I’d hire a piece of equipment with operator. The accountant said that was OK because there would be a hard invoice. There still would be labour; just not in-house and not necessarily lower cost labour.)

Labour is just one component of costs. Identifying a reasonable “work” to count, calculating a cost to fully perform the work gives a better view of things.

Think about a task and cost it with in-house vs out-sourced labour. You’ll probably find that one or the other will be slightly less expensive.

But, that was the wrong question. You should first have asked did we have to do that task. By tinkering with the labour (because it’s a visible line item in someone’s books) rather than deciding if the task had to be done, you are just nickle and dimeing not saving. By eliminating an entire task, you’d save the entire cost. If the task has to be done; do it.

During elections, we are often promised that the civil service (ie labour) will be cut. We are not told what tasks are to be eliminated.

A couple of decades ago, the Ministry of Transportation stopped doing in-house maintenance. Many (if not most) of the eliminated employees just turned around and went to work for the private contractors who contracted for the work (often at quite decent salaries and wages because of the competition for experienced personnel). Was there a savings? No, the provincial auditor general investigated and found no savings. The tasks performed were necessary so the change just tinkered with costs.

However, I do believe that it can be necessary to shake up established organizations. If management gets complacent and doesn’t continuously monitor it’s tasks; if labour gets complacent (often because they have stood up for gold bricks in front of far too lenient quasi-courts) and loses interest in performance, corrections must be made.

So, when someone says they will cut labour, ask the question – truly cut the labour (ie stop doing the task) or just move the labour from one organization to another. We’ve seen that this shift often isn’t any more cost effective.

The Plaidneck

Low Cost Engineering.

I’m a Civil Engineer. We Civils design major works that are used by society to survive.

Transportation facilities (railways, roads, terminal buildings, bridges); environmental facilities (water treatment plants, water distribution systems, storm sewers, storm management facilities, sanitary sewers, sewage treatment plants); Buildings (heating, lighting, air conditioning, structural capacity) etc, etc, etc.

In the public sphere, the demands for open, transparent and equitable our governments insist on requiring Engineers to bid for work. The intent is to save money. That’s a false premise.

Say an Engineering firm is selected by competitive bids to design a $1,000,000 bridge. The various firms submitting prices varied from $40,000 to $60,000 for design and $45,000 to $70,000 for field supervision of the construction. The maximum difference in Engineering fees would be $45,000 or about 53% (using the lowest fee as the base). Forty- five percent sounds like a huge amount to save. But is it a savings.

Engineering fees are largely determined by time spent designing. A low fee thus means fewer hours spent thinking about the problem and designing or on less skilled personnel.

Construction costs make up a major part of the cost of the bridge. $45,000 is 4.5% of the construction cost. A skilled Engineer has more experience in designing structures that are simpler to construct and utilize materials more efficiently. They would be more up to date on advances in materials and methods. A good design can easily save 4.5% over a less efficient design.

After the contractor is selected to build the bridge, the Engineering firm then supervises the work. Skilled knowledgeable field staff can anticipate problems, take appropriate action if changes are required and assure the owner that the structure has been built properly. Again experienced, capable field staff are most often paid more. They; however, can easily save money by timely decisions and proper oversight.

Choosing a skilled properly paid Engineering firm can easily save any extra money paid them compared to retaining a just adequate company at a reduced cost just in construction costs.

A large cost of many public works is the ongoing maintenance costs. A design that considers ongoing maintenance can save the owner much more cash than the amount paid the designer and possibly by designing for optimal performance significantly more money than any increase in fees.

Recent evidence given by an Engineer from the Gatineau in Quebec brought this dilemma to public light. Firms in that area got together to at least maintain the fees being paid at a level where the companies could provide adequate Engineering.

Engineers are required by their enabling legislation to protect the public. We protect the public from our employers (who don’t always like spending enough money). There is a cost for the proper Engineering required to provide this protection.

A bit of a story.

I need a bit of dental work. I went on line, did a search and figured out what needed to be done. I then took out my yellow pages and got a list of dentists. These dentists were sent a request for a price to do the work. I chose the one who submitted the lowest price. Yeah right.

Why do governments insist on choosing Engineering services with low bid methods.

The Plaidneck

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