Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Traffic Marshalling Problems

I waited seven minutes yesterday for traffic marshallers to change the direction of traffic in my favour. I understand some temporary inconvenience is expected while road resurfacing works are underway. But this seven-minute wait gave me time to recall all the terrible traffic management controls I’ve experienced at other sites of road works.

Road works are a common site all over Singapore. The older people may recall the Public Works Department, or PWD, which some say should be named “Purposely Wanna Dig”, because they were the government department that kept digging up roads.

With road works that interrupt or impact the flow of traffic, traffic marshalling is needed to guide and manage vehicular movements. If the police, including auxiliary police like Cisco, are the ones doing traffic marshalling, all is good. There signals and hand gestures are clear. We know exactly what they are trying to communicate. They know how to manage flow equitably. It is not about drivers fearing the authority of the police; it is simply that the police know how to do their job.

It’s very different when workers are the ones who do the traffic marshalling. I don’t blame them per se. The likelihood is that they were not trained, or not sufficiently trained. Maybe their companies couldn’t be bothered to train them or had some trained to look good on paper but the actual people doing the job aren’t.

I’ve had problems with these marshallers giving signals that are unclear. Or, they don’t even make any gesture, but simply move a signboard expecting drivers to immediately understand the situation at hand. Often, this is confusing because the marshallers stand inconspicuously, so we don’t see them till very late, and it may take a moment or two to comprehend the feeble non-gesture and signboard combination.

I appreciate that some of these workers likely fear for their own safety. But it is not helping to try to stop traffic across a three-lane road by waving ambiguously while standing on the curb. Is he waving to a friend on the other side of the road?

Several times, I’ve ended up in a temporary deadlock because these marshallers failed to control the flow. Other times, the marshallers themselves gave conflicting directions. There were instances when the stop/go sign was not swung to face the oncoming traffic properly, so it was not even clear if it meant to signal stop or go.

Yet another situation, which is quite dangerous, is when just one marshaller is deployed to manage traffic flow where both ends of the “controlled stretch” is not only too far away, but also not within line-of-sight. Drivers at both ends can see the marshaller, but he is far away enough that you don’t even realise he is trying to signal you. This is likely the case of a company trying to save manpower cost by deploying fewer people than is required.

It’s the cases like today when traffic is held up for an inordinate amount of time that I’m reminded how haphazard a lot of traffic management around work sites are. It is perhaps high time our traffic police do some random checks to ensure that road works sites implement proper traffic management controls.

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