View showing several cones placed at 100-metre intervals with video cameras pointed at each cone location along Highway 401. This method enables an average speed to be calculated within each road segment.

What kind of safety problems exist along the busiest highway in Canada? Government agencies such as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation monitor traffic along Highway 401 but that information is not made available to the public. Some of this data could be educational and therefore valuable for the public’s ability to make informed conclusions about what actions need to be taken to improve the Highway’s safety.

In response Gorski Consulting has engaged in a series of documentations of traffic with the use of multiple, synchronized, video cameras. The documentations typically involve a highway overpass where cameras can be set up to look along the length of the highway. Additionally, cameras are placed at markers spaced out at 100-metre intervals (example shown above) such that average speeds can be obtained within those intervals.These methods enable calculations of important facts regarding traffic motions and potential safety problems. Gorski Consulting will be presenting an number of findings from these studies in order to inform and educate the public on these important issues.

In this present article we present the general results of average speeds of westbound traffic at four different sites, as noted below.

Location of testing sites along Highway 401 where traffic observations were made.

The table below provides a summary of those observations.

Several explanations need to be provided to appreciate the meaning of these data. Firstly, heavy, Class 8 trucks, which are typically a tractor with one or more trailers, have their speeds governed (limited) to a maximum of about 105 km/h. These trucks are mixed in with the higher-speed, light vehicles such as passenger cars, pick-ups, SUVs, etc. While most of these trucks travel within the right lane, some of them travel in the median lane for short periods especially when proceeding with a passing motion of another, slower truck. The above data includes the speed of those slower trucks except in the Elgin Road site where no trucks were observed in the median lane. The explanation at the Elgin Road site is because the highway at this location is made up of 3 lanes. Thus heavy trucks that make a passing motion will move from the right lane into the middle lane so that they do not need to travel in the median lane.

Some appreciation of the traffic volumes can be had from noting that observations were made for just under 8 minutes at the Elgin Road site yet 62 vehicles were documented in that short time. Conversely at the Dillon Road site documentations were carried out for over 40 minutes, or about 5 times as long, while slightly over 2 times more observations (119) were made. So the volume of traffic in the median lane at the Dillon site was much less, there were fewer trucks in that lane and the average speed of vehicles was therefore higher.

Data like this needs to be evaluated when discussions are made about the safety of Highway 401. Many members of the public have questions about the safety of installations such as the high tension median barrier that is being installed between Tilbury and London. This installation is precisely in the zone of three of the four sites being discussed in this article. Construction is also being carried out in this zone and much concern has been expressed about how this leads to crashes with stopped vehicles. Also when snowfall arrives there will be conclusions expressed about the collisions that will result. All these concerns by the public need quality data which Gorski Consulting hopes to provide.

This report provides a preliminary example of the type of data that will be revealed and discussed in future items posted in this Gorski Consulting website in the near future.