Road users and pedestrians are starting to see new signage, road markings and other safety features, as Fiji’s most extensive ever infrastructure upgrade project continues.
Over the past eighteen months, Fiji Roads Authority (FRA) work has opened up more reliable and comfortable access to schools, work, markets, health centres and other important places for thousands of Fijians. Some villages that have been cut off for years are now able to be reached by car, bus or carrier, making it easier for people to get where they are going, and to get goods and supplies in and out.
One thing that may not always be as visible as a new bridge or as exciting as a new road, but is just as, if not more important, is the safety work that is going on alongside the roads being fixed, rebuilt or constructed from scratch.
“Safety signs and new guardrails are being installed on key sections of our roads,” says the FRA’s Maintenance and Safety Manager, Dale Nicholls, “and we are also setting up workshops and meetings with the Land Transport Authority and the Police Force, to ensure everyone understands what is being done, and how we can work together across organisations to keep the public’s safety safeguarded on the roads.”
There are many examples now of roads that are smoother and easier on vehicles – reducing damage to them and the costs associated with this.
“The impacts are so significant, it is hard to put a value on them. Every serious accident or death that is prevented represents a family, village or community that doesn’t lose a person, a livelihood or a way of life due to an accident on the road,” says Mr Nicholls.
Sometimes the solution is very simple – but relatively low cost, like the ‘cats eye’ reflectors and warning signs for curves being installed on the Coral Coast. These two safety features are quick and in the scheme of things relatively inexpensive, but have huge impacts on people’s ability to see which way the road goes, where your lane and the edge of the road is as well as where there are sharp corners that you need to slow down for.
In some cases, wrong signage will be removed or replaced to make things safer for motorists and pedestrians.
“There is a lot of international understanding now about what works, in terms of signage and how to give other cues to motorists about how to behave on the road and what to pay attention to. We have brought together the lessons from local knowledge, as well as overseas countries about what has worked well, and put it to work in Fiji.”
So, for example, where there may have been a sign indicating that a school is ahead, we want to make sure that it is located in the right position and we may even put one on each side of the road to reinforce the message. Village threshold signage is being installed to give drivers visual cues that slow them down. Guard rails are being replaced or installed for the first time on accident-prone stretches of road. New bridges, roads and jetties are being designed to high safety standards. Enhanced lighting and footpaths are providing safer places to walk.
“Many places now have pedestrian facilities where none existed before, providing a place for pedestrians to be safe from the traffic,” says Mr Nicholls. “In others, simple white lines painted on the edge of the road, rather than just in the middle, helps guide people at night and keeps them clear of the areas where the cars are driving making it a safer place to walk. Eventually, we will be able to provide more comfortable walkways and better lighting for more people. For now, at least, in places we are starting to offer an alternative to walking in the middle of the road. It is how so many generations of Fijians have navigated their way through the very dark nights in isolated places, but we now have safer alternatives. Our first round of work is just a start – but it’s a step-wise improvement in the right direction. And in time, Fiji will become a much safer place to move around.”
The safety initiatives don’t come to an end once the last metre of seal is laid, street light, guard rail or sign is installed, or white lines are painted. Specialist safety engineers, who are completely independent of the project design and construction, provide a fresh pair of eyes to make sure no risks have been overlooked.
“All major new or upgraded Fiji roads now go through safety audit processes which pay special attention to how safe the road will be at the design stage and then check its safety once it is built – before it is opened to traffic and pedestrians.”
Fiji is taking part in the World Health Organisation’s Decade of Road Safety – a ten-year programme that aims to reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries on the country’s roads by ten percent, over that time. The FRA road upgrades that are happening all over the country are a key part of this.
The Fiji Roads Authority is also working with the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP), a charitable organisation that helps countries to improve road safety. iRAP’s aim is to reduce the 3500 plus road deaths that happen world-wide, every day. Two FRA representatives recently attended an Asia Pacific iRAP workshop to learn more about how to use the process to make Fiji’s roads safer.
Like all Fiji Roads Authority projects, bringing Fiji’s road safety up to scratch will be a staged process.
“As much as the FRA would like to be able to provide all safety measures on every road in Fiji right now, we have to be realistic about what is possible. Safety priorities are competing with everything else for attention – including new bridges, fixing rural roads and filling potholes,” explains Mr Nicholls. “As well as putting safety signs and new guardrails on the roads, we are also setting up workshops and stakeholder meetings with the LTA and the Police Force, to ensure everyone understands what is being done, and how we can work together so that eventually everyone can be safer on the roads.”