How road zippers are busting congestion in Sydney
Have you ever been stuck in traffic and wished you could just jump in the empty lanes going the other way? With road zipper technology, you can–and it has already been rolled out in Sydney.
In 2009, a radical technology was installed in Sydney that would allow for the direction of traffic to change on certain lanes during peak hour.
This technology is called a QuickChange Moveable Barrier System, a Barrier Transfer system or–more colloquially–a road zipper.
And it is rapidly becoming a popular technology that could be deployed in major cities across Australia, as well as the world.
The premise is simple, on multi-lane bridges or motorways, concrete bollards are placed to indicate the division between inbound and outbound lanes.
A machine is able to move these bollards across, much like a zipper, to create more lanes in either direction as peak demand dictates.
This technology was installed as part of Sydney's Inner West Busway project, an upgrade of Victoria Road.
New Zealand project management company Resolve Group had already successfully installed this technology in Auckland and major bridges in Europe and America before being charged with rolling out Australia’s first road zipper.
During non-peak periods, the motorway has two lanes in each direction. But during the morning rush, the barrier is moved to accommodate a bus lane, with two lanes of traffic and one lane of traffic heading outbound.
Resolve Group managing director Martin Leak said the project had been a great success.
"It has been a success. It is managed and run by RMS (Roads and Maritime Services) themselves and they have done well,” he said.
"I don't think we have had any head-on accidents since it was installed. It has operated quite successfully, it does the morning lanes very well.”
Previously attempts at changing the directions of lanes had used lighting, but Mr Leak said those methods were not nearly as safe as barrier transfer machines.
"The beauty of the barrier is that is provides a positive, physical barrier," he said.
"Lighting systems make signs that won't give that same level of protection, that is the beauty of the barrier transfer system."
While these barrier transfer machines have been successful in easing gridlock, there is also scope for them to be used to accelerate roadworks as well.
In the United States these machines have been used on roads and bridges where the lanes stretch out the full width of the motorway during peak hour.
"We use the barrier to move these lanes out and build the shoulder lanes," Mr Leak said.
"This has been used on New York bridges, so there is a real application for speeding up the construction itself."
Barrier transfer machines are also being installed on Japanese roads as part of their preparation work for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.
And Mr Leak said he expected them to become more and more popular in the coming years.
"It will be used more and more," he said.
"It is expensive to do, but the Japanese are using this technology to enable motorway systems for the Olympic Games...they have embraced it just recently.
"In America, it is widely used and in Europe it is being used in a lot more places."
That includes Australia, with Mr Leak confirming talks were already underway for more road zipper projects to be rolled out in other cities across the country.
"I think there has been some interest in Brisbane and a number of projects have been looked at in Sydney,” he said.