Although Rights of Way Officers are familiar with the legal sides of defining rights of way and their maintenance, their knowledge of level of use of those paths is sketchy at best. It is increasingly apparent that most PROW units are resource limited and that a method of monitoring use that has the power to demonstrate that the council's approach to network management is
- meeting with authority policy aims
- enabling targeting of resources;
- monitoring the effectiveness of improvements;
- allowing evidence gathering for capital expenditure proposals
- allowing evidence gathering for enforcement cases,
- validation of witness statements;
- monitoring footfall damage and other environmental issues
- provides greater knowledge about network use
- should be more widely used.
The normal working practices of ROW officers mean they are out on the network for some hours between 0900-1700, Monday to Friday when they only meet the occasional user but there are dawn and dusk dog walkers, joggers, horse riders and a different usage pattern over the weekend holiday etc. Monitoring paths with low levels of use by paid or volunteer traffic surveyors is wasteful of resources; calculations suggest that electronic monitoring is about 0.1% the cost of 24 hr human coverage and more reliable. It is also away of getting ROW/Access work away from the 'black arts' of looking at the path surface and drawing on some race memory tracking skills to estimate usage. The author witnessed 100 horses use 2 x 50cm tractor tramline tracks to cross a 100m of field over a period of 5 hours, the damage to the 50 cm high wheat was negligible and hoof prints on the dry firm earth surface were almost invisible. If he had not witnessed the before during and after he would have suggested maybe 1-2 horses per day used the track.
What to consider before use
When embarking on using this equipment for the first time there are three points to consider.
- Clearance of the use of the equipment with the legal department. Some or all of the equipment is normally installed in the 'two spits' depth below the surface required by the highway authority to do its duty. The sensors also are unable to identify individual users thus avoiding Regulation of Investigatory Powers issues. If the information being gathered is for a management issue that is likely to be contentious e.g. imposition of a Traffic Regulation Order, informing and explaining part of your evidence gathering process to the legal department is an important part to ensuring all parties having confidence in the system. Some legal departments may suggest it would be courteous to inform the landowner of your intention to bury equipment in their land. It may be necessary to argue this issue case by case depending upon the issues of the case.
- It is useful to generate a small database of examples that are comprehensible to colleagues, elected members and possibly the courts. For instance using a traffic logger to record the traffic patterns into the office car park for a week, and supplementing this with a traffic record of a quiet country lane or country park car park should give printouts and graphs that people think are 'right', understand and accept.
- Developing robust audit trails especially for substantiating the reliability and accuracy of the equipment. For example when installing a sensor on a kissing gate walking through the gate 10 times, later on during the monitoring period revisit the site and again walk through 10 times in a period of five minutes and finally just before removing the equipment or downloading data walk though 10 more times recording the time and date of these tests. These 3 x 10 usage incidents should all show up on the record, be noted for accuracy, calibration and audit purposes but deleted from the normal usage record. It is important to actually use the gate rather than simulating gate use as it is better for evidential purposes.
Unfortunately the only item of equipment a Rights of Way Unit is likely to have that can detect and identify all types of RoW user is the Mark 1 eyeball. There is a need to decide what is to be monitored which will identify the type of set up required and duration of monitoring. The equipment involved ranges from a simple infra red 'invisible beam' which when broken momentarily triggers a data logger into counting '1'. to combination magnetic field and acoustic trace recorders which on analysis of their data can differentiate between, and indicate the number of, four wheel motor vehicles, number of two wheel motor bikes and number of bicycles that have passed a particular point. Other systems use radio or infra red motion detectors, acoustic, pressure or magnetic switch systems. They can be free standing, hidden at 'choke' points, concealed in walls or waymark posts, under the path surface, bridge or board walk, or used to count the swings of a gate. Which equipment is chosen depends on the task to be undertaken therefore one organisation might prefer the flexibility of modular systems that require monthly attention whereas another might wish to invest in equipment that can only monitor one class of user but the equipment can remain in place up to for a year. At 2006 prices £500 will buy an entry level system for monitoring one location for one type of user with appropriate downloading and analysis software, £1000 can buy enough equipment to monitor 5 or 6 sites or user types. The suppliers of the equipment can advise on suitability for the task envisaged, or ask email@example.com whose website explains in more detail about suitability of various different types of counter and has a list of suppliers.
There are various points to consider about the practicalities of using the equipment.
- Some of the sensors come in items of street furniture acceptable for urban environments.
- Sensors for the urban fringe and rural locations may need to be concealed or camouflaged such as burial or in a 'pre-vandalised' waymark post. In some environments leaving the sensor container empty but open for 'investigation' by the locally curious might be a useful idea before finally deploying a sensor.
- Most break beam sensors suggest the beam is installed at adult hip height. Coincidentally this puts the sender and sensor holes in any post or wall at child eye level where curiosity is likely to leave them liable to be probed and blocked. The use of a 'pre-vandalised' post allows the drilling of extra 'distraction' holes to minimise blockage.
- In these suspicious days remember to clearly identify all equipment especially the items you bury as Belonging to xxxx authority and with a contact number.
- When installing units 'clandestinely' consider how you appear to outsiders. Being seen walking down a path with a spade and a large bag returning with spade and empty bag is likely to invite investigation. Take survey poles pegs 50m tapes etc to distract onlookers.
- When installing hidden counters make sure you deploy discrete markers, take photos and measurements of the site and above all write down where the usage counters are placed. Some of them will be capable of operating for a year before data needs recovery and batteries need replacement. Explaining to a line manager the lose of a £500 sensor and logger, a year's data and therefore the failure of the monitoring project announced to Parish Council, Elected Member and MP because you 'forgot' where you put it or someone who was dealing with it left is not a position the author would like to be in.
- Overall usage counters can provide useful data to help manage various rights of way issues but they require both management and staff commitment to their use and their intelligent deployment requires active consideration of what is trying to be measured, the most effective way to measure it, what results might be expected and how to investigate or explain any unusual usage patterns recorded.