Monday, July 9, 2012

Park Rangers Looking Out For Visitor Safety

From the National Park Service Morning Report:

Blue Ridge Parkway – A traffic study launched in 2001 identified particular locations and times where accidents most typically occurred.  The park then began an innovative signing and targeted patrol program that has since cut the number of annual accidents nearly in half, down  from over 450 in 2000 to just over 250 last year.

This effort started in 2000 involved Park Rangers identifying a concerning trend in the increase of  motor vehicle accidents on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Rangers worked on an interdisciplinary team with Engineers, Landscape Architects, Dispatchers, and others to identify locations where accidents were revealing patterns.  One example was at Mile Post 36.5 where there were over a dozen motorcycle accidents in the same curve within one year.  During the following year there were zero accidents at this location.

The plan included three elements; education, signage, and increased enforcement.

What is not shown in the above morning report entry is that due to more aggressive enforcement of traffic regulations the number charges for more serious crimes such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, distribution of drugs, etc. also went up significantly.

After approximately two years of this work by Rangers that was not popular at times unpopular with the public, the crime rate turned decreased significantly.

Why did this happen?  I believe there was a change in the perception of local communities and violators.  In the past I had heard many times that people were using the Blue Ridge Parkway as a travel route because they did not think they would get caught.  Once the number of violation notices and arrests went up, that perception changed.

So not only did the Blue Ridge Parkway make a significant impact on the number of serious motor vehicle accidents the were causing personal injuries, property damage, and at times death, they made the Park a much safer place to visit.

I credit the Chief Ranger at the time Gordon Wissinger and his Assistant Chief Ranger John Garrison for not only taking a leadership role in developing this plan of action, but standing by it at times when certain members of the public and politicians did not like the increased enforcement actions being taken.  They are both examples of what a good manager can still accomplish in our National Parks.

Examples of more aggressive signage that was developed for high accident areas.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fourth of July in National Parks

July Fourth to most people brings memories of family picnics, outdoor fun, and cookouts punctuated by a fireworks display to celebrate the birth of our Nation.  During my National Park Service career it meant time away from my family, long hours of hot working conditions, and getting to meet all kinds of interesting people literally ranging from the President of the United States to drunken idiots.  I spent the vast majority of July 4th's away from home in such places as Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Saint Louis working at jobs ranging from parking cars, crowd control, dignitary protection, and eventually Incident Command positions in planning and operations at the national level.

So today do not forget all those National Park Service employees that are having to work protecting our resources and making your July 4th visit a safe and pleasant one.