search
date/time
Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
frontpagebusinessartscarslifestylefamilytravelsportsscitechnaturefictionCartoons
1:30 AM 26th April 2024
frontpage

Proud To Have Helped Over Five Million Travelling On The Nation's Roads

 
Outside 10 Downing Street in 2004: (Left to right) Rob Gee, Frank Bird, Alan Mason, Steve Warner, Deborah Caine, Simon Hinds, Jason Hughes, Roxroy Taylor, Anthony Hall, Malcom Metcalfe, Amanda Mushing, Nicola Calladine, Bob Groom, Vijay, Jody Rowbottom, Chris Batey, Sue Hawksworth.
Outside 10 Downing Street in 2004: (Left to right) Rob Gee, Frank Bird, Alan Mason, Steve Warner, Deborah Caine, Simon Hinds, Jason Hughes, Roxroy Taylor, Anthony Hall, Malcom Metcalfe, Amanda Mushing, Nicola Calladine, Bob Groom, Vijay, Jody Rowbottom, Chris Batey, Sue Hawksworth.
England’s roads saw the introduction of a new frontline service 20 years ago today (26 April) with the deployment of traffic officers onto motorways, their role to specifically help road users.

Traffic volume has increased over the years as have our traffic officer numbers, from around ninety traffic officers two decades ago to over a thousand traffic officer patrols helping to keep road users safe.

The front-line service started in the Midlands and was subsequently rolled out nationally. We hear from Frank Bird who is one of the original traffic officers.

Since 2004, Frank’s career has progressed and he is now a Senior Network Planner and widely known for being the National Highways ‘bank holiday getaway’ spokesperson for the media.

Frank said:
“No two days are ever the same and look where the job has led me. This organisation has given me so many opportunities to gain experience and learn different things to enhance my career.

“At school I was painfully shy. Now when I talk to some of my old school friends who have seen me on telly they say I’m so confident and exude an air of authority. Who knew that the little lad that used to sit at the back of the class would end up giving advice to millions of road users on the national news.”


Frank Bird holding the spare torch whilst the London 2012 Summer Olympics relay passed through the Midlands
Frank Bird holding the spare torch whilst the London 2012 Summer Olympics relay passed through the Midlands
In his current role Frank helps to manage the Midlands road network for major events and large-scale incidents. He recalls meeting Pink backstage at (the then) RICOH Arena having ensured that 34,000 people arrived in time for the show (although embarrassingly he didn’t realise she was the star of the show!) He also has fond memories of his part in the smooth running of the 2023 Commonwealth Games held in Birmingham.

Following a risk assessment of the flight path Frank liaised with the Red Arrows over concerns their flyover would distract motorists on the M6. They subsequently agreed not to release their famous red, white, and blue smoke over the motorway. A bonus was the aircraft flying past the Commonwealth Games transport hub which led many to believe that Frank had specially arranged it.

Frank is very proud of his beginnings. He said:
“We were what we like to call the vanguard and the front runners for this new service. On day one, I was on the afternoon shift, so the morning team got all the attention with the media. Although, together with some of the other new traffic officers, I did get the opportunity to meet the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie at Number 10.”


Talking about the traffic officer role Frank said:
“It was unique. I couldn't find anything anywhere in the world that was quite like our service whose primary role was to look after the welfare of the motorist. We weren't there to repair roads or build new bridges but to make journeys safer and hopefully a more pleasant experience.”

Talking about the first time he stopped in his vehicle and stepped out to temporarily hold the traffic in a live lane.

Frank said:
“I have to say it was almost like the best laxative known to man. It was quite a surreal but rewarding experience.

“Back when we started, the uniform was a white shirt and tie. When you're crawling around under a vehicle, you know, getting your hands dirty and whatever. Totally impractical, but the organisation and wider authorities fully embraced our feedback and revamped the uniform."


Four million journeys take place on the strategic road network each day. Throughout 2023, our traffic officer patrols dealt with more than 130,000 breakdowns on motorways.

A highlight for Frank working on the motorway was being the friendly face that arrives to help people that have broken down.

Recalling one notable job, he said:
“In the early days we had a young lad who was due to have a liver transplant in Birmingham Children’s Hospital. They had come up from the southwest when mum and dad’s car broke down on the motorway. I made the decision for a patrol vehicle to take mum and son to the hospital while we stayed with dad until the recovery service arrived. Had the young lad not made it in time for the operation, there is every chance he may not be with us now.”


Finally, Frank would like to address what he calls a great misnomer about motorways being places of concrete and asphalt.

He said:
“I think we are the second or third largest nature reserve in the country and our embankments are just teeming with life.

“I used to have a colleague who was a bit of a botanist. He spoke about the number of seeds that travel up from the coast on the bottoms of vehicles. The seeds get deposited along the roadside when holiday makers are traveling back from places like Devon and Cornwall. Over the winter we put salt on the road to keep it safe for road users, which suits these plants growing later in the year, so we end up with flora up in the midlands like you’d see near the beach!”