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Planning for Pedestrians in the ROW (Right of Way)

By Drew Colbow

There have been many times during our careers when something unexpected happens at an active job site. Bad weather, a missing part, a broken tool, or an unexpected safety issue. When safety incidents occur, it is important to know what to do. Working in the public right of way adds a layer of safety complexity that needs to be understood, planned for, and properly executed. Small cell installations, typically in urban areas, introduce another layer of complexity with the pedestrian.

The public right of way can be a confusing space as multiple groups, industries, and the public, use the area for different purposes. The Right of Way is generally a type of municipal easement, or controlled land, that is specified for public use. Such uses typically include electrical transmission lines, pipelines, and fiber conduits underground, along with roads, sidewalks, and small cell nodes above ground.

Due to the nature of shared uses in the public right of way, permitting and construction are typically controlled by state and local entities. The permitting of small cell installations typically navigates a host of municipal and state agencies including but not limited to franchise agreements, municipal consents, zoning, permitting, and traffic control permits.

Planning for appropriate traffic control when constructing small cells in the public right of way is extremely important, regardless of if a permit is required or not. Many jurisdictions do not require traffic control permits, but that does not eliminate the need for safe practices to ensure that both vehicular and pedestrian activities do not enter the work zone area.

Typical control measures often consist of barrels, cones, barriers, and other items designed to indicate the area is temporarily closed for construction. Even with the best traffic control plan, permits and signage, it is possible that someone, or something, will unexpectedly enter an active work area. Many of the industry’s recent encounters with pedestrians in work zones have ironically been occurrences of pedestrians distracted with digital devices not paying attention to where they are walking.

Prevent. Develop a traffic control plan before construction activity to ensure that risks are identified and mitigated to minimize their occurrence.

Alert. Work area pedestrian intrusions can be caught ahead of time by alert crew members. Signs, cones, barrels, and barricades usually help but flaggers can potentially signal rogue pedestrians and sometimes construction crew members can intercept people before they enter an active work zone.

Composure. Remain calm and composed if a pedestrian enters the work zone. Many pedestrians can become agitated, aggressive, and display bad attitudes towards construction crews on their sidewalk. Do not escalate the situation and do not be afraid to contact the police for assistance.

Stop Work. If someone, or something, bypasses traffic control measures and enters an active work zone, it is important to stop all work immediately. Remove the intrusion, discuss how to prevent this occurrence again, and document with your safety professional before starting work.

Doing planning at the beginning of your small cell build and expecting the unexpected pedestrian will help eliminate unpleasant surprises downstream and expedite the build. 


Originally published in the Tower Times, Tilson’s VP of Network Delivery and NATE Small Cell and DAS committee member Drew Colbow shares his expertise on keeping pedestrians safe at public right of way (ROW) construction sites. 

Tilson is a proud member of the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) association which emphasizes the importance of safety, training, accountability, and reliability. Learn more about Tilson’s safety culture.

Tilson is an expert in small cell and oDAS technologies that enhance coverage and capacity in places where the network performance may be compromised and where connectivity is critical. We provide expert siting solutions to achieve optimum network performance in difficult to reach places, such as campuses, enterprise buildings, stadiums and arenas, shopping centers, outdoor urban and recreational areas, roadways with terrain interference, rails corridors and tunnels. Learn more about our small cell solutions

Drew Colbow

Drew Colbow

Drew Colbow serves as VP of Network Delivery and leads our Outside Plant, Site Development, and Network Services business units. Tilson’s Network Delivery teams design, build, and maintain network infrastructure for various nationwide network deployment initiatives. Drew joined Tilson in 2019 where he led Tilson’s Small Cell division establishing standardized business processes enabling record growth and profitability. He brings more than 20 years of multifaceted experience in the wireless infrastructure industry. His experience and leadership focus on national network deployment, program management, business operations, enterprise system management, and operational process implementation. 

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