There are stark choices facing Europe’s road planners.
They need to look to smooth flows and handle demand: add capacity to our current road network or manage the load more efficiently, according to two of the key speakers at the European Road Infrastructure Congress, http://www.eric2016.eu/ taking place this month.
In a session entitled “Big data and the future of road infrastructure,” chaired by Dr John McCarthy of Atkins, two big hitters will explain the need to rethink public transport on the network, and envisage a world of increasing autonomy to maximise capacity.
Peter Miller, visiting research fellow of the University of Western England, and founding director at Conga says, “Cars make up 80 per cent of the traffic on our motorways, mostly with only one occupant.
“When motorway widening costing a staggering £62K per metre, isn’t it time to consider a practical way to make a 10-fold improvement on using our existing road capacity whilst reducing environmental impacts at the same time?”
He went on, “Currently, it is almost impossible to run an effective express coach service on our strategic roads: without on-alignment facilities to pick up and drop off passengers, operators make extensive detours into urban areas; and without priority travel, times can be considerably extended.
“At Conga we imagine a future where our strategic roads are adapted to work efficiently for larger passenger vehicles; and where many people choosing to travel this way, freeing them from the need to drive, to park or indeed to own a car, and allowing them to work or relax whilst travelling.”
He added, “We want to see new on-alignment ‘bus rapid transit‘-style’ interchanges serving every urban area, and high-occupancy vehicles getting priority on managed motorways.
“We see this as a natural component of an emerging ‘mobility as a service’ solution to our transport needs, and one that will work well with local bus services, small autonomous urban taxis and cycling in a world where few town-dwellers bother to own a car.
All of this will be enabled by information technology, smartphone apps and dynamic scheduling allocating people to the ideal vehicle.
Also speaking in the same session, Andrew Miller, Chief Technology Officer of Thatcham Research, will talk about the importance of autonomous and connected vehicles in maximising road space.
“While developments in driverless vehicles will always capture the media’s attention, the real progress is being made in connectivity,” he said.
“Across Europe, there are trials of different systems: Denmark has a system that tracks GPS over 4,000 kilometres of roads. Sweden is also working with Volvo in Gothenburg to relay data about road conditions in their connected vehicles.
“Austria has installed 70,000 sensors and 6,500 traffic cameras connected by fibre optics over 2,200 kilometres of toll roads. Highways England plans to create an innovation centre for testing and trial technologies, such as radar to detect stalled vehicles in live traffic lanes.”
In a future where cars drive themselves and HGVs deliver goods around Europe without anyone at the wheel, will road infrastructure have a role to play?
“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to transform our roads, reducing congestion and crashes, says Andrew Miller. “The first truly autonomous vehicles though, where the driver is able to hand over complete control in a specific situation such as on the motorway, won’t be on our roads until sometime after 2021.
“In the meantime, it’s important that we do everything possible to minimise the risk of crashes. The danger is that as technology develops, and drivers become more confident, they will start to use it in conditions it has not been designed for.
“The arrival of autonomous vehicles will transform the way we drive, reducing both congestion and crashes. But the infrastructure continues to play an important part: lane assistance systems require clear, well-maintained the road markings.
“Dependence on this aspect of basic road maintenance may give drivers a false sense of security that they can relax while their car looks after them. If white lines are absent, worn or temporarily obscured, from snow for example, the technology may not perform. “
“Our clear message is that until 2021, drivers need to stay on the ball and observe the rules of the road. And for those who build, manage and maintain Europe’s road network: a fully functioning infrastructure is more important than ever.”
The European Road Infrastructure Congress takes place in Leeds from 18-20 October.