Technology is promising to disrupt transport. Electric vehicles, shared car and bike schemes and mobility-as-a-service initiatives are all changing the status quo. But it's the connected and autonomous vehicle, or CAV, which has the greatest potential to change the geography within which we live.
How does transport infrastructure define place?Our experience of a place tends to be defined by how we move through it, and places tend to be defined by their transport infrastructure. Think of London, Paris, Amsterdam or New York, and memories or perceptions of their streets and their traffic won’t be far away.
Cities are continuing to grow around the world, and they are all looking at how they can improve flow and mobility. Bigger roads? Mass transit systems? Bike hire schemes?
When governments and communities consider the options for transport, they are dealing with a range of tightly knotted issues. Urban flow is bound up with concerns about safety, air quality, noise and congestion, with knock-on consequences for the health of its people, both mentally and physically, and of its society, ecology and economy.
How has the motor car defined place over time?
Our public spaces are dominated by bus stops, street lights, signs, gantries, barriers and parked cars. This is part of modern life and we accept it. But would we choose it today, given the choice?Self-driving vehicles are seizing the popular imagination. They are likely to be part of a mix of technology that can affect the landscapes we live in, presenting an opportunity to think about the kind of places where we want to live, work and visit.
Spatial layout influences human behaviour
Tim Stonor (video) from Space Syntax argues that enabling connections between people is at the heart of what makes a city smart. Spatial layout exerts influence on human behaviour; it defines how we flow through the city, interact with others and transact through space socially and economically.
Cities dissected by large, fast highways, such as Los Angeles, allow vehicles to speed through a city but at the cost of very low spatial accessibility for the people who live there. By contrast, the Champs Élysées in Paris or Edinburgh’s Royal Mile integrates local and regional journeys and offers high local flow. More accessible places get more movement, more connectivity and more human connections.
Let’s make transport fit the city, not the other way around
When a useful technology emerges, our tendency is often to wonder how we should adapt ourselves to it.
We should be asking ourselves how we want communities to look and feel. Not many of us would want to live somewhere with state-of-the-art urban mobility that does not feel welcoming, healthy or safe.
Some local communities are re-considering the layout of roads to reduce the dominance of vehicles in city environments. For instance, Transport for London’s Mini-Hollands programme has awarded £30m to three London Boroughs to create a network of cycle routes. As a result, Walthamstow traffic levels in 12 key roads were reported to fall by 56%, or 10,000 fewer vehicles a day.
Can we make better use of our parking spaces?
Parking is problematic for two reasons. One is it represents a lot of expensive capital, in the form of thousands of vehicles, sitting idle for most of the time; 95% idle according to some calculations. The other is where a proportion of traffic is roaming the streets in search of a parking space. This is a situation which is highly detrimental to congestion, air quality and drivers’ tempers.
The city of Manchester
Opportunity to design space around people
New technologies are an opportunity to manage and design urban infrastructure and spaces around people. We will have new and more powerful data assets to undertake planning, engage users and develop the physical assets in ways we can only begin to imagine.
In a future world we assume ubiquitous digital connectivity, not only for us but for the vehicles we use and the infrastructure which supports them. This is a world in which vehicles remain useful when we don’t need them, where junctions are simpler, lanes slimmer, road signage minimal and city-centre car parking is replaced with useful and attractive spaces for leisure and commerce.
We also assume our privacy and security is assured while reliable safety information is being exchanged. That is why we at OS are leading the E-CAVE project.
Our mission is to make information about ‘place’ work for the benefit of Britain, and we have the data and expertise to make our towns and cities fit for the vehicles and citizens of the future.