Reimagining road's future transportation needs digital disruption and innovative minds for a new way of life and mobility needs.

Thinking

How can we redesign our roads to support future transport modes?

Roads have evolved along with humankind. From the ancient silk trails across Asia to the Romans separating pedestrians from carriages, to the labyrinth of road networks we have today.

We’re now in the midst of the next evolution of roads with the impact of digital disruption. There’s a lot going on: drones, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), micromobility, autonomous vehicles and active transport, together with the traditional modes of car and public transport.

Just as people in previous centuries reimagined their roads to suit their way of life and mobility needs, it’s time to ignite our innovative minds to reimagine roads of the future. A future where new roads are designed with the user in mind and existing roads are reconfigured.

This thinking paper presents a reimagining of the road layout to focus on people’s future transportation needs (timeliness, accessibility and safety) and reorient cities to allow for new personal transport modes.

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From binary to mode-based transport

The United Nations reports that by 2050, 68 per cent of all humans will live in cities. Getting cities right is the key to a sustainable global future (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The change in global human population between 2008 and 2050 in urban areas

The change in global human population between 2008 and 2050 in urban areas

Source: 2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects
produced by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA)

As the future of human life revolves around cities, transport accessibility, reliability, affordability and safety will contribute to a healthy future.

Currently, most cities have a binary problem of cars on the road and pedestrians on the footpath. The struggle associated with this is reflected in the declining speeds at which car drivers can typically move within cities (Figure 2).

Figure 2: On road travel speed trends for Australian cities

On road travel speed trends for Australian cities

Source: https://chartingtransport.com/2010/10/31/trends-in-melbourne-traffic

In response to the road congestion in cities, and consumer demand to lower carbon emissions, people and companies have become creative. Powerful, more advanced electric motors and light weight batteries are being used for new types of transport modes with different characteristics from older transport modes.

With 6.4 billion people living in cities by 2050, more city dwellers will be travelling shorter distances in cities and the total number of people will be far more than today. Public transport won’t be the single answer.

Mass transit is fantastic for moving large numbers of people long distances. However, stations are typically further away from work or home than the road is. Street public transport – such as light rail, trams and buses – will be heavily invested in by cities to move greater numbers of people while reducing carbon emissions from cars.

But there is still a catch; many of the new micro-technologies (such as e-scooter or e-bikes) are for personal transport and are not accommodated on existing roads. A completely different road layout is the next evolution in road design that should be safer and more inclusive for people.

Evolution in road layouts

Looking closer within cities reveals that safety and design go hand in hand. To achieve this in the past, pedestrians have been separated from bikes, separated from cars, separated from public transport.

Taken together, these key considerations have reduced the need for people’s exposure to traffic, while lessening the risk of injury for everyone, especially pedestrians and cyclists.

Now the roads are filled with public transport, pedestrians, bikes, micromobility and cars. People on different modes going different places, but the roads are not able to get any wider.

It requires an evolution in the layout of our city’s roads so that the way transport is used has a far greater weighting than the mode of transport used. Looking to nature provides inspiration for design.

Mimicking nature

Fluid dynamics (movement of gas or liquid) shows that laminar flow is characterised by fluid particles following smooth paths in layers, with each layer moving smoothly past the adjacent layers with little or no mixing (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Laminar flow (fluid dynamics) diagram of gas or liquid

Laminar flow diagram of gas or liquid

This concept is used on major highways and arterial roads, where vehicles at slower speed drive near to the shoulder and faster speed vehicles drive nearer to the centre line.

The same principle can be applied to inner-city streets, redesigning based on speed not mode (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Movement of people and vehicles in smooth, or regular paths, in contrast to turbulent flow (irregular fluctuations and mixing)

Movement of people and vehicles in turbulent flow

Urban design plays an important role in creating a safer travel environment with infrastructure that still gets people from point to point in a time-efficient manner. Such an evolution in road layout can facilitate city development allowing more people to use mass transit, walking, cycling and micromobility, while limiting unnecessary car trips.

It doesn’t mean wider roads, instead reconfigured roads (Figure 5). This is because the new types of personal transport have a much smaller spatial footprint. Therefore, more users can take advantage of the benefits of mobility.

Figure 5: Street lane example widths for pedestrians, micromobility and higher-speed separation

Street lane example widths for pedestrians, micromobility and higher-speed separation

These redesigned facilities must be extended through to intersections. The choice of how a particular intersection is treated needs to be taken in the context of the mid-block lanes leading into the intersection and how micromobility and bikes can transition into the intersection and beyond.

Figure 6: Moving to a laminar speed flow design for our road cross section

Moving to a laminar speed flow design for our road cross section

Keeping micromobility and cyclists out of the conflict zones at intersections achieves better lane balance between the different modes of transport. Design options include:

  • Using the concept of ‘hook turn’ (as experienced in Melbourne, Australia) or a ‘box turn’ (from Europe)
  • Installing traffic lights that separate the movement of cars and buses with other modes of transport
  • Wider physical island between lanes
  • Physical barrier between lanes
  • Landscaped areas for separation
  • Rumble strips or speed cushions for traffic calming effect
  • Raised intersections or crossings
  • Roundabouts or traffic circles

Stakeholders

Across the world, cities have choices to make in how they shape neighbourhoods and roads. Reimagining roads involves many stakeholders: governments, councils, road controlling authorities, mobility advocate groups, the general public and public transport providers.

If redesigns are done well, the cities will thrive with more life and vitality – for example; the personal mobility supported in Copenhagen, Denmark. On the other hand, if the redesign is lacking in human-centred design, this disjoints the progress of moving people and goods.

Good design, consultation and holistic planning is required to make any major transport change work. More research and piloting work are required in these areas. The core measures of success are:

  • Goal – Movement quality for vulnerable users
  • Objective – Less conflicting interactions
  • Indicator – Flow performance
  • Controls – Physical and logical control by speed, space, etiquette and direction

As with the advent of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), the lever for change can be the users themselves. Once people had discovered the benefits of using companies like Uber and Lyft, then attempts to protect industries such as taxi services became a political issue.

The lever for change is likely to be the demand for equity for micromobility users. This would manifest in demands for lane-width space that is safe and efficient which does not increase the risk for vulnerable transport users or pedestrians.

The speed flow continuum of movement

The introduction of new modes of transportation has the potential to better connect people with public transit and reduce reliance on private cars. Micromobility offers a tantalising solution to address the first-mile and last-mile of people movement, and provide users with better point-to-point movements in a time-efficient manner.

The way forward is embracing new modes of transport within cities that align with many cities’ goals of reducing congestion and emissions. The evolution in reimagining our roads presented in this thinking paper considers safety for riders, pedestrians and car users, together with the flexibility to accommodate multiple modes of transport today and into the future (for example, when autonomous vehicles arrive heavily on the scene).

A firmer footing on policymaking will be required regardless of road design for robust governance around the introduction of new mobility options. This includes laws together with road design guides, that accommodate both new and traditional transport modes. It will improve the safety and efficiency of the broader road network.

The design guides could be adopted by governments and designers for new roads and would also contain advice for the conversion and upgrade of existing roads.

Given the many potential benefits for consumers having different modes of transport, reimagining roads creates an equilibrium that serves the interests of cities, people, and public transport service providers.

Getting there will require a change in people’s behaviour with regard to movement and mobility: not only in aiming to motivate users towards making more eco-friendly choices, but in respecting different modes of transport and adjusting how they move around on a road to accommodate these new modes.

These aspects combined will improve the safety and efficiency of the transport network, with less conflicting interactions and better flow performance.

It means reimagining roads as part of a speed flow continuum of movement that is not transport mode specific, but instead is speed specific.


About the author

Blair Monk is a specialist in intelligent transport systems engineer with more than 25 years of experience in the road transport and traffic operations fields. He is Aurecon’s Principal, Transport Optimisation and Planning, located in Auckland.


About Aurecon Design Academy

Aurecon Design Academy is Aurecon’s flagship learning program for technical mastery. A major component of the Aurecon Design Academy is the individual project-based research paper. The research involved developing technical innovation and application methods for an actual project through experimentation, prototyping and human-centred design. This research paper is the result of such a project and authored by an Aurecon Design Academy graduate.

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