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Streets as ecosystems: the flexible use of road-space

Peter Jones, Professor of Transport and Sustainable Development, Centre for Transport Studies, UCL

Peter Jones, OBE
20 September 2019
For roads to become streets and thereby places in the urban environment, other functions will require a redistribution of space
For roads to become streets and thereby places in the urban environment, other functions will require a redistribution of space


Cities are beginning to look seriously at how to optimise urban road capacity through the flexible use of road-space. Part of this optimisation includes redesigning main roads to encourage a switch from car traffic to public transport, walking and cycling, thereby helping to reduce traffic congestion, while improving road safety, air quality, reducing CO2 emissions and noise levels – and improving the health and well-being of the population. To make better use of limited space/capacity, need to change allocation by time of day/week. But also, to do this dynamically, depending on conditions on the network, at that time, requires data collection co-ordination, on a real-time basis. 

The project explores how these complex and varied challenges are being addressed comprehensively and holistically in the EU-funded MORE project, through the lens of urban streets as ‘eco-systems’, and findings from the first year of the project will be discussed at Smarter Tomorrow. Some key questions are: Are LED traffic signs and road markings effective in all conditions, and how to safely and intelligibly handle transitions, from one state to another.

Peter Jones will be speaking about the project and its outputs at Smarter Tomorrow

The project will be creating a series of tools as outputs:

1. Road Design Option Generator: A Web-based tool for searching for street allocation solutions, through an on-line option generation library.

2. Road Design Stakeholder Engagement Tool: Web-based tool to assist with stakeholder engagement, both collectively during design workshops and by providing a portal for individuals to comment on design options, building on Buchanan Computing’s TraffWeb product

3. Road Design Dynamic Simulator: A simulation tool to assess how all road-based activities perform under particular design options, building on PTV’s existing VISSIM software

4. Road Design Appraisal Tool: A web-based tool to assist with the appraisal of design options, using the outputs from the VISSIM simulations.

There is also a greater need to consider the ‘place’ functions of streets, improving the servicing of premises, providing a higher quality, less traffic-dominated street environments, reducing severance and supporting shops and services on high streets that are facing financial challenges. Reducing disruption due to road maintenance and utility works is also part of the challenge; while increasing extreme weather events can also disrupt urban mobility and need to be considered in future road design.

New developments such as MaaS (mobility as a service), the electrification of the vehicle fleet and the deployment of automated vehicles, and of drones for deliveries, also call for a rethinking of the functions and design of major urban roads, while ICT and ‘big data’ provides opportunities for road space management in real time, by providing richer information on patterns of road use and network conditions.

At the project launch, one thing was evident for the universities of the project consortium: on the urban stretches of the TEN-T corridor roads, in terms of space usage, the function of moving dominates. For roads to become streets and thereby places in the urban environment, other functions will require a redistribution of space.

Natalie Chapman ( Freight Transport Association) agreed but pointed out that deliveries become more important, potentially adding more traffic on the road. She suggested two solutions to avoid obstructing the traffic: Loading bay’s and retiming. Arup’s flexible kerbside study is one of many examples presented that showed how loading bays, as other functions could be demand-oriented. When needed they would appear, but otherwise, they could free up space for other functions, such as walking, cycling or even another traffic lane.

MORE will look into the detail of how that could materialise on streets. At the five sites in Budapest, Constanta, Lisbon, London and Malmo it will test the design options for urban main roads connecting to the TEN-T network. It will focus on design practicalities, but also add functions to modelling and appraisal tools that can resemble the concept.

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