7 solutions for a more mobile Britain
20 January 2016 |
Matt Smith on the revolutions that could transform transport in the UK
Airport expansion decision
The government looked set to push ahead when the Airports Commission recommended building a third runway at Heathrow Airport last July, but last month transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has hinted that the final decision might not be made until after the summer as proposals for an expansion at Gatwick are reconsidered.
Critics have suggested the delay is a ploy by the government to boost Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith’s London mayoral election campaign, while Willie Walsh, boss of British Airways owner International Airlines Group, has said he will move his business elsewhere if the government “continues to dither” over the runway decision.
Crossrail and HS2
Connecting 40 stations along 100 kilometres of rail – 42 kilometres of which will sit in new tunnels – Crossrail’s full route will run from Reading to Shenfield from 2019,
with routes in the east beginning from as early as May 2017. Designs for the new trains were recently unveiled and signs are already appearing in the newly-opened areas of Tottenham Court Road. Once complete the project will increase central London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent.
Meanwhile, the government’s controversial HS2 project continues. The first phase, which will run between London and the West Midlands, will reportedly cost nearly £30billion and is set to open to passengers in 2026, travelling at speeds of up to 250mph. Together with the second phase, which extends the route up to Leeds and Manchester, the entire project is currently expected to cost £55.7billion.
When Londoners will see a Night Tube is still anybody’s guess, but Transport for London (TfL) has a few other tricks up its sleeve. As well as new trains, more Wi-Fi and line extensions, TfL also recently showed off its blueprint for the “station designs of the future”.
The “Station Design Idiom” is based on nine key principles and incorporates more focused lighting that helps to guide passengers in the right direction with cleverly placed focal points. The design won a gold award for Proposed Architecture at the 2015 London Design Awards, and there is a shortlist of 56 stations that could be modernised using the new palette.
Improvements to cycling facilities
TfL says it is working to make cycling an “integral part” of London’s transport network, and steps have already been taken towards this vision with the opening of five Cycle Superhighways – continuous cycle lanes aimed at making it easier and safer for cyclists to get from the outer zones to the city centre. With cycling set to double by 2020, TfL has promised a network of “direct, high-capacity, joined-up cycle tracks” and more Dutch-style lanes, fully segregated from other road traffic. “Substantial improvements” to some of the worst junctions for cyclists have also been promised with the aim of making the capital safer.
Apps for smartphones and tablets have made many aspects of our lives easier, and getting around London is no exception. Car-sharing services such as Uber enable Londoners to connect to drivers close to them to arrange a lift to their next destination. Although they have proven controversial among black cab drivers, the apps have driven innovation in the form of rivals like cab:app, which allows passengers to hail licensed taxis.
Even commuters’ lives could be made a little easier by the app revolution. Cubic Transportation Systems, the firm that developed the Oyster card, says its NextCity project could lead to an app that wakes travellers earlier if there are problems on their routes – bad news for those who use the Central line to get to work.
In 2014, Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled a proposal for a £30billion ring road tunnel to move cars away from London’s surface streets. The 22-mile Inner Orbital Tunnel would also free up land for projects like parks and new buildings. The tunnel would provide two new river crossings and could help to combat the predicted 60 per cent increase in congestion in central London by 2031. Eight possible entrances and exits were suggested.
It would not be first project aimed at burying major roads. The Boston Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T), known as the Big Dig, moved the city’s main highway into a tunnel along with further underground routes, creating 300 acres of new space. Although originally estimated to come in at around $2.4billion, officials announced in 2012 that with interest the true cost reached $24.3billion. It was also a lengthy build: work began on the project in 1982, but it was not officially completed until 2006.
Perhaps driverless cars are slightly further away than other projects on this list, but they could still have a huge impact when they arrive. While Google’s work on intelligent vehicles in California and Texas may dominate the headlines, UK firms are also exploring the possibilities and the government recently published a report, The Pathway To Driverless Cars, which suggested how they could be introduced to our roads.
As well as offering increased mobility to those who cannot drive, smart AI could reduce congestion and make it quicker to get from A to B. The need for parking could also be reduced if the cars form part of the sharing economy, with vehicles responding to passengers’ requests as a service, rather than being owned by individuals.