TRAFFIC EFFICIENCY & MOBILITY
MEASURING WHAT MATTERS
The increasing success of active travel in the past years goes hand in hand with attaining data-driven insights to further enable this and other positive changes in our transport networks and, above all, to help stakeholders implement schemes that might actually improve active travel for vulnerable road users. Mark Nicholson reflects on this in the following article
Facilitating active travel is a crucial factor in creating a more sustainable and equitable transport network. A few months ago, Transport for London (TfL) and London Councils chose operators Dott, Lime and TIER to launch a 12-month trial for rental e-scooters.
It highlights the continuing trend by cities in introducing more sustainable travel options and coincides with increasing active travel levels over the last couple years, accelerated by the pandemic. For example, from 2019-2020 cycle counts in outer London increased by 22%. On top of this, half of all journeys between April and June 2020 were made by cycling and walking, increasing by 29% from pre-pandemic levels and demonstrating changing attitudes towards travel and sustainability.
Bicycle commuters on their way to work crossing London's Blackfriars Bridge in the early morning. Photo by Sampajano Anizza
The uptake in active travel means that attaining data-driven insights is key for enabling positive changes in our transport network. We are entering a new age of travel, which looks at prioritising the movements of active travel. To deliver effective support for active travel users we need to create an infrastructure that can adapt to these new modes, to ensure that transport routes are democratised and safer, while also sustainable, creating better equity amongst users. By measuring what matters, we can continue to promote positive change in transport habits, making our cities cleaner, safer and smarter for all.
Modal shifts: how initiatives can help provide access for all
Human-centric mobility, such as cycling and walking, boomed with the first lockdown. However, we are now also seeing a similar pattern with the rise in micro-mobility vehicles, such as e-scooters, e-bikes, e-cargo bikes, and other electric vehicles. With the active travel spectrum extending, the number of interactions is growing exponentially – and the ability to balance emerging modes of transport alongside private vehicles and public transport is now moving swiftly up the policy agenda.
Implementing data-driven schemes, such as segregated cycle lanes, new cycle routes, and flexible pedestrian-only zones, along with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and ‘School Streets’ initiatives, are some of the methods being used to accommodate this growth and help meet sustainable targets. Not only do these schemes help to improve road safety, but can elevate people’s way of life through cleaner air and prioritising access to active travel routes. A recent collaboration between Cross River Partnership and the London Borough of Hackney is a prime example. This saw the implementation of the School Streets scheme as part of the Healthy Streets Everyday programme, promoting safer routes, cleaner air and active travel. Creating cycle and pedestrian prioritisation on roads around schools showcased local sustainability efforts but also signified how schemes can help provide better equity for people in society who live in areas with poorer air quality and limited access to safe active travel options.
Yet this does not mean councils are devoid of challenges; if local authorities lack accurate data collection, councils are unable to prove the success of these new initiatives (or see if they’re not working), and therefore defend against the critics.
Van Gogh Hackford Road © Cross River Partnership/London Borough of Hackney
Why data is the blueprint for success
Technology is the defining factor in gaining insight into changing travel trends and how evolving modes of transport can be approached in the right way. Authorities can gain in-depth insights on where best to implement active travel friendly infrastructure and schemes by using new computer vision techniques. For example, an AI sensor placed at a specific road or junction is able to anonymously measure, in real-time and 24/7, different modes of travel through counts (e.g., 6 cyclists, 4 e-scooters) and capture traits such as speed and pathways. With regards to school streets, for example, this helped provide evidence it was being used as planned and that the number of people walking and cycling to school had in fact increased.
Vivacity Labs aims at making cities smarter, safer, and more sustainable. Its mission is to support transport authorities on working out new ways of living, moving around and connecting with our cities, while maintaining a privacy-centric, citizen-first approach. Vivacity Labs AI sensors and Smart Junctions signal control gather detailed and anonymous data 24/7 on transport modes, traffic flow and travel patterns, supporting strategic decisions to help optimise the transport network and improve urban infrastructure.
The ability to retrieve accurate data is necessary to ensure the success of sustainable travel schemes. Not only will these provide objective evidence of users’ impact but will better inform funding bodies and public stakeholders. Anonymous and accurate data will enable councils to make more informed decisions about where to implement infrastructure changes and provides local authorities with more clarity when it comes to identifying potential issues. With e-scooters currently operating without designated travel lanes, data will be crucial for supporting the wellbeing of all road users. As part of South London Partnership’s InnOvaTe Project, Richmond and Sutton councils have also adopted AI sensors to help improve local active travel insights in order to support vulnerable road users. The anonymous data collected will help boost local cycle infrastructure, and subsequently empower active travel users by reducing conflict between different modes of transport.
Securing data’s success with the power of AI
Naturally, these programs will help boost air quality targets by facilitating green travel. Nonetheless, the arrival of these new initiatives should still be measured against the impact they could have against other vehicles, as well as the congestion and emissions that may emerge from them as a result. AI-powered smart traffic signal control alongside these schemes is able to prioritise sustainable modes of transport and also facilitate the most efficient way to ease traffic flow for all road users and reduce emissions by learning from its environment and adapting in real-time. There is a growing imperative to cater for the growing number of road users and vehicles without laying more tarmac. In combining AI, connected technologies and data, stakeholders can therefore implement schemes that weigh up all these factors simultaneously.
Improving traffic insights with Artificial Intelligence is the main objective of Vivacity Labs © Vivacity
We have the opportunity to create sustainable cities through intelligent automation, with the growing spectrum of active travel modes only making the need for greater datasets on our roads more critical. The more detailed insights we can attain, the more responsive our cities can be to their citizens. By placing the safety and equity of road users at the heart of accurate data collection, the better we can create a system of travel that can accommodate all users, whilst also reducing pollution levels at the same time.
Mark Nicholson is CEO and Co-Founder of Vivacity Labs
To know more, contact Vivacity Labs here
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