Preparing now for the Roads for the Future

Published: 29 Sep 2018

By: Bridget Rosewell - Commissioner

Tagged:

Portrait of Bridget Rosewell

Over the next few decades, we will witness a revolution on our roads. Thanks to advancing technology, the vehicles of tomorrow will have the capacity to be digitally connected and driverless. By 2050, the way we reach our destinations will be unrecognisable. In our lifetime, driverless vehicles are set to shake things up on a comparable scale to the introduction of powered vehicles. Underestimating the preparation they will require risks being unable to reap the benefits.

A photograph of Detroit from 1917 depicts the disorderly transition to motorisation from horse and cart. At a chaotic junction, horse-drawn carriages, cars, pedestrians and trams swarm together, with no lanes, stop signs or traffic signals to guide them. It would take some years before road management caught up to contend with this challenge.  If we’re to make the most of all that connected and driverless car technology can offer us, it’s exactly these rules, signs, signals and road space management that we need to take into account.

Campus Martius in downtown Detroit was a jumble of streetcars, automobiles, pedestrians and a horse-drawn wagon in this 1917 photo.  Photo courtesy of the Detroit News

To date, much thought has been given to the technology under the bonnet, but there has been less focus on how our roads should be adapted for the changes ahead. This led the National Infrastructure Commission to launch our Roads for the Future competition, the winners of which we announce today. Developed and run with Highways England and Innovate UK, the competition sought ideas for how the UK’s road network could be adapted to maximise the opportunities presented by these new vehicles.

Today we revealed that Leeds City Council and Exeter’s City Science have been chosen as joint winners, with each of them being awarded £25,000 from a dedicated prize fund of £50,000.

The entry from Leeds City Council explored digital connectivity, suggesting how data generated from cars could be used to improve traffic light systems, allowing highway authorities to better manage traffic on their roads and prevent tailbacks. City Science looked at driverless vehicles and put together a proposal that sets out how sections of roads in urban areas could initially be dedicated to them, as part of a wider programme to kick-start their take-up and integrate them safely into the existing transport network. Both entries focus on feasible ways to develop the use of these technologies and begin their integration.

Connected and driverless vehicles are projected to bring numerous benefits. They could help create new travel opportunities, free up time focused on driving and help to improve safety. It is thought that they could also combat congestion by increasing road capacity, enabling higher speed limits and shorter journey times, and releasing street space currently used for parking. This will only happen if we think carefully about how to achieve this.

We hope that our competition will start a valuable conversation about what the roads of the future might look like. I hope the Government and highway authorities will seize the opportunity to consider how this work can be taken to the next stage. We will need systems to take advantage of connectivity and clear strategies and governance for integrating driverless and driver assistance vehicles onto our roads, which should be established as they make their debut. The UK is considered a world-leader in the development of connected and autonomous transport. We must now ensure that this innovation is enabled by a road network that is equally cutting-edge.

Share this article

<

Recent Articles

Coming up in 2022
Thumbtack pins in calendar concept for busy, appointment and meeting reminder

Coming up in 2022

This page shows a calendar reflecting the latest expected dates for Commission reports, publications and events. You can also sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter by entering your email address in the box at the very foot of our homepage; or sign up to receive updates specifically on the programme for the second National...

22 Feb 2022 By
Armitt on drought resilience: fixing leaks, reducing demand, building supply
Dry soil and patchy grass

Armitt on drought resilience: fixing leaks, reducing demand, building supply

In a comment piece for The Times’ Red Box, Commission Chair Sir John Armitt today sets out steps to help reduce the risk of future severe drought in England. The piece, reproduced below, argues for further action on identifying leaks, expanding water metering and reducing consumer demand, and building new supply and transfer infrastructure. Sir...

8 Aug 2022 By
Commission hears from Bristol about city’s infrastructure priorities
Bristol Civic Centre

Commission hears from Bristol about city’s infrastructure priorities

Friday last week (22 July) saw Commissioners in Bristol for our fourth regional visit of the summer, meeting the city’s Mayor and local leaders and businesses, and local residents, to understand the city’s infrastructure challenges. After a one-to-one meeting, Sir John Armitt and the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees co-hosted a roundtable with representatives from...

25 Jul 2022 By
West Yorkshire leaders engage on region’s infrastructure goals
Leeds from the air

West Yorkshire leaders engage on region’s infrastructure goals

Yesterday (5 July) saw Commissioners up in Leeds for our third regional visit of the summer, meeting West Yorkshire leaders and businesses to better understand the city region’s infrastructure priorities. After a one-to-one meeting, Sir John Armitt and West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin co-hosted a roundtable with representatives from the combined authority, Leeds City Council,...

6 Jul 2022 By

Evidence_Icon_Turquoise Created with Sketch.

Explore data used in the Commission's research, and gain insights from across UK infrastructure

Join our team of professionals supporting the Commission to provide evidence based and forward thinking advice on infrastructure strategy.