Features: April 28th, 2015

As the Government embarks on an £11 billion road revolution Graham Bradley discusses how Smart Motorways can significantly reduce congestion on our roads.

In 2014, the average British driver spent 124 hours stuck in gridlock, according to research carried out by INRIX and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr). And as populations and global urbanisation continue to grow these figures are only set to get worse. In fact, London alone is set to see a 20 per cent population increase, rising from 8.4 million people in 2013 to 10.1 million in 2030, and the UK population as a whole predicted to grow by 12 per cent in 2030.

As the study reveals this population increase could mean that the amount of time people waste in traffic jams could rise to 136 hours in 2030, it is evident that the congestion problem is very real and needs to be addressed.

De-congesting Britain

One solution that looks at doing just that is the UK government’s recent announcement to develop a new class of continental-style “expressways” as part of an £11 billion roads revolution over the next five years.

The creation of 400 miles of “smart motorways” will see the upgrade of 18 existing routes with the introduction of with variable speed limits and the opening of the hard shoulder as a fourth lane at peak times.

The most eye catching scheme in this billion pound strategy is the provision of roadside WiFi, the country’s first roadside Wi-Fi system, to beam traffic information directly into cars. These motorways will directly ‘talk to’ connected cars – which are predicted to reach 600 million worldwide by 2025.

By embracing technology, and specifically data-based solutions, intelligent traffic management and the connected car, the Government can develop a long-term plan to make sure wasting 18 days a year in our cars doesn’t become a reality.

Smarter solutions could save the day

Analysing traffic trends and driver behavioural activity will ultimately reduce congestion. Doing so gives transportation agencies better insight to monitor, manage and measure the performance of road networks. This smarter approach leverages billions of real-time and historical data points to provide detailed insight into areas that were previously not available.
Making this data available to drivers in real-time means that they too have access to valuable information to make them aware of the traffic situation while they’re on the road.

The BMW i3 is a prime example of a connected car doing just that. The car uses technology to tie into the urban transport network. With a complete view of traffic congestion across the network using real-time traffic data and intermodal services, drivers can be told the best route, fastest travel time and expected arrival time from all possible roads and routes in the connected car.
Such technology helps achieve the desired outcome of a smoother flow of traffic and Smart Motorways, too, act in a similar vein.

By analysing traffic data to monitor traffic flow, Smart Motorways enable drivers to make use of variable speed limits, reducing ‘phantom jams’ caused by persistent braking and accelerating as drivers push to go faster and have to react to the cars ahead. By applying one speed limit for the entire carriageway, this approach also reduces lane changes and encourages the best use of all the available road space, instead of drivers preferring the middle and outside lanes as a “faster” option.

From motorways to information superhighways

As the number of connected cars continue to increase, growing numbers of vehicles will be able to communicate with one another and this will have a positive impact on congestion. By tying real-time analysis with the tangible costs of delays, transportation agencies are empowered to make more informed decisions about efficiently deploying resources and proactively managing traffic flow.

The government’s ‘roads revolution’ is a significant first step on the journey towards marrying motorways with the connected car and will form just part of a strategy that promotes technology to tackle the congestion crisis. Today we can transport information faster than ever before, so why shouldn’t we apply what we have learnt from the creation of the information superhighway to the transport networks we physically use every day?

By harnessing big data analytics, transportation agencies can make more of their current infrastructure without the costs and obvious difficulties of developing physical infrastructure. Smarter, data-based solutions will have a greater impact on congestion in the longer-term and we need to keep this momentum going today if we are to avoid the spending the predicted 18 days of the year sat in traffic jams.

Graham Bradley is UK Country Manager at INRIX, a leading global provider of transportation information, analytics and driver services for the connected car and smart cities worldwide.