Investing in roads could yield major benefits.
In a previous post, I discussed the need for a strong public transportation network and its freight equivalent in the shape of efficient, integrated networks in the rapidly expanding cities of the future.
Public transit and optimized urban freight movement remains one of the most effective ways for urban areas to reduce congestion and pollution—both enormous concerns as the world’s urban population swells.
Despite necessary investments in these areas, however, cars aren’t going anywhere soon– especially not between now and 2030.
By then, according to Oxford Economics, spending on transportation in the top 750 cities worldwide will grow by 80%—equal to an increase of $2.1 trillion in expenditures.
The absence of adequate public transportation, a lack of safety on existing transportation options, and the physical size of cities partly explains why citizens in Brazil and South Africa, for example, spend more per capita on personal vehicles than residents of other areas.
“Traffic delays cost the economies of England, France, Germany and the US $200 billion in 2013. ”
The case for this innovation isn’t just environmental—the price of traffic jams may be higher than you’d expect. According to The Centre for Economics and Business Research and INRIX, traffic delays cost the economies of England, France, Germany and the US $200 billion in 2013, and by 2030 that figure could rise to $300 billion.
A team from Carnegie Mellon recently piloted a “smart signal” program where traffic signals combined motion recognition with intra-signal communications, helping to reduce time spent stopped in traffic by 40% and overall travel time by 26%.
And less time in the car or delivery truck means lower emissions: the researchers estimated that exhaust emissions fell by 21% over the course of two years.
“Smart” roads and vehicles represent yet another source of potential innovation. Smart road initiatives—transportation networks that rely on real-time information to optimize traffic flow—can range from electronic signs warning of incidents to real-time traffic data collection from cameras or embedded sensors.
The UK is already experimenting with smart roadways that feature illuminated signs that change speed limits and open auxiliary lanes of traffic.
In the developing world, smart roads may be a matter of life and death, since traffic fatalities are on the rise. The World Health Organization predicts that road deaths in poor and middle-income countries will approach 2 million people by 2030, matching deaths by HIV/AIDS.
In fact, the International Road Assessment Program calculates that road deaths and injuries cost $1.9 trillion annually—2% of GDP for high-income countries and 5% of GDP of low- and middle-income countries. Roads that feature advanced safety features, such as detecting pedestrians and more advanced speed controls, will be a necessary feature as cities in the developing world experience explosive growth.
It will take time and sustained investment for our roads and vehicles to be optimized for the future. But the payoffs, in terms of reduced carbon emissions, fewer traffic fatalities, and less time sitting in traffic, are already being realized in some parts of the world. These smarter roads can help growing cities thrive.