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Turning temporary into permanent – how technology is enabling active travel

Turning temporary into permanent - how technology is enabling active travelA £2bn commitment to active travel kickstarted a revolution this year. Driven by necessity by the pandemic but, as many would argue, long overdue anyway, more active travel measures have been put in place since the Spring than at any other time.

The need to re-imagine the road space we have has never been greater, boosted by the announcement of a second tranche of funding announced in mid- November worth £175 million.

Despite criticism for some temporary schemes by the pubic and subsequently some of those being removed again, a survey published by the Department of Transport (DfT) revealed that 8 out of 10 people did support measures to reduce road traffic in their neighbourhood, and two-thirds of people support reallocating road space for walking and cycling

But this time councils were presented with tough new conditions on them receiving funding, which requires them to ensure schemes are properly consulted on. This will help avoid the problems seen in a minority of the schemes developed in the first round of funding, said the Government. If these conditions are not met by a council, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been clear that future funding allocations will be reduced, and clawbacks could also be imposed.

As part of the plan, councils must:

  • Publish plans to show how they will consult their communities, including residents, businesses, and emergency services, among others
  • Show evidence of appropriate consultation prior to schemes being implemented
  • Submit monitoring reports on the implementation of schemes 6-12 months after their opening, highlighting how schemes have been modified based on local feedback to ensure they work for communities

Local authorities will be required to engage closely with the Department for Transport (DfT) throughout the process – while Active Travel England, when set up, will further assess plans for active travel schemes to ensure they are of the highest quality.

But on the whole, extra money for active travel, which has been the poor relation to new infrastructure projects for years, is good news for local communities not just for reasons related to Covid but also for wider positive implications on air quality etc. The latest figures on the uptake on cycling makes for good reading. Lincolnshire County Council has reported a ‘dramatic’ increase in cycling across the region in 2020.

Using data provided by the Strava app, it shows that nearly 200,000 more rides have been logged in Lincolnshire in 2020 so far, compared to the whole of 2019. With two months still to go, there have been 516,834 rides logged in the county in 2020, compared to 319,212 in the whole of 2019.

Data is driving decisions as council’s plan cycle lanes and other active travel measures. Early in the year, researchers at the University of Leeds have developed a tool that can identify priority locations for new cycleways, ranking roads by their ‘cycling potential’ estimated using a Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT). The system then represents the estimated number of cycling trips along this road travelling to or from work or school assuming the Government’s aim to double cycling by 2025 is met.

The ‘top ranked new cycleways’ represents the roads with the highest cycling potential which also have spare space; that is, are either wide or have two or more road lanes in one direction.

But to sustain the high levels of cycling and walking seen during the Covid lockdown period, we need infrastructure that helps people to feel informed, comfortable, and safe.

Physical infrastructure, such as barriers and bollards, have been implemented in many areas, especially in support of ‘pop-up’ cycle lanes. Road markings and static signs also have their place. But now it is up to technology to help turn temporary into permanent to take user experience to another level, increase safety for all and help transport authorities to make data-driven decisions and in some cases, help prioritise cyclists and pedestrians at junctions.

Earlier this year, for example, the Sheffield City Region committed to more than 620 miles of accessible walking and cycling routes across South Yorkshire.

The network will feature 800 safe crossings for people travelling on foot or by bike, and nearly 200 square miles of low traffic neighbourhoods, which see streets transformed. This forms part of the region’s Active Travel Implementation Plan, led by Sheffield City Region Mayor, Dan Jarvis, and Active Travel Commissioner, Dame Sarah Storey, which sets out how, by 2040, South Yorkshire will have a ‘fully connected’ network of walking and cycling routes.

Clearview has been developing solutions that inform decision makers and create safe environments for more permanent walking and cycling infrastructure. Its active travel proposition is centred around two technology platforms – the Insight Smart Mobility Platform and the Connex Modular Hardware Platform that provide the ‘common architecture’ for solutions such as sensors, classifiers and active road studs, according to Paul Bates, Head of Solutions at Clearview Intelligence.

Two years ago, Clearview’s SolarLite Active Rods Studs were deployed on Oxford Road in Manchester as part of its flagship cycle safety scheme to highlight the cycle path to cyclists and make them aware of pedestrian crossings where the cycle path is diverted around bus stops.

Improving safety for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles has also been a focus. On the A78 in Montfode, Ayr, Clearview delivered a route safety solution consisting of the installation of triple message Vehicle Activated Signs (VAS). The three messages are triggered by different forms of vehicle detection and show Slow Down, Vehicles Turning and Pedestrians Crossing. The site is also fully solar powered and communication between all forms of detection and the VAS is wireless.

Clearview’s Connex Active pedestrian and bike classifier offers real-time count and classify travel detection and analysis.

It can detect up to 7m from the classifier without the need for a receiver. Like many of Clearview’s solutions, it is non-invasive and operates instead using dual Lidar technology.

Lidar technology uses light sensors to measure the distance between the sensor and the target object. They are situated at low level and pass through gaps in legs and cycle wheels. Usefully, it has the ability to create virtual lanes, and identify conflicts between cyclist and pedestrians.

Wireless bicycle detection, which involves installing a small micro-radar in the road that wirelessly connects back to an open access point at the traffic control, can also identify the presence of cyclists at signalised junctions so that cyclist can be prioritised or to ensure that lights change when no vehicles are present.

Developing this concept further, a Cycle Awareness Scheme brings together its IRS 2, Insight Smart Mobility Platform and Connex Traffic solutions to provide awareness to motorists at junctions where the cycle lane is on-road and crosses a side road.

“Active Travel has to be safe, and people need to feel confident walking and cycling across our road networks. Technology can support this and for Clearview that means vehicle, cycle and pedestrian detection, count and classification, active and intelligent lane delineation, intelligent signage, and valuable data. We can all reap the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and cleaner air if active travel measures are implemented effectively and safely”.Paul Bates, Director of Solutions, Clearview Intelligence.

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