Wednesday, 3 March 2010

A Journey to London & Back...

Yesterday, I travelled with fellow Futurologist Ian Pearson from Ipswich to London by car. It was a journey we could've expected to have completed in just over an hour and a half ... in practice it took at least 3 hours both ways. The time spent in traffic queues caused us to discuss a number of transport related issues...

Firstly we observed that like so many other people, we had chosen to make the trip by car, rather than take the train. Train services are still over-priced and risk unreliability and a lack of punctuality. This means that more people choose the individuality of the motor car and thus add to the congestion problem. It seems strange that in continental Europe, train services are much better and whilst most of our utility companies are now run by 'foreign' owners, our train services still are not.

Secondly the standard of driving, in terms of distance between vehicles, lane discipline, speed regulation, and late braking, was noticeably poor. Future vehicles that can take some of these decisions away from the human driver will improve average throughput of existing road bandwidth. The 'highlight' was at a major roundabout when one car travelling in the left lane decided to go right while simultaneously someone else in the right lane decided to go left. They were left with a complex negotiation to make about how to avoid collision while the rest of the traffic was forced to brake behind them.

Much of the congestion was caused by encountering sets of roadworks one after another after another. It is most frustrating to find some long segments of road coned off and speed limits imposed where no work was actually in progress. It would be better if many of these roadworks could be cleared during the peak rush hour periods when the impact on traffic flow is greatest.

It is still frustrating that road speed limits are still based on what a bureaucrat in a planning office decided would be best decades ago regardless of the road conditions, weather or traffic volumes. The case for flexible speed limits signed electronically in real time, designed for modern cars and taking into account the dynamics of the road as it changes, is stronger than ever.

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