Smarter Cambridge Transport

“Technology is the new asphalt” – Inspiration from Eddington and Las Vegas

I was reminded recently of the Eddington Transport Study. No, not the one for the North West Cambridge development, named after astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, but the one by Sir Rod Eddington in 2006. One of Sir Rod’s key recommendations was to make more efficient use of existing infrastructure in preference to building more of it.

This has been a guiding principle for much of Smarter Cambridge Transport’s thinking. Why build a new road just for buses from Cambourne towards Cambridge when there are already three lanes in each direction (the A428 and St Neots Rd) – more than between Huntingdon and Cambridge? Why rip up Milton Rd to reconfigure the bus lanes when buses would derive far greater benefit from opening up a route from Milton P&R via the ‘spare’ A14 underpass behind Cambridge Regional College?

Tina Quigley, who runs the Southern Nevada transportation authority (which covers Las Vegas), expresses something else we advocate by saying, eloquently: “Technology is the new asphalt.” In a brilliantly illuminating Talking Transit podcast, she sets out ways in which technology can make traffic flow more efficiently and safely: co-ordinating traffic signals from a smart, central control system; using cameras on buses to gather intelligence from the road network (e.g. congestion, near-miss hotspots, road conditions and works, and obstructive parking); an in-car audio alert 4 seconds before traffic lights turn green; Uber-style microtransit for reliable and affordable first/last-mile connections to rail and express bus; and much more.

Why do we ignore Sir Rod Eddington’s advice, and the proven success of transport planners and managers around the world who are using technology and data to deliver better quality public transport, and more efficient and safer road networks?

The only projects our politicians on the Combined Authority and Greater Cambridge Partnership really believe in involve building or widening roads – even if only to benefit buses for a couple of hours a day. Yet technology, bus franchising, cycleways and the addition of some critical links in the road network could be transformational and far more sustainable for the whole region in a shorter timescale.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 27 February 2019.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.

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