Autonomous “pods” & sports cyclists both cruise at approximately 18 - 25mph – could they share the same "motorway" infrastructure?

If autonomous pods are to become mainstream for the “last miles” of a car-driver’s commute, their use has to be incentivised by making this part of drivers' journeys much faster, more reliable , convenient and better fun than crawling through congested routes. Building 'Pod Parkways' in the loops of orbital motorway junctions would make it possible to leave polluting vehicles on the outskirts of towns by transferring (mostly single occupancy) car commuters onto automated transport for 4-5 passengers that is:

  • point-to-point and on demand (so we choose where to go and in which order - business park, town centre, Leisure Centre, then back to Motorway Parkway, having coordinated a supermarket “click and collect” slot as we leave, for example).
  • fast, silent, green & weather proof
  • on light trackways that are cheap to elevate over roads, rivers and tracks, with convenient “sliproads” down to key destinations such as public transport interchanges, business parks and shops.

If commuting by bike is to become mainstream, experienced cyclists need fast bypasses to town centre congestion. Drivers curse the fact that we prefer the speed that can be achieved on the roads to using shared cycle infrastructure that demand slower speeds due to uncertainty and risk that result from mixing with pedestrians, animals and inexperienced cyclists.

This commuter infrastructure must be dual purpose. At the weekends, city centre cyclists should be encouraged to exercise in their green belts by the equivalent of an outdoor velodrome that is designed to challenge sports cyclists. Such infrastructure could take the pressure off cycling hotspots, reducing the impact felt by small communities that are only accessible by narrow country lanes, eg Mole Valley’s Box Hill circuit and the Surrey Hills.

Key attributes for the infrastructure:

To benefit town/city residents, existing & future traffic and its pollution must be taken away from residential areas.

To attract customers, this infrastructure needs to be designed for fast cyclists & pod users, providing them with a “motorway” service:

  • Traffic on the routes must travel quickly, bypassing town centre road congestion
  • Traffic must have entrance & exit “slipways” so that the necessary speed adjustments can be made without impacting route performance.
  • If bikes and pods mix, how would we make it safe for bikes to descend into stations, and accelerate out of them? In all weathers?
  • How would we get road commuters to/from their parking space from/to the right motorway junction? (They travel in different directions on in-bound & return journeys.)
  • How would we make a Pod service more attractive to public transport users by providing a point-to-point link between their transport terminus and their destination, and shift gyratory traffic heading for the railway station/town centre parking into cheaper provision on the outskirts of town?

The M25's Junction 9 at Leatherhead would make an ideal testbed location:

1) Leatherhead offers a high profile cycling legacy plus close proximity to unique partners who could offer expertise and specialist participants:

  • As host to the final hub for RideLondon’s Surrey 100 event and the focal point of the 2012 Olympic route, many cyclists already enjoy Leatherhead’s attractive countryside.
  • Mole Valley District Council, Surrey County Council’s Highways team and Surrey’s (cycling) Police Officers work together effectively to balance the needs of residents and the many cyclists visiting with formal events, unofficial sportives, club cyclists or individuals.
  • Home to CGI’s GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) specialists and other related IT expertise.
  • Home to The Queen Elizabeth Foundation, a national charity that specialises in helping those with acquired disabilities to regain their independence, pods could be evolved with the help of their residents and clients.
  • Close to Surrey CC’s Network Management Information Centre (NMIC) expertise.
  • Close to Chessington World of Adventures, which attracts large volumes of “peaky” traffic on a seasonal basis

2) “Transform Leatherhead” - Implementation of Mole Valley’s masterplan is ongoing, with Surrey CC's transport modelling for the gyratory's redesign ongoing.

3) Highways England alleviation scheme – options for alleviating Junction 9’s existing congestion are being investigated and, as the closest junction to Crossrail 2’s new termini at Chessington South & Epsom, additional traffic growth is set to add stress to an already overstretched network.

Why the contribution is important

Eventually autonomous pods need to operate on open roads, but their safe integration with fast-moving yet vulnerable road users first needs to be proven under controlled conditions.

Cyclists are “traffic” – we are not the cause of congestion, yet in areas such as Mole Valley where the volume of cyclist is very high, motorists constantly grumble about sharing ‘their’ roads. Instead of blaming cyclists for congestion, it would be better to shift their perspective. Much in the way that Parkruns have supported many people’s journey from couch to 5k runners, we need to provide next-step infrastructure for cycle-commuters so that many more make a supported shift from the shared paths that supported them as beginners.

This testbed deserves to become the UK’s long term cycling legacy from the 2012 Olympic Road Race.

by JuliaD on July 20, 2018 at 04:33PM

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