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Smart Pavements Could be Introduced in the UK

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New smart pavement technology could soon be introduced to the streets of the UK. Engineers are currently developing pavements that will allow roads to be widened and narrowed depending on the flow of both motor and pedestrian traffic. This technology is called FlexKerb, and it could be the solution to the growing problem of congested traffic in London, New York, and some of the other busiest cities on the planet.

Developed by London-based engineering company Arup, FlexKerb uses smart cameras and various sensors to assess current road conditions. It then uses this data to determine the most efficient way to divide up roads. This is accomplished through lights embedded in the FlexKerb system. Red means that a section of the road is for pedestrians, while green is for cars. Meanwhile, white is the marker for bike lanes, and purple allows loading and unloading for use by couriers and delivery vehicles. More than just an idea, FlexKerb is already gaining lots of traction and could be tested out on UK roads soon.

A recent competition held by the UK National Infrastructure Commission called for ideas to prepare UK roads for autonomous vehicles – and FlexKerb was one of the five shortlisted concepts. This earned Arup an official research grant of £30,000 for further development, and if a feasibility study finds that FlexKerb can actually be implemented, another £50,000 will be granted. It’s a sign that the government is taking this new smart pavement technology very seriously.

As Arup’s associate director for transport consulting Susan Claris explains to the Highway Industry, “This idea is about having something that’s more responsive and more adaptable to changing travel patterns. Rather than trying to maximise vehicle throughput, which was the thinking that characterised transport planning 20 or 30 years ago, it is about looking at how streets can be managed to make them healthier and happier places.”

While most transport experts welcome the idea of developing existing infrastructure to be more responsive to human traffic, some are concerned about the cost of such an undertaking. As our roads get smarter, newly installed technologies need to be powered in better ways. The solution to this lies in new electricity generating methods that utilize the very roads that they’re powering, an idea that BDC Magazine have previously covered.

Both in the UK and the US, engineers are working on a speculative way of harnessing road surface movement and heat using thermodynamics and piezoelectrics. A more feasible idea is to create roads and road utilities like barriers, verges, and pavements with photovoltaic capabilities — especially now that the much more efficient crystal silicon solar cell is getting more affordable. If the UK is serious about developing smarter roads, it also needs to be exploring which of these options can viably power smart pavements and other new technologies.

In truth, concern for road and pavement safety has been growing in the UK in recent years. Following the 2017 attack at London Bridge, the government has been putting up security barriers in strategic places as deterrents to stop similar incidents. The temporary steel highway safety barrier systems are from a company called Varioguard. Meanwhile, the UK’s own citizens have adopted their own strategies for road and pavement safety as well. Auto Gate Shop on their Hydra bollard page show how the automatic barrier is commonly used to protect pavements. This type of hydraulic barrier is seeing use now in both commercial and residential spaces. If these growing concerns and measures are any indication, it seems that the UK’s citizens are ready for smart pavements, as well as other new and practical innovations to make our roads safer for everyone.

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BDC 314 : Mar 2024