Last week we kicked off a new mini-series looking at smart cities. Our research painted an interesting picture, particularly in the UK. Whilst councils, companies and communities are making huge strides towards a smarter future, it feels like most projects are still very much in their ‘discovery’ stage.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Data collection is fundamental to good decision making, and when we’re talking about disruptive and transformative changes to entire cities and their underlying infrastructure, it really pays (or saves) to invest in validation upfront.
But first let’s rewind a little. What do smart cities have to do with AndAnotherDay and why are we so interested? First and foremost, these are the kind of projects that we want to be working on. Digital agencies like ours are incredibly versatile, and can pick up development projects from just about any sector, whether that’s building a website for a golf club or engineering a back-end platform for a legal firm. But allow us to be a little bold here – these are not the kind of projects that align with who we are and what we want to achieve as a business. We see the value in all digital transformation but have made the decision to pursue projects that echo our values of sustainability, accessibility, and inclusivity.
Our other angle… EVs, electric vehicles. Our founder Keiron is an EV evangelist and the proud owner of a beautiful Polestar. Even the most fervent of petrol heads are starting to accept that EV is the future of domestic and public transport. In fact, electric vehicles are playing a large part in decision-making around transport and infrastructure inside and outside of cities all around the UK.
In this week’s installment we’re going to look at traffic and transport, and how some of the IoT solutions we spoke about last week are helping to pave the way for greener cities. Whilst an EV isn’t within everyone’s reach just yet, remember, this is a long game. A change in consumer mindset and behaviour takes a very long time, as does the ability for vehicle producers to get on top of costs and make the barrier for entry lower, at a more accessible price point. We are not there yet, but hopefully, this article will show that the future is bright and green.
Stuck in a jam
If I asked you to guess which city topped the world list for worst metropolitan traffic, what would you say? NYC? Moscow? Bogota? It’s London, of course. London drivers spend an average of five days a year being late and angry in gridlock. This is so bad that it broke a world record.
Not only does this harm the economy (an estimated £307 billion between 2013 and 2030, according to the Centre of Economics), but it has a hugely damaging effect on the environment, air quality, and public health. Congestion is now such a cultural inner-city norm that it’s just assumed a part of the experience. No one really questions it. You’re almost DISAPPOINTED if you go to London and don’t see tailbacks of black cabs, or NYC’s Times Square teeming with yellow taxis.
Bring in the data
Having delved deep into some research from Gartner, we’ve learned that there were almost 6.5 billion connected ‘things’ around the world in 2016. That’s up 30% on the year before, so it’s safe to say that by now, there are more connected devices than people. Today, a quarter of a billion of those connected things are vehicles.
“The growing availability of data sources within our cities means analytics offer potential to open up a whole new era of smart transport.”
Hussein Dia, Associate Professor, Swinburne University of Technology
Great. But I’ve read a dozen similar quotes throughout our research and am starting to wonder when all this research that those in power are touting will actually turn into actions. How much data do we need? How much validation does it take to confirm that record-breaking London is in fact the worst in the world? (Nothing against London, by the way – Greater Manchester and Belfast are also on the naughty step.)
“Collecting reams of data isn’t enough. You have to be able to validate, link, and access data in real-time to extract meaningful, accurate insight, and predict trends and patterns.”
Tim Barber, VP Software Solutions EMEA, Pitney Bowes
So what’s actually being done? What traffic and transport initiatives or long-term projects are currently underway?
In Boston, Massachusetts, the popular community-based navigation app, Waze (now owned by Google), is being used to tackle double parking. Using three months of user-reported data, the city’s transportation department was able to identify streets more likely to be used for double parking and deploy parking enforcement officers to move the offending cars. The result was a fall in congestion in these areas, as well as improved safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
In Dublin, Ireland, IBM has worked with city officials to uncover the causes of traffic congestion across their bus network. An impressive synchronisation of traffic detectors, rain gauges, CCTV, and GPS updates are able to cross-reference real-time bus routes with timetables and display the results over a digital map of Dublin. This real-time data combined with stream computing means that the city can monitor its 1,000 buses and make adjustments to schedules, routes and shifts.
Another great example is Moreno Valley, one of California’s fastest-growing cities. With population growth continuing to rise and rise through two global recessions, the city now faces a number of civic and development challenges as a result of rapid expansion. With budgets being squashed, the police department has found itself turning to technology to soften the blow of shrinking staff numbers.
Working with Hitachi, a client of AndAnotherDay, their specialist Visualisation team worked with the private and public sector to build a huge video data ecosystem that is cutting edge and entirely cloud-based. The surveillance system includes what is referred to as ‘intelligent gateways’ for external sensor data. For now, this solution is geared towards rapid response and crisis management, but with the city looking at the platform from a SaaS point of view, there is huge potential to not only grow the network but diversify its capabilities.
City traffic engineer, Eric Lewis, is already seeing improved transportation management through real-time monitoring of congestion, signal timing adjustment, and priority routing capabilities.
“In construction work zones for instance, we are moving traffic in the ways it demands. We have central-control software for traffic management and can see exactly what’s happening, what resources to deploy and make any changes on the fly.”
This agile approach to infrastructure is how many of us now build programmes, software and other digital products. So it’s incredibly fascinating to see this proactive approach being applied to living, breathing (albeit dirty air) cities.
The role of the EV in a smart city
We all know the basics – zero tailpipe emissions mean that electric vehicles are greener and cleaner. Plug-in hybrids may also emit close to zero tailpipe gases on short inner-city commutes.
The primary benefit for metropolitan areas is a vast reduction in air pollutants. This is a huge problem for many UK cities, and towns too. Just a few miles down the road from me, Farnham’s built-up centre, tall buildings, and a one-way system means that it was declared an Air Quality Management Area way back in 2007. If every petrol or diesel car could be replaced with an EV overnight, the problem would be solved instantly. In reality, this can’t be done.
Whilst not all families and individuals can afford an EV just yet, councils and private firms can. Which is already changing the way that we use public transport and how goods are delivered to shops or residential areas. Neighbouring Guildford has recently overhauled its park and ride bus fleet with fully electric vehicles, and many delivery companies are also switching to hybrid goods vehicles.
But there needs to be a huge behavioural shift too. Too many of us commute alone, cocooned in the safe space of our personal vehicles, arguably now more luxurious than ever, at both ends of the market. It’s a big change to ditch the car and jump on a crowded bus with dozens of other commuters, particularly the way the world is now.
This balance will take a while. Cities like Copenhagen are improving their inner-city metro infrastructure and have introduced a fully electric or hydrogen approach to the city’s public transport services. Shenzhen’s 16,000 buses are now fully electric. And Los Angeles is gunning for 25% of inner-city EV use by 2025 and 80% within a further ten years. It remains to be seen how exactly this will be achieved in LA, but it’s clear that schemes, incentives and funding will be key to helping people of all backgrounds and incomes to make the upgrade to EV.
In the meantime
Echoing what we said in our previous blog, whilst some cities still dwindle in data, others are making strides to improving their infrastructure and also the culture around commuting. But data is still key here. Data isn’t just for boards of directors or committees. It helps people like you and I understand exactly what is at stake, and the positive impact of cities that are putting their money where their mouth is.
This incredibly detailed world traffic report from TomTom is a beautifully designed and enjoyably functional display of global stats, not only showing a concerning picture of traffic in many countries and cities but also just how much of a difference COVID and various lockdowns have made to driver numbers in country after country.
So what has changed? This year we observed a huge drop in urban congestion levels around the world:
If you can’t tell from our recent blogs, we love tangible stats, graphs, and charts. Dashboards, platforms, and data visualisation are fundamental to understanding many of the world’s struggles and problems – transport and traffic being a prime example.
We design, build and deploy digital products just like this, and take extra joy in doing so knowing that they are playing a small or significant role in making the world a better place. If you’re a sustainability-focused business and need a values-driven technology partner to help you achieve your goals, give us a shout.
We are AndAnotherDay, and we work with people who share our belief that technology should benefit the world.