Could Connected Cars Help to Ease Traffic Congestion?

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Have you ever cruised in the car, looking for a parking space close to the store or office you’re visiting? Did you ever get the feeling that it would be faster to simply park up and walk from there?

For many of us the answer will be “yes and yes”, but a few minutes lost here and there perhaps doesn’t amount to much and we can live with it. However, if this is scaled across a busy working city, then the impact is startling.

In a recent article from the World Economic Forum (WEF) it was highlighted that in many of the more successful cities, it’s quicker to cycle or walk than drive. This is evident in high employment/GDP cities in Europe, North America, India, and China due to ever-increasing traffic congestion. WEF argue (quite rightly) that “Congestion wastes time, money, causes pollution and fatalities” and that “prevention [of traffic congestion] should be at the top of every city’s transport plan”.

Driving speeds in London are the same as they were 100 years ago. With a 24% boom in office construction, it’s not unrealistic to suggest that congestion and travel times will further deteriorate unless (potentially drastic) action is taken. Crossrail, London’s new urban railway, is a £14.8 billion project but tackling traffic congestion doesn’t have to be a moonshot project for city authorities.

Whilst reading the WEF piece, I was reminded of some older research which remains relevant today:

  • In 2010, the ADAC (German Auto-mobile Club) reportedthat there were 185,000 traffic jams with an aggregate length of around 400,000 kilometres. Besides losing time, this also results in a daily increase of 33million litres of fuel, and a cost of €300million to the national economy.
  • In large cities, as much as 50% of traffic congestionwas caused by drivers searching for a cheaper parking space. It’s tempting to speculate that this will be compounded by electric vehicles looking for a charging station.

We can safely assume that if cities tackle parking (and charging) issues, they could ease traffic congestion. The ADAC research tells us that a mere 0.5% (5 in every 1000) cars connected to, and guided by, a telematics/navigational “cloud” can make a significant difference to traffic congestion.

Currently, the automotive industry is accelerating towards autonomous or automated drive cars. These promise to address not only congestion, but also reduce pollution, to prevent accidents and save lives. Future vehicles will be CONNECTED, and as such will depend on cloud and wireless infrastructure, and perhaps even street-level wireless connectivity.

 When city planners are thinking about our future streetscape, let’s hope and trust that they’ll weigh up the benefits, costs, and aesthetics of a street-light mounted wireless access point as opposed to bollards and speed-bumps.

By Iain Davidson