The routes of the future

By Catherine
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Written by Catherine Bolgar

There’s more to transportion innovation than self-driving electric vehicles.

From high-tech cycle lanes to supersonic space planes, the future of travel is on course for a design revolution. Start with the humble bike. With city cycling now all the rage, road infrastructure is set for some radical innovations. London-based architecture firms Foster + Partners and Exterior Architecture, for example, jointly proposed a bike deck, called SkyCycle, that would be built above 220 kilometers of existing rail tracks thereby connecting central London to the suburbs, and making it more attractive to live near a rail track.

“When we built the railways, they originally were designed for steam trains, with nearly flat grades,” says Huw Thomas, partner at Foster + Partners. “They were noisy and nobody liked living near them. They were lost in the urban fabric, but they go from the city’s edge to extraordinary nodes in the city center.”

More than four million people live within a 10-minute bike ride of SkyCycle’s proposed route, half of whom are commuters, Mr. Thomas says. SkyCycle would cost an estimated £6 billion ($9 billion) to £8 billion to build. The deck could integrate smart networks without streets having to be dug up. And it could even include a lane for roboticized package delivery.

Bikes themselves are also likely to undergo modernization. Lisbon-based designer David Miguel Moreira Gonçalves has developed two electric-assist bikes, the Grasshopper and the Cruiser, for use in Portugal’s hilly capital. “The Grasshopper is a foldable electric bike that can be used with a car or with public transportation,” he says. It can even be used at home to generate electricity by placing it on a stand and pedaling.

Every part of the bicycle’s life is justified,” he says.

But the idea for which Mr. Gonçalves has had most attention is his futuristic concept car, the Scarab, which won the 2010 Michelin Challenge Design. He wanted to create an electric vehicle that could use existing infrastructure and serve as either a personal car or shared transport. Driven by robotics, it would use facial-recognition software to identify and stop for specified passengers, while GPS and tracking would get them to their destination. It could even park vertically to save space. “It’s a very utopian idea,” he says.

Another idea, Next, envisages swarms of self-driving pods that link and delink on the move, while passengers can pass through interconnecting sliding doors to the specific pod that’s going their way. Meanwhile, Transport Systems Catapult is testing their own self-driving pods in Milton Keynes, U.K., with 40 expected to be in use by 2017.

At sea, Juliet Marine Systems Inc. of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the U.S. has developed the high-speed Ghost, a small waterplane area twin-hull (SWATH) vessel. Using microbubbles and supercavitation, Ghost creates an air bubble around the hulls which reduces friction up to 900-fold, increasing speed, says Gregory Sancoff, president and chief executive of Juliet Marine.

Besides military applications, Ghost could have recreational or commercial uses. For example, Ghost’s stable technology might be ideal for high-speed ferries crossing the powerful Gulf Stream, Mr. Sancoff adds.

iStock_000005775678_SmallAir travel is also set to speed up, with a supersonic plane that could fly halfway around the world at Mach 5, powered by the revolutionary Sabre engine. The Sabre-powered Lapcat A2 concept, under development by Reaction Engines Ltd. of Abingdon, U.K., would fill the gap for supersonic passenger travel left by Concorde’s demise in 2003.

The Sabre engine can also power space vehicles, such as Skylon, a reusable space plane that could carry satellites into orbit or supply the International Space Station. “The approximately 100 space flights each year now cost $100 million to $200 million apiece, because the rockets are used only once,” says Richard Varvill, Reaction Engines’ technical director.

However, Sabre-powered launch vehicles like Skylon would cut current launch costs about 90%, he says. The U.K. government has pledged £60 million to develop the Sabre engine, alongside a £20 million investment from BAE Systems PLC, Mr. Varvill says.

Unlike the space shuttle, which launched vertically and included an orbiter with a large external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters which dropped away, Skylon is designed to take off and land like a plane and be completely self-contained.

The Skylon could carry a 15-ton payload and could reach low Earth orbit in 15 to 20 minutes. “It will make getting into space cheaper and safer,” Mr. Varvill says.

 

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

The Inside Track for Transport Designers

By Catherine
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Written by Catherine Bolgar

 

Global car ownership passed the one billion mark in 2010, with more than one vehicle per person in the U.S. and much of Europe. Yet despite the fact that Europeans and Americans waste an annual average of 111 hours in traffic jams, public transportation ridership rose only 8% in the European Union and 15% in the U.S. and Canada between 2000 and 2012

Why don’t we design an experience that would beat cars?” asks Bruce Mau, co-founder of Massive Change Network, a Chicago design studio. “Let’s make something that’s exciting for people and makes them want to use it.”

Underground metro systems have installed art, Wi-Fi and heated seats; bus services are now trying similar approaches. Some Paris bus stops, for example, now boast Wi-Fi and charging stations, coffee, bus ticket sales and neighborhood information.

But buses are fighting against the so-called track effect. “People seem to consider vehicles running on tracks as more solid, almost no matter what you do to improve bus services,” says Andreas Røhl, an urban-transport specialist at Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.

If you put in tracks, people will know or feel that this will stay here, it’s a permanent thing,” he adds. “If you’re a developer, then you’re sure this new mode of public transport will stay here.”

Planners can, however, overcome such concerns. Curitiba, in southern Brazil, for example, applied designs used in metros to buses in the 1970s, to create bus rapid transit (BRT). The city’s long, articulated buses run along an exclusive road corridor. They have extra doors to speed access. Tube-shaped bus stations are raised so passengers don’t need to climb steps to board, and fares are paid on entering the station, rather than the bus, further saving time.

“They got the carrying capacity of a subway at about one-hundredth of the cost,” Mr. Mau says.

About 70% of Curitiba commuters take buses, which carry as many as 11,000 passengers per hour during peak times. And that pales compared with Bogotá, Colombia, which tops the BRT ridership ranks with 45,000 passengers per hour. BRT has now been adopted by more than 150 cities world-wide.

This level of efficiency is possible thanks in part to better vehicle interior design, which varies according to local need, says Andrew Nash, director of Vienna-based GreenCityStreets.com. For example, urban vehicles should be open, with few seats, so people can get on and off quickly, while on suburban routes, riders sit for longer requiring more comfortable seats, he says.

Although comfort and convenience are important, designers cannot just focus on amenities. Mr. Nash recalls a San Francisco company whose buses were fitted with Wi-Fi and USB ports, which went bankrupt after just two months.

Instead, design needs to optimize processes such as more efficient fare-collection machines, and information technology that provides precise arrival information, he says. Applications such as Ridescout lay out a range of travel options, such as walking, biking, driving and public transportation, and calculate the time, money and calories involved.

“Life in the city is increasingly about using different choices at different times,” says Jarrett Walker, president of Jarrett Walker & Associates, a public-transit consultancy in Portland, Ore., and author of the book Human Transit. “It gets us away from imagining that transport options are like teams we belong to: bus riders or bikers or drivers.”

It’s important therefore that we “don’t assume that some sort of design choice—a nicer bus, Wi-Fi, nicer shelters—solves public transport’s problem,” Mr. Walker says. “The problem may be that the service is just useless, that it doesn’t run where needed or at times it’s needed. Network planning has to make sure it’s useful for people.”

“Useful” generally means “frequent,” he adds. “The biggest problem is waiting. We have to design the network around frequency.”

To have frequent and full buses, public transportation needs high-density urban areas, where parking is expensive and inconvenient, and where access to public transit is just a short walk away.

Urban planners can increase density along mass-transit corridors, as has happened, for example, in Toronto as well as Curitiba. “There are ways you can control development around the transit,” to put riders near lines, Mr. Mau says. “That kind of density management is what transit people should be designing.”

In this way, we can challenge the widespread assumption that car travel is always fastest, followed by metro trains or light rail, with buses the slowest. Bus rapid transit in city centers averages 16 to 18 kilometers per hour (kph), which is faster than the 12 kph average of cars in Beijing, though slower than the 25 kph in New York and Singapore. Buses can travel as quickly and reliably as subways if given dedicated corridors, Mr. Walker says.

In fact, it is cars that tend to slow mass transit, by double-parking, blocking tram tracks or just generally creating traffic jams.

It’s not fair that one person in a car has the same right to road space as 50 people in a bus,” Mr. Nash says. “But it’s politically difficult to say we’re giving priority to buses because there are more people on them.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Realistic Simulation Supports Expansion of the London Underground

By Akio
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Dubbed “one of the most complex tunneling projects in the U.K.,” the Bond Street Station Upgrade (BSSU) project is being carried out to satisfy growing traffic demands within London’s busiest shopping district, the West End.

Upon its completion, Bond Street Station’s daily passenger numbers are expected to rise from 155,000 to 225,000.

A project this complex in nature has to consider the existing tunnel infrastructure, as well as the stress and strains imposed by the surrounding soil layers for the development of new tunnels.

Dr. Sauer and Partners was contracted to provide such tunneling expertise. The company took on responsibility for preliminary-to-detailed design and construction on all BSSU sprayed concrete lined (SCL) tunnels.

Tweet: The Bond Street Station Upgrade utilized realistic #simulation to test preliminary tunnel designs. @Dassault3DS #AEC http://ctt.ec/X4UWh+Click to tweet: “The Bond Street Station Upgrade utilized
realistic #simulation to test preliminary tunnel designs.”

 

Using FEA simulation, they were able to virtually test the ground through which the tunnels are being dug alongside the existing tunnel structures.

Model1.000

This realistic assessment enabled them to improve upon the preliminary design, as well as bring greater confidence to the overall approval process.

To learn more, read the case study, “Tunnel Vision” to see how realistic simulation plays an important role in tunnel excavation.

We also encourage you to download the whitepaper by Ali Nasekhian, Sr. Tunnel/Geotechnical engineer at Dr. Sauer and Partners, which highlights the merits and shortcomings of large 3D models in tunneling.

Tweet: Realistic #Simulation Supports Expansion of the #LondonUnderground @Dassault3DS @3DSAEC #AEC #BIM http://ctt.ec/dU4NO+

Click to tweet this article.

 


Related resources:

White Paper: “Mega 3D-FE Models in Tunneling Bond Street Station Upgrade Project”

Case Study: “Tunnel Vision”

Collaborative and Industrialized Construction Solutions

SIMULIA Solutions page



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