Transport is the backbone of jobs, infrastructure, education and access to resources. It needed to be more reliable, efficient and accessible. It also needed to be available to all regardless of their age, economic background, or physical ability.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions was essential. This was particularly from cars, diesel buses and lorries, which were a major source of air pollution in cities worldwide.
Data ensuring transport still runs
Newcastle’s digital sensor networks collected, stored and processed traffic and environmental data. This was used to inform travellers of how they could reach their destination more quickly and sustainably, improving life in the city.
This transformed how people moved from place to place. It also meant that it was possible to track the impact of transport on a wide range of different sectors in the city.
The Energy, Power, Transport Lab and Cyber Physical Lab at Science Central brought together scientists and engineers. They designed ways to use information gathered about the transport and energy networks. They analysed the failures in either power distribution or rail transport to test how they might fail. It also involved looking at how they would impact each other.
For example, if a power dip were to occur how could you reconfigure the energy network to allow the rail system to continue to run, but at reduced capacity until full power is restored?
Mass public transport systems in Newcastle benefited from the city’s smart grid. Some of the Tyne and Wear Metro lines had become dependent on key substations, exceeding their capacity. Smart sensors installed on the lines enabled trains to consume energy as they accelerated away from the station. They also sent energy back to the grid when slowing down or stopping.
Energy storage from the smart grid tested at Science Central helped to balance loads placed on substations that supplied power to the Metro. Integrating information on transport, commercial and residential energy usage allowed distribution of electric power to the rail system in the most efficient way possible.
Rise of the electric vehicle
Travel via rail, cycling and bus became more integrated throughout Newcastle. Electric vehicles (EVs) also emerged as an efficient, low-carbon and cheaper means of transport in the city than fossil fuel powered vehicles.
Widespread deployment of EVs reduced air pollution in the city. They provided a variety of services to the energy network.
It wasn’t just a matter of making electric transport widely available and accessible. It was also about integrating infrastructures that would support an EV transport network, including rail.
Electric cars had become one part of a much greater solution to develop a sustainable, economic transport system available to everyone.
Receiving data from sensor networks throughout the city helped speed up journeys and reduce energy costs. When plugged in they provided services to the electricity grid and became mini power plants. This gave drivers the opportunity to sell energy back to the grid. Rapid EV charging points have become common in Newcastle. The four installed at Science Central led to their widespread use throughout the North East.
Journey length for commuters
Data received via travellers’ smart phones allowed them to identify the most efficient ways for getting where they needed to go.
Commuters, especially those travelling at peak times, had a clearer idea of how long it would take them to travel to work. They also found ways to save time by taking alternative routes. Regardless of whether they were driving, cycling, walking or taking public transport.
EVs had pre-programmed options including ‘economy low-carbon’ and ‘fastest route possible’. These helped to avoid areas of the road network with heavy traffic. Some could also drive themselves allowing for safer as well as more sustainable transport.
For hired EVs and car sharing schemes, where the journey for the driver was easier to complete by walking, cycling or taking public transport, the EV’s on-board computer would inform them of these options. This conserved energy and saved time.
Car sharing became more frequent through ‘car clubs’ and similar schemes. This made it unnecessary to own a car as people often no longer relied upon it as their only mode of transport.
Using EVs as a primary means of transport, like travel in combustion powered cars, was not an ideal situation. Congestion problems still needed addressing. This included a rising population and more drivers on the roads.
Smarter travel and traffic management
Instead of relying on one form of transport residents became interested in how ‘mixed modes’ of transport could serve their needs. This included opportunities to walk and cycle in the city.
Mobility schemes were created that did not need the user to own any form of transport. This meant that they could cycle shorter journeys or take public transport for longer ones. They could use a car if they couldn't reach their destination via rail.
Information collected from groups of sensors located throughout Newcastle made it possible to provide travel options focused on commuters’ needs during different times of the day.
Early trials of intersections that provide speed advice to drivers helped pave the way for smart traffic management. Motorists could drive through a series of green lights by modifying their speed, helping them to reduce fuel consumption.
New cycle and walking routes
Planners looked at the impact adding new cycling lanes in different parts of the city would have on transport. They also considered how closing down certain roads would affect traffic flow.
This allowed them to see how implementing new cycle and walking routes could be achieved. They could also understand the knock-on effects they would have on other forms of transport.
Tracking cycling benefits
With the help of researchers it became possible for communities to set up their own micro studies to tackle issues of importance to the city as a whole. One project encouraged cycling for residents with higher health risks from obesity.
Free bicycles and health monitors were provided. Environmental sensors transmitted data to the Urban Observatory. This made it possible to track data on the health benefits of cycling for each participant. Data from their journey was used to track congestion during peak travel times.
If there was heavy traffic congestion on the motorway people were discouraged from driving and provided with alternative routes where possible. If poor air quality was likely in certain parts of the city cyclists at those locations were warned before traveling.
Having many transport options enabled by digital sensing networks allowed for smart, more efficient ways to travel. This helped travellers better understand how they interact with the city.
To get involved and make this a reality you can:
- test energy storage technology for the grid using the energy storage test bed
- develop and demonstrate new use cases for cooperative systems enabling vehicles to communicate with road infrastructure
- create innovative drive trains and battery technologies
- test second-life applications of electric vehicle batteries
- find ways to make integrated transport options more widely available
For further information contact us.
All illustrations copyright 2015 Katie Chappell.