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Transport monitor

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Imagine a future in which the benefits of advanced transport technology are integrated with the built environment

The idea that architecture is as much about the spaces in between buildings as it is about the structures themselves is not really questioned any longer; unless, maybe, you take a particular view on the public realm around the glass shard. However, given that most of the spaces between buildings in cities are occupied by roads and cars, it is interesting that transport technology gets such short shrift from architects. Pedestrian piazzas may be the stuff of artists' impressions but for most of us public space still means adopted pavements and acres of blacktop. How then should we integrate these internal and external functions?

Some of the potential applications of live/work/mobility information technology are spelled out in the future scenario painted by Rana Ilgaz, senior consultant at FaberMaunsell (see box). She is involved in a range of European projects that aim to create a seamless Intelligent Transport System (ITS) across north-west Europe. A simple example of the benefits can be found at FaberMaunsell's office in Redhill, Surrey, where a real-time display reads out the actual train timetable, allowing visitors to time their departure to minimise time in Redhill station's grim waiting room.

New advances in information connectivity have potential applications in homes and offices of the future, but the conservatism of the UK construction industry, together with the complexity, costs and current unreliability of the networks, have held back the integration of systems in the construction sector. When interoperability across geographical borders is considered, the amount of R&D becomes bound up in political intrigue. National protocols have to be unified - with consequent winners and losers.

An example of the dilemma is the separation of traffic information between the Highways Authority, which looks after England's roads, and MANTAIS Cymru, which monitors the M4 and key trunk roads in South Wales, while the North Wales Traffic Control Centre provides traffic and tunnel management for the A55 and surrounding areas. In a scene reminiscent of Yes Minister, there is a crossover of responsibility between England and Wales halfway across the Severn Bridge. So, currently, there is no coherent flow of information on the Welsh side explaining what the road and weather conditions are like on the English side. National integration is obviously beneficial for users of the system as a whole, but the aspiration to unite ITSs across the Trans-European Road Network is considerably more difficult.

CENTRICO is the name of a fully operational data exchange between traffic centres across the regions.

DATEX is the section relating to the connection across the French national database service and southern England. A trial gantry-mounted system has been installed at Dover, with information passed via Bordeaux.

Bordeaux's control centre manages transport data transfer from the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency and the French Ministry of Transport, and automatically translates key phrases.

Next step

The trials were geared to existing transport information infrastructure, hence the reliance on overhead displays or a dedicated radio frequency.

One of the immediate aims - and there are few technological barriers to this - is to get real-time information relayed via SMS/WAP messaging to lorry drivers. (Before readers complain about the irresponsibility of using mobile phones while driving, this is one of the main ways drivers communicate with headquarters and delivery yards. ) About 10 million trips are made every year between England and Europe, 25 per cent of which are made by heavy goods vehicles. Immediate traffic data information will have huge benefits for haulage firms transferring materials on a just-in-time basis, who will then be able to avoid hazards, black spots and bad weather.New gantry and pole-mounted displays are already being installed, which will automatically re-route traffic.

The next stage is to link the information to Global Positioning System (GPS) networks. A lot of work has already been done on bus priority schemes using Automatic Vehicle Location Systems (AVL), which investigated the scope for long-term prediction of bus arrival times. Those of you who have waited in a bus shelter with a luminous LED display telling you that the bus should have arrived will realise that the technology is still in its infancy, but given the complexity of the information relay, teething troubles are understandable.

Vehicles fitted with intelligent GPS modules, locate themselves on the road network in the conventional way. Data from these vehicles is then transmitted to a central control centre and passed on to the LED display. The potential to integrate the AVL and CENTRICO systems should open up a new level of automatic data transmission. Cars fitted with the system will detect whether a vehicle in front has slowed (due to fog etc) and simultaneously warn the driver, while the 'abnormal' traffic speeds will be picked up by a central control centre, instantaneously comparing the flow rates with 'standard' flows at that time in that location. This data can then be translated into roadside public information display formats and message services.

While many people have cause for concern about the authoritarian use of monitoring technology, it is unquestionable that such technology has many positive benefits for convenience, road safety and traffic flows.

The next step is to start incorporating some of these benefits into a more harmonious relationship with the built environment.

Interchange 2003

Interchange 2003, the UK's only integrated transport and infrastructure event, will be held on 25-26 November at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, central London.

'Interchange' was created in 2001 to help facilitate new relationships by bringing together all the key players from across construction and transport sectors. The two-day conference and exhibition promotes high-value information in the form of policy, best practice, product and service information.

Steven Norris, president of Interchange, says: 'We must break away from the so-called moral arguments of public versus private transport, and in this respect Interchange has already proven itself to be a mature and open forum.

'It is unafraid of addressing the real issues that must be tackled if we are to reach the transportation holy grail of near-seamless multi-modal journeys.

It remains our plan to continue that agenda throughout the Interchange conference, exhibition and awards in 2003.'

For more information, email diana. little@montex. co. uk

Future scenario

Louisa lives in Berlin and drives to work every morning. Huw lives in Buckley, North Wales - he usually travels to work on the bus and train.

Lara in Perth, Australia, rides her bike to work but only if it is not raining. All of them have a built-in plasma screen in their hallway, which updates them with all kinds of information.

It is early morning and Huw's alarm clock only wakes him up at the set time when his bus or train are running to schedule. If they are late, the clock adjusts in line with his needs. Huw's screen confirms the location of his bus close to home, so he can minimise time spent in the rain.

Louisa sets her plasma screen to display the latest information on the traffic conditions on her route to work and the surrounding roads.

The navigation unit in her car is also updated accordingly. She can decide either to change the route or to set off later. Once en route, Louisa's car can access information from other cars via short-range communication or GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) to inform her about weather conditions or congestion ahead. Her car also sends its current location and speed to a data centre to help the highways authorities manage the roads.

Lara is the least dependent on traffic conditions. She uses her screen for information on air quality, the 'cleanest' route to work and weather conditions. If the forecast predicts rain, it also provides her with multi-modal options of how to get to work other than by bike.

The telematic chain from raw data collection via value-added services to information dissemination is the red line through Intelligent Transport Systems. The basic data collection is based mainly on Automated Traffic Counting Stations and Floating Car Data. Value-added service providers are already including Radio Data System - Traffic Message Channel (RDS-TMC) navigation systems, Digital Audio Broadcast, the internet and DATEX. It should not matter where you are; you should always be able to receive the information you need quickly and reliably.

Rana Ilgaz, FaberMaunsell. Email rana. ilgaz@fabermaunsell. com

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