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How Future Roads In The UK May Be Different

How Future Roads In The UK May Be Different


Visionaries of the 1950s had a very different idea of how our roads would look in the 21st century. Find out what the future has in store.

UK Roads are changing.  What does the future look like?

We look at some of the developments that look set to make our roads very different in the future.

Visionaries of the 1950s had a very different idea of how our roads would look in the 21st century. In fact, rather than the roads, it was commonly assumed that we would be looking towards the sky for most of our daily travel!

One thing that was predicted correctly was the fact that we would need to re-think how we travel. Our cities are growing and car ownership is increasing, meaning busier roads as we travel more motor miles than ever before; seven times greater than that of the 1950s, in fact. So, we all find ourselves sitting in traffic queues from time to time and whether we travel by bus, car, van or lorry, we are all responsible for producing congestion, gas emissions and a dent in our planet’s natural resources.

Thankfully, technological advances, as well as our own desire to improve the wellbeing of ourselves and our planet, mean that most of us want to counteract the unwanted effects of excess road travel. Big changes are likely because by 2025, UK roads may be drastically different from the familiar transport network that we know today.

Whilst we are all unlikely to be flying to work every day, there will still be big differences, some of which we have already had a taste of, such as smart motorways and driverless cars. Other features, for example self-fixing road surfaces, which may seem like a pipedream, are actually closer than you think.

At Swansway Group, we’ve been looking at these new road and vehicle features that will affect us all as we go about our day-to-day travel, changing the shape of roads as we know them and altering the form of our own cars.

Flying saucers for everyone advert

Meaner, Greener and Leaner

In an effort to reduce motor vehicle usage and to hit Government targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, we’ll find an increase in pedestrian areas, car-free zones and expensive toll routes to deter anything but the most crucial journeys by road. Transport will be better integrated to allow for motorised travel to be more easily combined with greener alternatives.

This will mean more conveniently located bike storage areas to encourage travellers to make at least part of their journey under their own steam. Space-saving, automated storage will become common, as will trains, trams and buses equipped with racks to cater for cyclists.

Advances in materials technology and design will result in vehicles becoming even lighter and more aerodynamic so that we will see more streamlined shapes and better fuel efficiency throughout all road transport.

The recent appearance of driverless vehicles will become a fairly normal sight, especially if they can be operated without a driving licence. Anyone who has been unable to gain a licence for whatever reason, or those who are disabled or incapacitated will have access to a car, potentially flooding the roads with automated transport.

The entire experience of car travel will change. With no need to watch the road, all passengers can focus their attention on the inside of the car - turning seats towards each other, rather than the windows, to engage with each other, with television or other entertainment. This ‘internalisation’ of the car will cause a change in the landscape of our roads - billboard advertisements will decline, as will vehicle branding. I-spy, number plate games and Road Trip Bingo will no longer be used as fun car journey pastimes! 

On The Go

Our roads will also accommodate electrically charged vehicles in new and innovative ways. We’re already familiar with the sight of charging points for cars popping up in various car parks and at places of work. In the near future, buses will be able to charge as they wait for passengers at bus stops and cars will make use of inductive or wireless charging lanes on motorways.

Front of a car parked over a device on the floor saying Wireless Parking Charge and artificial grass around it

Cables below these charging lanes will create an electromagnetic field which will remotely connect with a coil on the underside of the car, charging it as it drives. The same technology will appear in car parks where wireless charging spaces will become common.

Toll road paying booths will also disappear as vehicles will drive over payment strips instead, automatically billing the car owner via mobile technology.

At the same time as introducing these automatic systems into our existing and new roads, it‘s likely that heating elements will also be installed to combat icy road conditions and reduce the need for road gritters. These cold conditions will be indicated by thermally sensitive paint that will display a snowflake sign when the temperature reaches low figures.

Robo Roads

We’ll begin to see automatic systems above the road surface too, in the form of robotics as they are used to build and repair bridges, tunnels and other structures. They’ll be able to work faster, more cheaply and more consistently than their human counterparts.

With an astounding 7% of the world’s CO2 emissions due to cement production alone,

road surfaces will also benefit from the application of new technologies to reduce the pollutant effect of our construction industry. For example, shredded recycled plastics can be heated and used to cover granite pebbles, a process that has been used in the building of over 5,000 km of roads throughout India.

There’s also the potential for a little bit of magic to be thrown in too, in the form of self- healing roads. In tests at Bath, Cardiff and Cambridge Universities, road materials have been blended with bacteria that germinate if water seeps through a crack. As they multiply, the limestone produced seals the crack before the water can cause structural damage.

Drones delivering a package

Although our vehicles won’t be flying (much to the disappointment of the predictors of the 1950s) there’ll still be robots in the skies above the roads. Drone delivery is set to, quite literally, take off in the next decade with orders being dispatched via the airways rather than the motorways.

Lighting Up

Smart or dynamic road layouts will become the norm. The increased use of sensors and cameras will make roads safer and less congested as traffic signals respond to the information received regarding incidents, queues, pedestrian footfall and even emission estimates.

SCOOT (Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique) has been used in London and Preston, amongst other cities, with new controls constantly being added to improve traffic flow and reduce pollutants. It gives priority to public transport and has reportedly resulted in up to 20% reduction in traffic delays.

Dual carriageway at night with forest trees on either side and strips of blue and red lights along the side of the road

These systems will be largely fuelled by electricity generated by solar roads, working in much the same way as solar panels that are a familiar fixture on many homes and workplaces, with the energy gathering technology instead being installed in the road. In a similar way, glowing lines will be fitted on many roads, charging in the daylight and lighting up routes at night.

Car Convoy​

The Internet of Things - a term given to the communication between all technology, not just phones and computers - will allow vehicles to co-ordinate with one another and their  environment, maximising efficiency and reducing accidents.

We’re already beginning to see how cars are able to monitor driver behaviour with drowsiness detection, for example. It’s a simple extension for them to monitor each other in self-driven vehicle convoys which could soon appear on our roads. In a move otherwise known as platooning, a number of wirelessly linked cars will follow a driver-controlled lead, copying its manoeuvres. Vehicles can then travel closer to one another, reducing necessary road space, and preventing the need for hard braking, therefore reducing fuel consumption.

While there are a few surprises to look forward to, we’ve already seen or heard of many of these transport developments and so should be well prepared for the sights and sounds of the roads of the future.

Image depicting road safety featues including short range sensors and speed harmonization

Much needed improvements or a step too far?

Get in touch with Swansway Group and let us know whether you’re excited and eager to experience these new innovations or wary of automated systems. What intrigues you and what concerns you most?

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