Sustainable, safe, and smart road networks

Although suffering from a perceived lack of political support, Intelligent Transport Systems have a proven track record in easing congestion and reducing accidents, reports the IRF

Transport and access to mobility pose many challenges, as well as opportunities for global development. Current scenarios highlight stark policy choices. Get these wrong and we could be confronted with close to 9,000 megatons of global CO2 emissions from transport vehicles by 2030, contributing significantly to climate change, and combined with other emissions, burdening millions of people with health problems provoked by air, water, soil and noise pollution.

Meanwhile, an anticipated 30 per cent increase in traffic congestion by 2025 in some countries could cost billions of pounds in fuel as well as lost time and productivity. Within the same timeframe, upwards of 1.9 million people will be killed annually on the world’s roads, costing society a further estimated $100 billion dollars a year, quite apart from the toll in human tragedy. 

To compound matters, growing economic uncertainty makes major investments in road up-keep politically unpalatable and financially prohibitive.

And yet, it is being increasingly acknowledged – notably in the context of the post Rio+20 agenda – that sustainable mobility is vital for social and economic development as well as the integration of local communities, regions and states.

Roads are getting smarter
As a key voice in the international road infrastructure and transportation community, the International Road Federation (IRF) in Geneva takes responsibility for providing evidence-based solutions to dilemmas such as these. In the words of Caroline Visser, the Federation’s deputy-director and ITS/road financing specialist: “Roads are no longer just a stretch of tarmac but are becoming increasingly smarter. IRF believes that with Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), road operators have a highly efficient tool at hand to ease congestion, reduce accidents and provide travellers with a comfortable drive and transfer to other modes of transport. IRF makes the case for ITS in a smart way.”

Despite a proven track record, ITS still suffers from a lack of recognition and support from politicians, high-level policy makers and the general public. IRF has taken up this awareness challenge by creating a dedicated Policy Committee on ITS, which was launched in 2008.The mission of the Committee Members is to foster the deployment of ITS. It supports the development of national and regional ITS strategies and encourages governments to integrate ITS as a major tool for achieving their transport policy objectives in a manner that is safe, sustainable and efficient.

In support of this vision, IRF Geneva launched the Committee’s landmark IRF Vienna Manifesto on ITS – Smart Transport Policies for Sustainable Mobility during a Ministerial round table convened in Vienna at the outset of the 19th ITS World Congress, which was hosted in the Austrian capital from 22-26 October, 2012.

The Manifesto calls for the furtherance and more complete integration of Intelligent Transport Systems into overall transport policies. It provides clear, evidence-based policy recommendations that, if accepted and implemented, will significantly advance the goal of access to sustainable mobility for all.

The Manifesto is about the role ITS can play in improving the efficiency and fluidity of transport; and the benefits for society, both qualitative and quantitative, that can be achieved by optimising the integrated use of technology.

It is particularly targeted at political decision makers at national, state and local levels and high-level decision makers within transport authorities, as well as their respective advisors – who are all urged to undertake a comprehensive series of policy actions aimed at stimulating the adoption and use of smart technologies to their full potential.

Changing Behaviour
The key recommendations are summarised in figure 1 and fully developed in the text of the Manifesto. At their most fundamental level, they include the need to encourage sustainable mobility behaviour across the board so as to balance people’s growing mobility demands with the overarching imperatives of preserving the environment and quality of life.

Olga Landolfi, secretary general, TTS Italia – one of the eminent international specialists who have contributed comments and endorsements for the Manifesto in its preface, said: “Mobility is a fundamental right. It underpins all aspects of societal development allowing everyone, from individuals up to whole nations, to develop and prosper. ITS has already demonstrated 
[that it is] an essential tool for improving mobility and quality of life. The challenge now is to start using it to its full potential, to maximise the benefits that ITS can bring to society.”

“The technology is there; now is the time to commit,” echoes Visser.

Face the challenge
The Manifesto addresses a comprehensive range of interdependent challenges – from traffic flow and travel time reliability to the potential of ITS for business development and job creation. 

On the environmental front, the document stresses that climate change remains one of the major issues facing the transport sector today. Current projections suggest that, under present scenarios, global CO2 emissions from transport are expected to continue to grow by approximately 40 per cent from 2007 to 2030. The road sector continues to dominate total transport CO2 emission production, and is only surpassed by emissions from the energy production sector.

Restricting mobility runs contrary to the free movement of people and goods and cannot constitute an economically rational – let alone sustainable – solution.

Modifying the behaviour of road users and their vehicles in ways that make them less carbon-intensive, on the other hand, represents a far more realistic and cost-effective proposition. ITS can achieve this through a combination of ‘encouragement’ and ‘enforcement’ measures. 

The former are illustrated by electronic payment schemes whereby the cost of access to selected routes, zones or facilities, varies according to the type of vehicle or time of day; while the latter might include the monitoring of average speeds so as to mitigate practices such as speeding that are both socially dangerous and environmentally damaging.

It has, indeed, been estimated that reductions in the speed limit through effective enforcement across the United Kingdom could save around 1.4 megatons in carbon emissions for the period 2009-2020. Meanwhile, the 2006 Eddington Transport Study estimated that ‘eliminating existing congestion on the [UK’s] road network would be worth some £7-8bn of GDP per annum.’ It further concluded that, if left unchecked, congestion would waste an additional £22 billion in lost time for England alone by 2025.

Lightening the load
ITS technologies have the capacity to alleviate the politically untenable pressures of congestion by capitalising on the capabilities of computerisation, mass data storage and improved communications systems to significantly improve both traffic flow and travel time reliability.

Such an evolution is likely to become increasingly critical given that the need for mobility is anticipated to triple by 2050, compared to 2000 levels. As most of this increase will occur outside the developed countries, we are likely to see a significant shift in the demand for mobility capacity.

Such shifts in transport will require new mobility concepts and responses. Travellers will change their preferred methods of getting around, technological changes will make travel more user-friendly, while at the same time making networks more resilient; and there may even be new modes of transport.

As the Manifesto urges: ‘change is inevitable and we need to start thinking about it now.’

ITS will be the integration tool. It will enable local, regional and national governments in developed countries to improve already established infrastructures. It will allow those in developing nations to leap-frog over previous-generation networks by enabling solutions that are smarter and more eco‑friendly than building new road infrastructure.

For densely-populated urban areas, ITS offers a tool to enhance multiple objectives, such as safeguarding quality of life, public health, the urban environment and historic areas, alongside the efficient management of road traffic and public transport.

In these respects, the Manifesto underscores that transport and mobility issues typically manifest themselves locally, but their combined impact is global. Since transport challenges are complex and multidimensional, their solutions must be cross-cutting and inter-sectoral. Cooperation at local, regional, national and, increasingly, even at an international level is required.

Policy to drive change
As emphasised by POLIS, the network of European cities and regions working together to develop innovative technologies and policies for local transport, ITS must be policy-driven. In this context, the Manifesto authoritatively explores the most relevant policy areas for ITS deployment. These include mobility, the environment, transport funding & investment, spatial planning and social services.

With reference to each area, the Manifesto compellingly demonstrates how ITS can contribute to achieving key objectives. It describes the policy challenges that governments are typically faced with and highlights – on the basis of concrete examples – how ITS can cost-effectively and efficiently expedite viable solutions.

IRF is playing an active advocacy role on behalf of its members in this evolution, so that they may be at the forefront of a new generation of roads, integrating innovative technologies and the latest cutting-edge progress in energy, materials, information and vehicles.

ITS applications ranging from satellite based positioning to road weather information systems and real time traveller information services – taken together with the developments in vehicle‑to‑vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure interaction – will undoubtedly be at the vanguard of progress towards making IRF’s maxim of ‘better roads, better world’ a living reality.

Further information
Download the IRF Vienna Manifesto on ITS for free at For more information on the ITS Policy Committee, contact Caroline Visser at

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