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Transport for London supports innovation to tackle road congestion

The London RoadLab programme has selected products using emergent technologies to alleviate problems caused by roadworks

Transport for London (TfL) is leading a programme aimed at finding innovative ways to tackle congestion caused by roadworks across the city.

Under the initiative, called London RoadLab, TfL worked with innovation centre Plexal and utility companies such as Thames Water to select pitches submitted by companies aimed at solving some of the biggest road congestion issues seen in London in 2018.

Nine proposals were selected and awarded £20,000 each under the programme, which TfL claims to be its first innovation partnership. Companies underwent a 10-week programme alongside TfL and London Councils.

Four products were selected and will now progress on to contracts with the transport agency, with total value reaching up to £2m.

“London RoadLab is a completely new way of procuring for TfL and we’re excited to see these products in action on the capital's streets, helping to tackle congestion and making our roads safer, and smarter,” said TfL’s director of transport innovation, Michael Hurwitz.

Selected projects include SAM, a platform using artificial intelligence to monitor social media to identify incidents and emergency occurrences on roads, which could accelerate TfL’s response to events.

Two other initiatives, Mobilized Construction and Route Reports, put connected devices into TfL buses and Dial-a-Ride vehicles to collect data on road quality, helping boroughs predict and prioritise road maintenance.

The London RoadLab programme has selected products using emergent technologies to alleviate problems caused by roadworks

Another project, Immense Simulations, aims to provide automated ways to model the impact of roadworks prior to completion to improve traffic flows and reduce disruption.

According to TfL, the other proposals that didn’t make it to the final selection are still of interest and the transport body is still in talks with some of the companies.

These include Oxford Plastics, a developer of road barriers that could improve road safety and RSK, who produced a system that detects underground water leakages prior to digging.

The innovation programme is funded by TfL’s Lane Rental programme, which charges utility firms for the road space they utilise while doing digging for maintenance. The cash is then reinvested in initiatives aimed at reducing congestion and reducing the impact of roadworks across the city.

According to London Councils, the initiative is hoped to help boroughs use new technologies to help authorities plan and manage their networks more efficiently.

“The winners of the London RoadLab challenge will offer boroughs the opportunity to try out new tools and techniques built on innovative modelling technologies and data-driven prediction,” said London Councils’ chair of the transport and environment committee, Julian Bell.

Underground Asset Register

A separate innovative project involving authorities and utility providers is the Underground Asset Register, a digital map that will show where electricity and phone cables, as well as gas and water pipes, are buried.

In London, the project will be led by the Greater London Authority (GLA), which will liaise with infrastructure providers and boroughs. This builds on previous work carried out by Thames Water, with support from Transport for London, to map underground assets.

The project aims to reduce the number of accidental strikes on underground pipes and cables, which are estimated to cost £1.2bn a year, as well as increasing the safety of workers who hit gas and electric pipes by mistake when digging.

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