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Public Works: Building Smarter Roads

Maybe we don't need bigger roads, just better ones.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Image courtesy of Studio Roosegaarde.

We Torontonions hate our world-class gridlock almost as much as we love assigning blame for it. But what if the problem with Toronto transportation isn’t inadequate infrastructure funding, or bickering politicians, or the sardine-canning of millions of humans and their cars into the region, but that our roads are stupid?

The Dutch, not satisfied with a vast network of state-of-the-art bike paths, are now pioneering the smart highway. The idea, as conceived by design firms Studio Roosegaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure, incorporates a variety of technologies to make highway travel safer and more efficient.

One innovative Fast & Furious–style feature is photoluminous line paint, which absorbs light during the day to illuminate the road at night, ensuring visibility in foggy or rainy weather. Temperature-sensitive dynamic paint allows weather-specific designs to appear on the road: for example, a snowflake when conditions are icy.

But those industrious polder-dwellers aren’t stopping there.

Other plans include lighting that only goes on when a car approaches, and roadside windmills that use the draft from passing traffic to power up the street lights. Even more futuristically, the designers plan a special lane with induction coils under the surface to charge up electric cars as they drive.

The first stretch of glow-in-the-dark, weather-sensitive road is expected to be installed sometime this year, and the rest of the features (the lights, the induction lane) are reportedly in the pipeline.

Given Toronto’s erratic record on relatively unsophisticated technologies like bike lanes (defined as “a lane for bicycles”), it’s unlikely we’ll be getting magic streetlights on the ruins of the Gardiner anytime soon. But if the concept is proven, someday (probably around the time the Dutch start testing supersonic hoverboards) our road trips may get easier.


  • Rico_Featherbutt

    More roundabouts would be nice.

  • ladyday001

    Repaving the roads here, and filling the various sinkholes in first would be nice.

  • tomwest

    Better use of existing roads would also work… how about making the express lanes on the 400 and 401 into HOV-only lanes? Then they would carry more people at rush hour.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Bring back dedicated horse and buggy lanes.

  • Albin

    The roadside windmills seem ridiculously inefficient, expensive and high maintenance, as the whole windpower farce is. I have read of under-road (and railway) embedded generators being tested in Israel and Japan, which harness the weight and vibration of traffic mechanically, and might well repay themselves on high traffic routes or subways, to either recapture the electric power for transit or route back into the utility grid. Those are to be compared I suppose with “induction lanes” dedicated to electric cars, which sound like another fatuous and expensive eco-fantasy.

    One prays good intentions will be enriched with common sense instead of just spiced with boosterism.

    • Paul Lloyd Johnson

      Sometimes it’s nice to exagerate things, then if we get half of the idea, it’s better than nothing. Also being positive about life, leads to a happy life…

  • Walter Lis

    Wider lanes mean faster speeds. Therefore, narrow lanes will slow down speeders.

  • Gillian Crammond

    Dreaming big is fun. I’d be satisfied with something basic like visible highway lines. I think there’s some kind of reflective paint available. Seen it used here and there.