Public Works: Building Smarter Roads




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.