Top three transport tips for a sustainable city

Imagine turning the kinetic energy from pedestrians into people power? This is just one cutting-edge example of sustainable transport in action, says James Brownlie, transport specialist with Wood & Grieve Engineers.

Brownlie has recently joined WGE to head up its new transportation engineering team. He says his great career challenge is to “help people find alternative ways to get from point A to point B”. 

So, what are Brownlie’s top three sustainable transport tips?

1. Broaden our view beyond buses, trams and trains

Trains, buses, trams and even ferries may be the most obvious examples, but exciting new modes of public transport are on the horizon, Brownlie says.

Passengers heading from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 to the nearby business park can already travel by personal rapid transit or ‘podcar’, and citizens of Shanghai can jump on a MagLev, or magnetic levitation train.

Meanwhile, the world’s first Hyperloop – a sealed tube through which pods can travel free of air resistance or friction at high speed – is a few steps closer. Just last week Elon Musk announced the proposed route of his first Hyperloop track, which would convey passengers from Washington to Baltimore in 15 minutes. And Virgin Hyperloop One has released a prototype for a levitating pod that zooms at speeds of up to 1,200 kilometres an hour.

2. Promote cycling and walkable neighbourhoods

Communities that are great for cyclists and pedestrians as well as cars need to be planned, Brownlie explains.

“The spread of cycle hiring facilities such as Bike Share in Melbourne, City Cycles in Brisbane and City Bikes in Adelaide are important, because bicycles are simply the most efficient form of transport.  They produce no emissions and improve our health and wellbeing.”

Making cycling attractive demands dedicated cycle networks that reduce potential points of conflict with automobile drivers. 

“The key to reducing conflict is to plan and design facilities to meet the needs of all users,” Brownlie explains.

3. Harvest foot power

“An important part of any sustainable, liveable city is being able to harvest energy from our everyday activities, like walking,” Brownlie says.

He points to West Ham in London, where thousands of commuters cross an elevated pedestrian walkway each day to reach the underground station. 

“Few people probably notice the springiness of the surface beneath their feet. Fewer still would connect that five-millimetre flex in the rubber surface to the streetlights being powered overhead.”

The flooring of West Ham’s walkway is decked with ‘smart tiles’ that capture the kinetic energy from pedestrians’ footsteps and convert that into electricity. 

“Pavegen, the UK firm behind the innovation, has installed a similar system at London’s Heathrow airport, among other international locations,” Brownlie adds.

The secret to sustainable transport is to provide people with an integrated set of alternatives to the automobile, Brownlie says.

He points to the plethora of people who are “rejecting the idea of car ownership and participating in car share programs where cars are only used when they are required”.

“Not everyone will give up their cars, but we need to start linking all forms of transport together so that the commuting experience is seamless.” 

Wood & Grieve Engineers is a multi-discipline consulting engineering firm serving projects Australia-wide from offices in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne. Find out more about WGE's capabilities.