Small electric vehicles and the curious case of Milton Keynes

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Small electric vehicles and the curious case of Milton Keynes

Following a recent article on the BBC News website entitled Towards the Congestion Free City it made me wonder about Autonomous (Driverless) and other small electric vehicles and the British obsession in trying to reinvent the wheel. When there is a simple solution available i.e. making cities more bike friendly!

I’ve added some of my personal thoughts to some of the main parts of the article below:

Mr Fulton heads a project known formally as the Lutz (Low carbon urban transport zone) Pathfinder programme, which will see three full-electric and driverless pods tested on the streets (or more accurately the pavements) of Milton Keynes by the end of 2015.

So that will mean the vehicles partly using the shared-use Redways then?

If successful, a bigger fleet will be ordered and 100 vehicles could go into public service by 2017. They will act as taxis around the city.

I used to live in MK and it is a city built for the car. So why use one of these when someone could still use their own car? If it’s going to be used as a taxi then you would still have to pay for your journey. If used for a ‘set route’ from say MK Central Station up to the main shopping area then there is already an established ‘shopper hopper bus service’. When English Heritage tried using ‘land train’ vehicles at Stonehenge they soon found that low emission shopper hopper buses were more reliable.

"You won't have to park your own car and you can sit back, read the newspaper or do emails while it is driving you," said Prof John Miles, a consultant from Arup who worked on the Milton Keynes project.

Yes, but they will still have to be parked somewhere. The car parks of central MK are already extremely well used and with this scheme they still would be! I wonder if Lutz ever considered that you can park six bikes in the same space as one car?

"It will completely transform transport and congestion in our cities. It used to be that cities were subjugated to the car but now we have the opportunity to do precisely the opposite - tailor our transport to fit our beautiful cities."

Yes nice idea, but it is still a car-based solution

He envisages a future 20 or 30 years hence when autonomous city transport pods will co-exist with conventional cars."For longer journeys, we may still use our cars but in cities we will use transport systems which utilise driverless technology," he said. Such vehicles are likely to be smaller than traditional cars, optimised to travel the most efficient routes and able to drive closer to each other, potentially freeing up much more road capacity.

I can certainly see more autonomous technology being used in regular cars of tomorrow i.e. self-parking-cars but small cars tend to be vulnerable to larger vehicles. That’s why the Sinclair C5 didn’t last too long and they’re been so many problems with the Segway_PT self-balancing two wheel battery powered vehicle. Basically where do you use them? Are they road legal or can they be used on the footpath? If they are used on the road then they are often just as vulnerable as bicycles in heavy traffic if they use they footpath then they could get in people’s way.

So why choose Milton Keynes as the UK's first test-bed for such technology?

"It happens to have a well-defined city centre with lots of pedestrian space and a progressive, forward-thinking council," explained Prof Miles.

So this would be the same council that still promotes Redways which are a nice idea in theory, but in reality have a number of major design faults.

1. They twist and turn and don’t take the most direct route

2. They are shared-use with pedestrians

3. Numerous subways and enveloping landscaping doesn’t provide a ‘perceived’ sense of safety

4. MK doesn’t have a specifically greater share of cycle use than many other UK cities as a result.

But if we are ever to achieve the dream of congestion-free cities, a more radical approach may be needed and the solution seems tantalisingly close for those bold enough to grab it.

Well yes, I agree that’s why a number of people campaign for high quality cycle infrastructure. I know it’s not ‘hi-tech’, but it works. Milton Keynes might be an odd example as it’s so spread out over such a large area and it has the unusual Redway system. The next thing the Lutz team will be telling us is that dedicated road space/routes will need to be created for these self-driving electric vehicles!