University of Calgary

Walk, E-bike, Hop a Drone

Submitted by alumni on Thu, 04/13/2017 - 15:05.

Walk, E-bike, Hop a Drone

We tapped five transportation engineers for insights into how we’ll move around Calgary in 2067. Besides the Green Line LRT, they see autonomous cars, e-bikes, smart pricing and other innovations in our future.
By Val Berenyi • Illustration by Travis Sengaus

Fabiola MacIntyre, BSc (Eng)’03 Manager of Calgary’s largest infrastructure project, the Green Line LRT:

At the helm of a city-shaping project that will add 40 kilometres to Calgary’s existing 59-km LRT system — connecting Keystone Hills and Seton to downtown —MacIntyre points out that, in 50 years, the city will welcome 1 million more people.

“We need to think about moving those people and moving them efficiently,” she says, “as we’ll be serving about 41 million riders every year.”

Will transit service be 24/7 in 2067?
Perhaps, if the demand is there, say our experts, but when would track maintenance, currently performed in the wee hours, be done?

MacIntyre sees the Green Line as a key piece of a giant puzzle, with Calgarians having the option to live in vibrant, walkable and dense communities where they work, play and move by multiple modes, all interconnected by public transit. MacIntyre, who will be 86 in 2067, hopes that, in 50 years’ time, she’ll still be “riding a bicycle to see my grandkids, hopping on transit to go visit my doctor across the city or using it to go see a play.”

Eric MacNaughton, BSc (Eng)’99/BA’99 Transportation co-ordinator for the City of Calgary’s Climate Change Program:

The Driverless Electric Car – Electric cars will be autonomous (driverless) and shared, a boon to the environment and road safety. Using a smart phone or an app, you’ll call for an e-car to fetch you. At your destination, instead of leaving it to rust on the street and rack up parking fees, it’ll whisk off to its next call or to a central garage for maintenance. Forget plug-ins; by 2067, vehicles will recharge as they drive via a dynamic wireless charging infrastructure embedded in streets.

Extreme Weather – Climate change will make walking and cycling even more attractive because Calgary winters will be shorter and warmer. Summers will lengthen. We now have four days each summer of above 30 degrees; forecasts call for 25 to 30 days above 30 degrees by 2070. The downside: more extreme weather, with unpredictable dumps of snow and ice storms. Slick pavement might be de-iced by running geothermal power under it, as they do in Reykjavik.

Multi-modal Movement – Say you live in Tuscany and want to explore Fish Creek Provincial Park. Ride your bike, fold it up at the nearest BRT stop, transfer to the LRT leg south and catch an e-shuttle to get from station to park. (Autonomous minibuses will fill in the gaps between mass transit and cars.) Bicycle all day in the fresh air. Too pooped to retrace your steps? Hail an autonomous ride-share service, kitted out with a bike rack, to transport you home.

Blanka Bracic, BA’01, BSc (Eng)’01, MA’04 Currently on leave from the City of Calgary’s Transportation Planning business unit, Bracic is living in Amsterdam, in her second year of another master’s degree:

Not a Fringe Activity – In Amsterdam, the epicentre of urban cycling, Bracic says she gets “to experience what policy decisions we’ve made in Calgary might look like in 50 years.” Already, Calgary’s downtown cycle track pilot has seen more women, children and older adults using it and, by 2067, she predicts cycling will be accepted as a perfectly normal way to get around. “It’ll just be part of how we live,” Bracic says.

E-Bikes and More – Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, will become de rigueur, especially for long commutes and for older folks or those recovering from injuries. Turn the electrical assist on and off as needed! Expect to see e-cargo bikes used for heavy loads and family transportation, as well as all manner of personal mobility devices such as mopeds and other two-wheeled vehicles and hoverboards.

Lina Kattan Urban Alliance associate professor at the Schulich School of Engineering:

New Frontiers – Mass transit and autonomous vehicles represent the brave new future, but we’ll need to be far more proactive in planning for the coming transportation revolution, says Kattan. For every shiny future upside, there’s a potential downside. Self-driving vehicles might prompt people to live in Canmore (and work while commuting), creating more urban sprawl. Likewise, regional trains move commuters, but also encourage spread. Ordering groceries online saves you a trip, but there’s still a delivery vehicle (or drone) on its way to you.

Toggling Transit – And the revolution won’t happen overnight. Kattan is researching what might happen to traffic and safety when you mix manual vehicles with autonomous ones. Will we still need driver’s licences? “We need to know how to avoid problems,” she says. “We need more research.”

Saeid Saidi, MSc’11, PhD’16 Schulich School of Engineering research associate and former traffic planner:

Droning On – In the near future, drones will be used for sending and receiving shipments. But passengers? France’s Airbus plans to flight-test self-piloted flying vehicles for individuals and cargo at the end of 2017. This might reduce congestion on roads, but create congestion in the air. The technology will be there, says Saidi, but regulations will have a hard time catching up.

Transit Rings, Not Ring Roads – Ring roads encircling the city are helpful to freight vehicles and others bypassing Calgary, but they only feed more inefficient urban sprawl. Crosstown transit and transit rings within the city’s transit network will improve the efficiency and ease of travel for those who, say, live in the northeast and go to university in the northwest; they won’t have to travel downtown and back out again.

Smart Pricing – We’ll have exact knowledge of our trips: travel times, energy and maintenance costs. Cities will calculate the precise cost per vehicle, making congestion pricing — a.k.a. tolls — inevitable. And having those real costs will allow us to make more informed decisions, i.e. train vs. personal car.

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