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Capital ideas

Highways - London is also planning to bring in new technology to tackle congestion.

'Our challenge is that by a factor of 10 we have the largest Urban Traffic Control (UTC) in the world and probably the most complex, ' says Transport for London traffic operations director Philip Davies. 'But the benefit of this is that we can really maximise the flow of people and goods.

In a city as densely populated as London this is just as well. 'We don't have the luxury of being able to build new highways and generally everything we do takes capacity off the roads. So we need to be smarter in how we manage UTC, ' he says.

Curiously, although TfL is responsible for only a tiny fraction of London's roads it is responsible for every single traffic light - and there are plenty of them. Across the capital there are 4,800 traffic signals, 2,700 of which are under computer control. These are watched by 1,500 CCTV cameras which are linked directly back to TfL's London Traffi c Control Centre.

This army of lights alone will not be enough to keep London moving in the future.

'The systems we currently have we don't think will be the right systems for 2016 and beyond, ' says Davies. 'So we started a project last August to see what London will look like in 2016 and beyond.' Davies says change is vital in the context of a predicted 800,000 growth in population from 7.1M today, a 600,000 growth in jobs and, of course, the Olympics.

'A lot is happening so we are engaging with academics, industry and leading technology experts around the world, ' says Davies. 'In the autumn we are going to start trawling around other cities around the world, pressure testing their systems and looking at how they deliver.' The key issue TfL is looking to address is how better to communicate traffic conditions to vehicles and their drivers.

'With in-car navigation, radio, and mobile telephones, all the building blocks are there but they are not tied together, ' says Davies.

'The grand vision is to take our knowledge of how the network is performing, and optimise performance by reacting in real time.' Davies has already lined up visits to Paris, Tokyo and New York. Tokyo most excites him.

'They have highly sophisticated traffic management and detection systems at every junction. So they have got the technology to die for. But there is a cost attached.' Key to his quest will be persuading other urban authorities across the UK and Europe to collaborate.

'We need density to bring the industry with us. If a firm is only going to sell 2,000 controllers to London, it is not much of a development proposal.'

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