Urban Transport

Moving walkway networks would be an efficient transport option for car-free cities

Many urban planners would like to get rid of, or at least minimize, the number of private cars in cities, but what would replace them? Researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) looked at the idea of car-free cities and, using Geneva as a model, they concluded that Jetson-style moving walkways could not only replace the car, but could each carry 7,000 passengers an hour more energy efficiently than buses.

Though we think of moving walkways or sidewalks as futuristic, they've actually been around since 1893 when the first was installed at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition followed by the second at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. Since then, they've popped in the science fiction of H G Wells, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov, and have been proposed from time to time by urban visionaries as an alternative to conventional cars and public transport.

Despite this, moving walkways haven't really caught on. There are limited systems in the larger airports and exhibition centers, but hardly any are outdoors and none are used as a large scale system for moving people around.

The EPFL study started with assumptions that are a radical break from the cities of today. In their mathematical model, based on modern Geneva, there are no private cars and all transport outside of the moving walkways is based on buses, metro trains, trams, taxis, bikes, bike- or car-sharing, or urban cable cars.

As to the moving walkways themselves, the researchers looked at several current technologies, but assumed the one used would be based on accelerating moving walkways, where the passengers would be sped up after stepping on until they cruised along at 15 km/h (9.3 mph), which is the average speed that motorists move at in cities at rush hour. These moving walkways would be networked together, so passengers can step from one slidewalk to another or travel non-stop on elevated expressways.

By studying how people travel daily on primary, secondary, and tertiary roads, the researchers were able to determine how the moving walkways would compete with other mass transit systems, while also considering energy consumption and operational and budgetary constraints. In addition, they took into account the moving walkways' speed, acceleration, length and width, and the intersections and entry and exit points.

What they found was that the most efficient moving walkways configuration for the city of tomorrow has a small ring road around a car-free center. The network then extends out for a total of 32 km (20 mi) on the primary roads on 47 different links equipped with 10 gates. Along with this are 37 intersections linking to moving walkways expressways that use bridges and underpasses to avoid local traffic.

EPFL says that using moving walkways would take up less space than cars, since they are only 1.2 m (4 ft) wide while roads are 2.5 to 3.5 m (8.2 ft to 11.5 ft). This means there would be room for both moving walkways going in both directions and other transport. The capacity of such a system would be 7,000 passengers per hour for each walkway compared to 750 to 1,800 vehicles on a road.

Moving walkways would also be more energy efficient than buses and, being electric, would have far lower emission levels. Unfortunately, the team concedes the walkways would be very expensive to build and would cost as much as a tramline. However, they expect that costs will go down if a system were built on a large scale.

"We have not come up with a turnkey solution," says Michel Bierlaire, the director of the Transport and Mobility Laboratory. "But this study proves that the concept is credible and that a car-less, pedestrian-centric city is conceivable. This is a useful starting point for urban planners to evaluate the feasibility of accelerating moving walkways."

The team's research will be published in the European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research.

Source: EPFL

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11 comments
Commontator
Why rip up beautiful Geneva, when Zurich already has a car-free city center along Bahnhofstrasse? They could simply replace the tram rails with walkways.<br/>Then again... why did they destroy the convenient walkways at Newark airport? Now, I have to walk miles in pain or hope a transport will deign to pick me up and bring me to the gate.
Ralf Biernacki
The elephant in the room is not the initial construction costs (although they would be staggering--all paid for by money extorted from taxpayers), but maintenance costs. <p> The existing airport walkways are short indoor sections in clean, climate-controlled airports, with light traffic. Even so, they are often closed for repairs. Escalators in subway stations are a better approximation: while they are indoors and very short, they are subject to heavy traffic and mud tracked-in by pedestrians. In my experience, these escalators require maintenance with troubling frequency--one run at least is out-of-order, whenever I use them. <p> What they propose here is a miles-long, complex system, with additional accelerating transfer belts, all outdoors, exposed to elements, trash, and mud, and with heavy traffic. These walkways will require *nearly constant, expensive maintenance*. And since they will be maintained by civic bureaucracies, the process is bound to be inefficient: there will be special city agencies to do the task, with five paper-pushers per one actual maintenance worker. <p> All the staggering costs of this barely-functional system will be paid by you, the taxpayer. This will kill two birds with one stone: you will have to use the walkways, because you will no longer be able to /afford/ a car. <p> A much better system, in my opinion, is to triple or quadruple the size of the existing bus fleet (and thus the frequency and/or coverage of buses), close the entire midtown to car traffic, and change the ticket scheme so that you would buy an all-day ticket, and could use and switch buses freely throughout the day. This will cost /much less/ than the walkways, *use existing road infrastructure*, use existing (OK, somewhat enlarged) maintenance facilities for buses, and actually reduce road maintenance costs. And a bus that breaks down will not bring all traffic on a route to a halt, the way a broken walkway would.<br/>The buses would cause much less pollution than the equivalent cars to begin with; and the fleet could be smoothly transitioned to all-electric buses gradually, at whatever rate the city could afford.
Commontator
Indeed, the car-free center that Zurich set up some 40 years ago really works well.<br/>As for belt system; read all about it in: "The Caves of Steel", by Isaac Asimov.
Bob Flint
How about .........................just walk!
jocco
How about changing the zoning laws so that we can live and work on the same block, and not need transportation every day.
Nelson Hyde Chick
Americans are already too fat, now that they will not have to walk just expect waistlines to increase.
Mike Kling
"The Roads Must Roll" Heinlein
StWils
Isaac Asimov and Sir Arthur C. Clarke and others would be pleased to see this study implemented. The Whiners can pound salt. Similar Whines have been made about things like the Interstate Highway System but none-the-less society has benefited greatly by these systems. Asimov & Clarke would also be interested in seeing the various Hyperloop transport systems be come to fruition. Governor Clinton, of New York, was widely ridiculed for building the Erie Canal that joined the westernmost navigable portion of the Hudson river to the Great Lakes. The bonds that were issued were structured to mature over 50 years and many Americans lamented that traffic on the canal would never justify it's cost. In fact, the "50 year" traffic volume was achieved in the FIRST year and inside of the canal's first decade it had to be progressively and rapidly rebuilt to keep up with the huge volume of traffic. The Erie canal literally is the tool that opened the interior of the U.S. by joining the east coast to the great lakes and the Mississippi river system to the Gulf of Mexico. Try thinking on a somewhat larger and more optimistic scale. And, also budget for the needed maintenance costs.
DavidLoy
Read Heinlein’s story years ago, loved the idea. Bellagio and Caesar’s in Las Vegas, and LV airport, have (or had) fairly long moving walkways. Wish there were an easy solution which would include the many people, old and young, who (at least here in California) can’t walk; or can’t walk quickly; can’t walk far; can’t be on their feet too long; aren’t sturdy on their feet; have to use a cane, crutches, walker or wheelchair; have a service animal; or are pushing strollers and baby carriage(s).
habakak
Walkways are a ridiculous idea and should be left to fiction. The cost and maintenance make this a non-starter. Add to that most people don't want to walk or can't walk. Think of the millions of old, frail, overweight, injured, kids, etc people and then add the lazy ones. Yep, that's about 80% of people. And how do one carry your shopping on these walkways if you have to go 3 miles? You go do my grocery shopping and bring it home if you like these walkways so much. And I'm fit, strong, healthy and love exercise. And how about using these in the rain, snow and when it's below freezing? Impractical.<br/>The answer to city transportation is arriving fast. Autonomous electric vehicles. Clean, efficient, safe, silent, cost-effective and the answer to all our current problems. If anything, pedestrians just muck up traffic. Most traffic issues are caused by cars having to stop at intersections for pedestrians to cross. With no pedestrians crossing at intersections autonomous vehicles can solve virtually all our other congestion issues.