There is a great deal of talk about a future of autonomous vehicles, a connected world and the automation of jobs, but wrestling active travel into our streets will surely need people rather than AI and robots?
While great strides have been made in the use of computers for design work (especially laboriously crunching levels) and coordinating surveys with what’s under the ground, we still need engineers and designers to oversee designs and to watch out for ‘garbage-in-garbage-out’ mistakes. The decisions to be made about who gets which space won’t be made by computers, it will be humans and they will remain fallible and open to lobbying to those who oppose change.
On site, we have computer-controlled paving machines, but we still need roadworkers with rakes to get the asphalt into the corners. We are able to precisely detail how slabs should be cut for a piece of fine paving, but ultimately, we need the keen eye and experience of an expert mason to make it look beautiful. So far, we don’t have robots patrolling the street sweeping up leaves or hooking a broom around some parked cars to pull out the dirt – even with mechanical sweepers, a person is needed to keep control.
What of our end user? Despite the push for autonomous vehicles, our customer base will forever be people. Emotional and unpredictable, people don’t want to be penned in. They want to cross o the desire line, they want to stop their bike as something catches their eye in the shop, and they perhaps want to jump in the puddles.
Technological progress is probably inevitable (although the word ‘progress’ if up for debate), but we’ll always see people at the heart of pushing for active travel, people leading the redesign of our streets, people physically crafting them and above all, people using them.
A roadworker using muscle-power to wrangle a new street layout. Stratford, East London.