What would ‘smart countryside’ look like?

Fo a start, these sheep would have wifi. Image: Getty.

Smart cities are often discussed as being the key to future urban living. The increase in capacity for more complex information can help solve human and environmental problems by saving energy and regulating traffic flow. But a new study has now highlighted the potential of adapting the concept of “smart” for national parks.

Historically, outdoor recreation gained its popularity because of its juxtaposition to urbanisation. Motivations included adventure, simplicity and immersion in “wilderness”, away from human progress. In many cases this is still true: we are often told that greater exposure to green space and natural environments benefits health and well-being.

But how can the so-called “smart” tech improve our relaxing countryside experience? The challenge lies in integrating technology into outdoor recreation while retaining these crucial elements of the experience. Here are some simple smart options for the future ramblers.

Waste control

The Lake District example suggests that sensors on bins can alert the national park authorities when they are full, which reduces the problem of litter and helps conserve the landscape. Research has shown that these kinds of messages work.

Smart car parks

It is also suggested that “smart” car parks will transmit information to motorists when car parks are full. This can reduce carbon emissions by reducing trips to multiple car parks. However, encouraging more travel by public transport and non-motorised modes of transport reduces carbon emissions more effectively. This alternative should be given priority.

Car-sharing apps

Planners and managers of national parks have long seen the need to reduce visitor car use. Aside from decreasing carbon emissions, visual pollution from large numbers of cars in natural areas is a long-standing problem. It takes away from the “natural” and “simple” aesthetics which are so important in attracting visitors.

There is considerable need to encourage car sharing, especially because the infrastructure in rural areas is less resilient to large numbers of cars. Academics are increasingly pointing to the power of new data sharing and smart capability to solve this through measures such as car-sharing apps and better planning for integrated travel.

People who travel to, from and within national parks can do so sustainably with greater confidence if they have reliable information on public transport – as well as walking and cycling options – at their fingertips.

Smartphone navigation

Research on walking tourism in natural settings highlights the growing use of mobile technology as a navigational aid. The internet is increasingly used both to showcase and research walks in national parks. But practitioners urge caution for more adventurous forms of recreation.

Interviews with national park staff revealed that in particular, mountain rescue services can be stretched when hillwalkers rely too much on technology. Navigating solely with a mobile phone or GPS cannot substitute map-reading skills when faced with difficulties.

Walkers in Windermere. Image: LDNP.

Walking tourists differ in their preference for heavily managed walking routes. Some look for relative simplicity of “wild” surroundings, isolation and solitude. Others prefer abundant directional signs, information and flat, well managed paths. These differences point to an important dichotomy as technology permeates more of the previously “untouched” areas of the world.


“Smart-free” is needed too

Technology is redefining how we engage with the natural environment. Sport England’s research on UK outdoor activity acknowledges a need for connectivity even in the most remote natural areas, and particularly for younger participants. Rapidly improving mobile technology and information capacity epitomise the fast society many live in.

There are clear benefits to integrating smart technology into rural and natural areas. Tourists in particular are a key focal point because of the capability for improving sustainability in national parks. But the wider implications surrounding this development still need to be considered.

The ConversationNational parks should continue to cater for all preferences and preserve some “smart-free” elements, enhancing the experience of those seeking adventure and wilderness. People should also rethink their relationship with nature. If smart technology can help the environment, preserve biodiversity and protect sensitive areas, then it should be considered as an antidote to past human negative effects.

Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Here are eight thoughts on TfL’s proposed cuts to London’s bus network

A number 12 bus crosses Westminster Bridge. Image: Getty.

In 2016, the urbanism blog City Observatory had a modest proposal for how American cities could sort out their transport systems: “Londonize”.

Its theory, the name of which referenced another popular urbanism blog, Copenhagenize, was that the key plank of Transport for London’s success was something that even transport nerds did not consider very sexy: its buses.

Though the Tube might get more glamorous press, London’s bus service really is impressively massive: It carries roughly 2.3bn passengers per year—much more than the Tube (1.3bn), close to the New York City subway (2.8bn), and nearly half as much as every bus service in America combined (5.1bn), while serving a population roughly 1/35 as large.

How has TfL done this? By making its bus network high frequency, reliable, relatively easy to understand and comprehensive. We rarely talk about this, because the tube map is far more fun – but the reason it’s so difficult to fall off the transport network in Greater London is because you’re never that far from a bus.

Given all that, we should probably talk about TfL’s plans to rethink – and in most cases, cut – as many as 36 different central London bus services over the next few months.

I’m not going to rehash details of the changes on which TfL is consulting from next month: there are just too many of them, and anyway it’s someone else’s scoop. The story was originally broken by Darryl Chamberlain over on 853 London; there’s also some fascinating analysis on Diamond Geezer’s blog. You should read both of those stories, though preferably not before you’ve finished reading this one.

Before offering my own analysis of the proposed changes, though, I should offer a few examples. More than a dozen routes are facing a trim: the 59 from King’s Cross back to Euston, the 113 from Oxford Circle to Marble Arch, the 171 from Holborn all the way down to Elephant & Castle and so on. A couple – the 10, the 48, the C2, and at most times the special routemaster version of the 15 – are being withdrawn altogether.

On, and one new route is planned – the 311, from Fulham Broadway to Oxford Circus. This will help plug some of the cuts to the 11, 19 and 22.

So, what does all this mean? Some thoughts:

1) This might not quite be as awful as it initially sounds

TfL says that demand for buses has fallen by around 10 per cent in London in recent years. It predicts it’ll fall further when Crossrail opens, as passengers switch to the new line, or to the tube routes relieved by the new line. So: the idea of taking some unwanted capacity out of the system is not, in itself, terrible.

Striping out unnecessary buses should also improve air quality in some of London’s worst pollution hot spots, and improve traffic flow, hopefully speeding up journeys on those buses that remain. 

A map from the presentation in which TfL explained its plans, showing the reduction in bus numbers on key arteries. Hilariously, notes Darryl Chamberlain, “It no longer produces its own maps, so has had to use one prepared by a bus enthusiast”.

The plans might even free up buses and staff to increase frequencies in outer London where demand hasn’t fallen – though these plans won’t be unveiled until next year and, for reasons I’ll come to below, I’ll believe it when we see it.

2) For many bus users, a lot of these changes will pass almost unnoticed

By my count, I use nine of the affected routes with any regularity – but only three of the changes are things that I’m likely to be at all inconvenienced by. Most of the changes either affect a part of the route I don’t take, or one where there are easy, and pain free, alternatives.

This is anecdotal, obviously – perhaps I’m just lucky. But my suspicion is that a lot of these changes will go unnoticed by most passengers. It’s only the sheer number of them happening at once that makes this look like a big deal.

3) The Hopper fare makes this easier...

Once upon a time, if you had to switch buses, you had to pay a second fare. This isn’t true of journeys on the tube or railways – and since bus passengers have, on average, less money than tube passengers, it amounted to a pretty unfair tax on poorer Londoners.

But in January, in what is probably his most notable policy achievement of his two years in office so far, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan changed the rules. Now you can take as many buses as you want within an hour, for a single fare: that means you can switch buses without paying a penalty.

That will have made it easier for TfL to cut routes back: replacing a direct bus journey with one that requires a change no longer means imposing a financial penalty on passengers.


4) ...but not that easy

That’s about where the good news stops, though – because there are reasons other than cost why people prefer direct bus routes. Needing to change buses will be difficult for anyone with any form of mobility impairment, for example. Even for those of us lucky enough not to fall into that category, it’ll be annoying: it’s just easier to stay in one seat for 40 minutes than to get turfed off and have to fight for a new one halfway through.

More than that, from the passengers’ point of view, excess capacity feels quite good a lot of the time: it means your bus may well be nice and empty. Reducing the number of buses along those key corridors will also make those that remain more crowded.

5) The motive is almost certainly financial

Another of Sadiq Khan’s big policy promises was to freeze fares. He made this promise at a time when central government is massively reducing the financial support it gives TfL (the work, Chamberlain notes, of Evening Standard editor George Osborne, back when he was chancellor). And the Hopper fare, while a great idea in many ways, means a further reduction in income.

So: TfL is scrambling for cash: this is why I remain cynical about those new outer London bus routes. I would be amazed if money wasn’t a motivation here, not least because...

6) TfL thinks no one will notice

Any attempt to reduce tube frequencies, let alone close a station, would result in uproar. Hashtag campaigners! Angry people pointing at things in local newspapers! Damning reports on the front of the Evening Standard from the bloke who made it happen!

Buses, though? Their routes change, slightly, all the time. And do you really notice whether your local route comes every 10 minutes or every 12? That’s not to mention the fact that bus passengers, as previously noted, tend to be poorer – and so, less vocal – than tube passengers.

So cuts, and the savings they bring, are much easier to sneak through. TfL probably would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling bloggers.

Although...

7) Scrapping the C2 might be a mistake

The C2 runs from Parliament Hill, through Kentish Town and Camden to Oxford Circus. In other words, it links north London, where a lot of journalists live, to the offices of the BBC and Buzzfeed.

As occasional New Statesman writer James Ball notes, this is probably not the easiest route to quietly shelve.

8) None of this is set in stone

The consultation doesn’t even begin until next month and then will run for six weeks – so all these plans may yet be forgotten. We shall see.

Anyway – here’s Darryl Chamberlain’s original scoop, and here’s some detailed analysis on Diamond Geezer. Please support your local bloggers by reading them.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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