Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
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Futures Methodology

Visions of the long-term future of transport are not new. Numerous studies have been published. Concern about the continuing growth in the volume of road traffic, global warming and environmental sustainability has highlighted the need to think and plan further ahead. In many countries building more and bigger highways is no longer seen as the answer to tackling the problems of road traffic congestion and pollution. Transport authorities and road operators need a vision of future mobility and the part that the road network will play, so they can identify their investment priorities and develop a “road map” of how to get from here to there.

Finding the right way forward is not easy when social and economic changes are fundamental and profound. Many regions have exhausted the possibilities for fine-tuning their existing transport systems. There is increasing evidence that new ways are needed to think and act. Visioning and scenario planning are techniques to help organisations to look ahead in an uncertain future.


Visioning is a valuable tool for strategic planning. It encourages active local involvement by looking at:

  • where are we now?
  • where are we heading?
  • what are the users’ needs?
  • what functionality is required to meet them?
  • where do we want to be – what are our aspirataions?
  • what are the practical first steps of how to get there?

Visioning is widely used by nations, individuals, businesses and community groups. It is a structured way to look ahead. With a clear vision of where we want to be, we can identify exactly what we should be doing now.

How are Future Visions used in a Planning Context?

A vision is something that you want to achieve: for example Sweden’s “Vision Zero” – zero tolerance of road accidents.

The vision has to be attainable within the resources that can be made available. A vision that is not attainable remains a fantasy, even though many of its aspirations could be viable and attainable.

The uncertainty of the future means that no single future vision can claim to be accurate. Planners need to consider a number of contrasting visions and different future scenarios.

Realising a future vision may require a process of working backwards from the end goal, in order to decide how to go forward from the present situation.

Successful future visioning will yield new propositions for business development that can be subjected to conventional project appraisal.

To encourage new ways of thinking about future prospects many organisations engage in scenario building as part of future visioning, to feed into the strategic planning process. Scenarios are tools for helping organisations to take a long-term view in a world of great uncertainty. Scenarios are specially constructed stories about the future. Each story will offer a different perspective on how transport can serve society and the economy without being limited by what exists today, or excluding options that may be unpopular or unthinkable today.

Future scenarios are not exact predictions of the future but provide a means of thinking through the implications of a given development strategy if it was taken to its logical limit. For example, three very different future scenarios were used in the Vision 2030 project for the Highways Agency for England, as summarised in the box below.

Vision 2030 Project (UK) Scenarios

Scenario 1: “A Global Economy”

  • a market-driven approach
  • global corporations dominate
  • transport de-regulation prevails

Scenario 2: “Control and Plan”

  • a regulation-based approach
  • in the “best interests of society”
  • democratic consensus prevails

Scenario 3: “Quality of Life”

  • a lifestyle approach
  • local sustainability
  • community action and interests prevail

Scenario planning can challenge traditional thinking by requiring planners to imagine multiple futures – each one very different from that experienced today. Each scenario will present a different image of the future – not an extension of the past.


The next stage is to evaluate whether the planning issues and concepts that emerge from a visioning exercise are worthy of further refinement. Each emerging theme should be tested against several criteria to identify those ideas and concepts that offer promising directions for business development. Evaluation criteria include:


For each concept or major issue, how much of what is hypothesised or forecast to occur is almost certain – or is it highly speculative and uncertain? What is felt to be the most likely outcome, based on today’s perspective? How useful would it be to keep track of, and manage, that uncertainty? See Challenges and Opportunities

Relevance to Urban and Inter-urban Travel

What are the implications of the issue for urban and inter-urban transport, and the strategic inter-urban network in particular? What kinds of risks are implied – technical, political, organisational? How might these risks be managed and contained? See Integrated OperationsPurpose and Objectives and Context for Deployment

Potential for Opportunities

Does the concept offer opportunities for developing synergies with other key players – or for developing new business opportunities that would benefit future operations on the network? See Inter-Agency Working

Potential Threats

Does the issue suggest a potential disaster scenario that should be analysed so that mitigation strategies can be developed in good time? What might be the consequences of failing to plan for these ”worst case” scenarios? Are there obvious response strategies that should be explored? See Security Planning

Future Propositions

If these methods are applied successfully a number of propositions will emerge. The propositions that feature in more than one future scenario should be developed in depth. Others that are specific to one scenario may justify attention because of the scale of their consequences.

Each proposition will focus on a different aspect of the future of inter-urban travel, whether by road or other modes, and can be mapped on to the road operator’s business. These propositions may have important implications for the transport authority and road operator – whatever the future may hold.

For each proposition further work is needed to develop short-term and medium-term business development goals that are attainable and credible and which contribute to the achievement of the long-term proposition. The technique of “back- casting”, illustrated in the figure below is useful here.

Backcasting to identify the steps involved in reaching a desired goal.


Rather than using forecasts and trends, the “back-casting” methodology takes as its starting point that the goal has been achieved. The analysis then concentrates on identifying the factors that contribute to achievement of that result. Based on this analysis, pathways from the present day towards the long-term goal can be mapped and specific intermediate goals and stepping stones can be identified.

The combination of scenario building, visioning and “back-casting” are ways of “thinking out of the box” and challenging the outcome of more conventional planning methods and assumptions. In this way, future propositions can provide a starting point for new research and development and can influence the longer-term strategy for managing the strategic road network in times of uncertainty.

By way of example, here are twelve propositions that emerged from considering the three different future scenarios for the Vision 2030 project mentioned above. These propositions were goals that the Highway Agency of England could work towards in setting its business development priorities and long-term plans.

THE Green Highway

“Green Highways” are intended to blend sensitively into both the natural and built environments. Road building and maintenance operations will be more sustainable making more efficient use of resources, “green” materials and more recycled and industrial waste products.

Highway design codes will need to be re-assessed to accommodate global warming. The use of ‘smart’ lightweight materials, greater use of recycling, improved construction and tunnelling methods will all have major impacts on transport infrastructure.

Quieter road surfaces and solar noise barriers will reduce noise nuisance. Biodiversity will be conserved and enhanced by providing water features such as drainage ponds, whereas “green bridges” and wildlife tunnels will reduce habitat severance. Air quality will be improved by eco-driving and more traffic control methods. See Driver Support and Green and ITS

Freight First

Highways need to prioritise freight on the network and guarantee safe, secure, timely, cost-effective and reliable distribution of goods and services in the interests of sustaining a strong global economy. International markets will put a premium on seamless integration of end-to-end logistic services and efficient operation of the inter-urban transport network.

Increases in point-of-sale and just-in time inventory systems, express package delivery and e-commerce will prompt rapid growth in van and truck movements. See “Just-in-Time”

Increasing volumes of trade will require efficient port, ferry and airport operations integrated with ground transport infrastructure and operations. See Intermodal Freight. Larger ferries and container ships, bigger cargo aircraft and 24 hour just-in time operations will add disproportionately to freight traffic around ports, ferry terminals and airports. In response, advances in freight logistics will provide opportunities for the Network Operator to influence the supply chain to maximize efficient trunk road use. Active traffic management and development of inter-modal corridor and route management concepts will support this opportunity. See Integrated Operations

Zero Accidents

Network Operators aim to deliver unprecedented standards of safety for road users, and those who operate the network. Crashes and multiple collisions will be virtually eliminated. See Safety

Improvements in highway design will incorporate “state of the art” road features such as electronic signs, active speed control, better physical barriers, crash cushions, and breakaway devices. See  Road Safety

“Smart highways” and “smart cars” will increase safety and reduce the dangers of motoring. New vehicles will incorporate intelligent speed adaptation; collision warning systems; breath alcohol "sniffer" systems; intelligent seatbelt reminders; emergency "may day" systems; and route navigation systems. Automatic enforcement techniques will permit better enforcement of road safety laws, particularly speeding, thereby reducing crashes. See Driver Support and Policing / Enforcement

Security threats will lead to greater levels of surveillance and other defensive measures. See Security Threats

Averting Gridlock

Active and dynamic traffic management - “Sweating the Asset” - is vital to counter long-term regular gridlock. Traffic growth and personal travel will continue unabated leading to greater congestion and more extensive and frequent standstills unless new strategies are developed. See Traffic Management

Future network operating strategies will routinely provide for a dynamic allocation of roadspace serving optional and non-essential movements, as well as high-value journeys and priority movements of freight. See Congestion Management

The management of the highway transportation system in its totality will become highly automated and increasingly real-time. Fast intercity travel by new technology will need to be integrated with existing road, air and rail infrastructure. Dual use of highway corridors may be an option.

New technologies will allow for real-time pricing of transportation facilities to increase efficiency, make better use of spare capacity, and reduce congestion delays. This will be supported by systems that dynamically control and advise traffic on the network to maintain traffic flow without adversely affecting the local environment. See Future Trends, Travel Information Systems and Traveller Services

Managing Demand

Space on the highway is at a premium. Managing demand is essential for efficient and reliable operation of the network. See Demand Management

Strenuous efforts will promote travel substitution to reduce the demand for transportation through telecommuting, electronic communications, and alternative work schedules.

Marketing to suppress travel may be inevitable. Rationing of mobility between people and goods, and between competing demands for access to the network, will require instruments to achieve mobility changes without social exclusion.

Introduction of slot allocation and journey booking systems, extensive queue management and rationing of roadspace through dynamic use of priority lanes, as well as mode switching and the use of road pricing (congestion charges) will all be deployed to prevent widespread gridlock.

Enforcement will be an essential tool of network management - effective, simple and respectful of human rights so that is perceived as fair and proportionate. See Law Enforcement and Enforcement Systems

Institutional Change

Pressure is growing to get best value from highways as a national asset and to operate the network in response to society’s mobility needs. Innovation and flexibility over financial, contractual and organisational arrangements will follow. See Business Perspectives

The roles and responsibilities of the network owner, operator and regulator will be more sharply defined. Institutional re-alignment of enterprises will force horizontal and vertical integration, with regional, continental and even global reach. See Stakeholders

The network operator will be required to achieve high levels of performance. Operating the highway network safely and efficiently on a 24/7 basis will grow in complexity and importance, with the added dimension of dynamic controls to meet a diversity of demand patterns. See Purpose and Objectives

Work is needed on methods of long-term investment appraisal, innovative finance, risk assessment, value management and whole life costing. New contractual and organisational arrangements will flow from the need to secure efficient, integrated transport operations, probably extending across regional and national boundaries. See Project Appraisal and Finance and Contracts

Favouring Public Transport

Reliable, integrated transit services that can compete with the comfort and convenience of the car are to be an integral part of high volume transport corridors. 

Technology offers the prospect of more efficient and flexible, inter-connected transit and cooperative systems (such as the door-to-door seamless journey, a personalised journey, more favourable overall travel costs). See Passenger Transport and Applications

There may be widespread use of guided bus-ways and/or dedicated transit lanes, plus queue management to favour passenger transport vehicles. Modal interchange facilities to long-distance and local collective transport will become increasingly important, such as road-rail ‘Transferiums’, or multi-modal travel centres, offering large-scale park and ride facilities, integrated payment, pre-booking and ticketing arrangements. 

This package can only go ahead with the active cooperation of the highway network operator. They will work closely with the vehicle operators to achieve flexible and reliable public transport operations, including demand responsive features. See Mode Transfer

Understanding the Customer

The highway needs to provide a responsive service and a travel experience that matches the needs of a diverse and dynamic customer base. The needs of highway users will be given highest priority. See Road User Needs

Better understanding about user priorities and their trade-offs will enable optimisation of demand for road space and customer ‘buy-in’. Market segmentation may be crucial. People retired from employement will have more time for leisure activities. Travel in non-peak hours may increase at a greater rate, relative to commuting travel. People will drive longer distances for both leisure and work. Regional migration will have significant implications for traffic flows on the trunk road network.

Through more sophisticated matching of customer needs with the allocation of roadspace, the concept of ‘peak hours’ will decline. Changes in the use of time and mobility may result in leisure becoming the dominant industry, with local, regional, national and worldwide implications. The modal mix will also differ by time and area. See Transport Demand Management

Understanding and predicting these patterns is a prerequisite for planning infrastructure, manpower and pro-active traffic management. 

The Connected Customer

The connected customer needs access to relevant information at all times, irrespective of mode, in order to make informed travel choices before and during their journey. Advances in digital and communications technologies will deliver personalised travel information anywhere and everywhere. See Traveller Services

Road users’ expectations about information delivery will become more sophisticated. This will be combined with other digital services: on-line booking and payment, parking, pick-up, business services, timetables, late-running, forecast travel times, travel costs, interchange options, directions, yellow pages.

Easy modal Interchange

An efficient and attractive network of strategic interchanges for people and goods is needed to optimise transit through congested corridors with safe, secure and efficient transfer. See Mode TransferFreight & Delivery Operations and Intermodal Freight

The role of transport nodes as interchange points, vehicle/freight holding areas and transhipment centres will become more significant. Their functioning as activity centres in their own right, providing entertainment, retail and business services (like airports and railway terminals) will grow. 

There will be intense pressure to find ways to alleviate local access problems. Access schemes based on high-capacity park and ride will be seen as an attractive alternative - and possibly a necessary complement - to road pricing and congestion charges and other methods of traffic restraint. Existing commercial and shopping centres, airports, sports and entertainment centres, tourist attractions and other major destinations are all potential candidates.

Co-operative Driving on the Automated Highway

Highways of the future need to utilise intelligent infrastructure that interacts with the vehicles and people using it. See Coordinated Vehicle Highway SystemsConnected Vehicle Technology and Connected Vehicles

Cooperative driving and greater automation of the highway will deliver predictable and reliable journey times and greater safety in adverse weather conditions. However, the public may be resistant. Reassurance on safety, reliability, practicality and sustainability will be required. 

A backbone of inter-regional automated highway lanes will be established. The lanes will provide safe, fast and predictable journey times for those willing to pay the price.

ITS will bring other innovations which help focus on a favoured traffic mix, such as freight convoys. ITS will make it easier to minimise the disruptive effects of road works, maintenance programmes, and will increase the life of the highway.

Land Use Planning

An active involvement in planning and development control is essential to achieve the vision of integrated transport and sustainable use of the highway network. This will require best use of existing corridors and land use patterns.

Sustainable, integrated land use and transport solutions will be the result of close involvement by the Network Operator in influencing the pattern of development over a long period of time. 

Growing concerns about environmental impacts, congestion and accidents will encourage planners to find better ways of utilising the existing highway corridors. These will include "Low Emmission Zones", “Green Corridors” and multimodal inter-city integrated transport corridors that minimise community disruption and severance and give priority to smarter cleaner vehicles, collective and automated forms of transport, cyclists and pedestrians.

By being pro-active, the Network Operator can influence future patterns of transport supply. See Inter-Agency Working and Planning and Reporting


Reference sources

Eastman R.,  Miles J. C. and Wilkinson J. (2004) Vision 2030: transport visions for strategic highways Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Transport Volume 157 pp. 203-210