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From Traffic Lights to Charging Stations: Building a Greener Driving Environment

Whether we are driving to work or taking the kids to school, most of us spend a fair bit of time behind the wheel. Nevertheless, all those petrol and diesel vehicles on the roads are having a big impact on air quality and carbon emissions. So how can we make our driving habits more eco-friendly? From smarter traffic control systems to electric vehicle (EV) charging points, various technologies and infrastructure changes are helping nudge drivers towards sustainability.

Smarter Traffic Lights and Signs

We have all sat there waiting at red lights, engines idling, wondering why the lights take so long to change. Well, help is at hand through intelligent transport systems. Many traffic lights and road signs nowadays are controlled digitally, allowing local councils to optimise traffic flows. Sensors and algorithms analyse congestion levels, adjusting the timing and phasing of traffic lights accordingly. This helps to minimise jams and unnecessary stop-starting. 

Some traffic lights also detect approaching emergency vehicles, automatically adjusting to allow ambulances and fire engines through junctions faster. This enables quicker response times, potentially saving lives. Meanwhile, smart motorway signs provide variable speed limits to smooth traffic flows. And when there are incidents or congestion ahead, the likes of Seton traffic signs advise reduced speeds. This encourages steadier driving, lowering emissions from accelerating and braking.

Encouraging Eco-Driving Techniques

As well as improving infrastructure, some initiatives are trying to alter driver behaviour. Eco-driving refers to techniques that reduce fuel consumption, such as avoiding sudden braking and acceleration. Despite seeming like common sense, many motorists do not put eco-driving into practice.

Nonetheless, newer vehicles increasingly have dashboards showing live mpg, average consumption figures and tips for improving economy. Meanwhile, more brands offer driver training courses that teach eco-driving principles. Furthermore, GPS apps provide feedback on acceleration, braking and cornering forces. Gamifying driving through scoring systems encourages you to perfect your technique.

Additionally, some insurance firms have started offering small discounts or rewards to eco-conscious drivers. So, between real-time dash data, digital coaching, and financial incentives, there are more tools than ever to help British motorists adopt greener driving habits.

Charging Up Electric Vehicles

Perhaps the ultimate eco-option is switching to an electric or hybrid vehicle. And infrastructure is expanding fast to support EV adoption. Back in 2013, the UK had barely 3,000 public charging connectors. Yet this figure has now rocketed to over 55,000.

Whether it is lamppost chargers in city centres, forecourt points at petrol stations, or rapid chargers near motorways, the charging network continues to grow. And increased choice of models, from BMW, Vauxhall, Nissan, and other brands, makes going electric more appealing.

What’s more, charging your EV is getting simpler. Apps like Zapmap help locate your nearest charger, show which ones are available or in-use, and allow remote activation. No more hunting for change or credit cards at the machine. Other apps, like Gridserve, let you pay monthly for access to a charging network. This simplifies payments rather than constantly using different providers.

So, while range anxiety still deters some drivers, the charging infrastructure and payment technologies continue to evolve. Within the next decade, expect to see charging points as common as petrol stations.

Rethinking Residential Streets

Most residential side streets were built when fewer households owned cars. But with more multi-vehicle families, narrow terraced streets often become clogged with kerbside parking. This forces more braking and manoeuvring from drivers passing parked cars. Not very eco-friendly.

However, some councils and developers are now rethinking residential street design. For instance, dedicated parking squares interspersed along a terrace can group cars together. This frees up the remaining road for safer two-way traffic flow.

Other schemes create paved or grass parking bays in verges, rather than cars lining roads. This again gives more space for driving lanes without stopping, turning, and reversing. It also avoids pavement parking, which blocks pedestrian access.

Through better parking designs, newer neighbourhoods are reducing the ability for roads to get blocked nose-to-tail. And less congested, calmer streets mean fewer emissions from drivers navigating through tiny gaps or trying to turnaround.

Making Motorways Greener

There are proposals for low-carbon lanes specifically for ultra-low emissions vehicles like hydrogen fuel cell models. Trials on the M4 and M5 have seen HGVs driving in eco-convoys, using automated technology to safely travel closer together. This cuts drag and boosts mpg significantly. 

Some smart motorways also have overhead signs that switch on lower speed limits when air quality drops too low. And more service stations now offer high-powered chargers for those driving longer EV journeys.

These initiatives show that accommodating electric mobility requires evolution across national transport networks, not just cities. Encouraging renewable energy vehicles onto motorways through preferential lanes and rapid charging hubs is key for longer trips. And active traffic management to regulate speeds can help mitigate pollution from traditional cars during bad weather or high pollution days. 

Creating Low Emission Zones

In some heavily populated areas, vehicle pollution has led councils to ban certain vehicles. Low Emission Zones (or Clean Air Zones) are being rolled out in cities like Birmingham, London, and Manchester. Here, charges apply for older diesel and petrol vehicles to drive into designated areas or city centres. Hybrids and electrics meeting the latest European emissions standards travel free, incentivising drivers to upgrade their engines.

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has stricter thresholds, meaning charges even for some hybrids and newer models. Expect more UK cities to follow suit with similar access charges to dissuade high-polluting vehicles.

Conclusion

Creating a more eco-conscious driving environment requires evolution across all aspects of transportation infrastructure. From how we build and operate city roads, to the technologies in consumer vehicles, to services at motorway rest stops – our entire network needs rethinking. Thankfully, progress is happening on multiple fronts.

Infrastructure and policy changes need to continue enticing drivers towards sustainability. Seamless EV charging, automated eco-driving assistance, and expanded low emission zones should hopefully become the new normal. Collectively transitioning towards greener transport networks means cleaner air and environmental progress beckons.