If you drive in São Paulo, things may be about to get easier – or perhaps, depending on your point of view, more difficult. A delegation from the city’s transport department is visiting Transport for London’s network management control centre (NMCC) to see for themselves how the organisation, considered to be one of the best transport operators in the world, manages the capital’s 360 miles of roads.
Huddled behind a viewing window, the visitors peer at the centre’s huge wall-mounted screens that relay live traffic situations in high definition and watch as staff operating joystick controllers zoom onto incidents like a scene from The Capture, the BBC surveillance thriller.
“They’re especially interested in seeing how we’ve integrated all our previously separate control departments into one so we have a more efficient and linked-up approach to roads management,” Nick Owen, head of control centre operations, tells me.
This change in how TfL works has been driven by London mayor Sadiq Khan’s transport strategy, which aims to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries from London’s streets by 2041, an ambition billed as part of the broader ‘Vision Zero’ movement.
My visit to NMCC coincides with work beginning on installing new 20mph speed limit signs, road markings and raised pedestrian crossings on five and a half miles of roads in the congestion zone, to go live in May. By 2024, many roads outside this zone will also be subject to a 10mph reduction. The fact that the average speed of cars in the capital is just 7mph would appear to make these reductions unnecessary – at least until you’re hit by a vehicle doing 30mph.
In any case, cars in London are living on borrowed time, since also by 2041 the transport strategy’s aim is for 80% of all journeys in the capital to be by public transport, bicycle or on foot. Currently the figure is at 63%.
Cameras that can zoom in on them, speed limits that are getting lower and plans to reduce their number – it sounds like London has it in for car drivers. Except that, to hear him talk, Owen might actually be their friend.