Our innovation team is focused on big ideas, and on difficult problems we can’t solve on our own. To speed up our progress towards TfL’s plan for London – decarbonisation, safety on the network, healthy streets – we work with the most innovative organisations in the world to test and scale new technologies to make life better for Londoners. 👏
Working for a greener London
We want every street in London to be green, healthy, and attractive. That’s the vision set out in our Healthy Streets strategy, and it’s the guiding principle we use when thinking about the future of our city. 💚
Streets account for 80% of London’s public space, but they’re dominated by road traffic, not people. Congestion makes it harder for people to walk, cycle, or take the bus; and it’s a significant cause of the toxic air pollution damaging our health and environment. Every day, tens of thousands of Londoners breathe air that exceeds the UK’s legal limits of pollution. And when measured against the World Health Organisation’s standards, 99% of our city exceeds safe levels. ✋
Partnering with Bosch to improve air quality
In November 2018, we partnered with Bosch to work together on some of London’s biggest challenges. 🤝
We thought that advanced sensor technologies could help us better understand how pollution moves through Brixton high street, a hotspot in the London Borough of Lambeth. But at the outset of our air quality project, we didn’t know what solution we’d come up with, and we didn’t try to tell Bosch what to do. This is an important part of how we approach innovation. It’s essential to understand the problem inside-out before trying to come up with a solution. That way, we end up solving the actual problem – not just the one we thought we had.
Building a model to make good decisions
We realised that to improve air quality, we first had to understand how and where pollution was building up over the course of the day. So together with Bosch and Lambeth Council, we installed 17 advanced air monitors around the high street. This new technology, developed by Bosch, allowed us to track the levels of toxic pollutants NO2, O3, PM10 and PM2.5 minute-by-minute. ⏱️
We also needed to know which vehicles were contributing the most to the changing levels of pollution. With HERE Technologies, we used Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to track different vehicle classes travelling through Brixton. Using the Loop sensors already installed in the road, we matched vehicle class data with the changing traffic flow and density. 🚗
Collecting data was only half the challenge. We also needed to understand how the flow of different types of vehicles through Brixton, at different times of day, affected the levels of pollution around the busy high street. So Bosch created the Environmentally Sensitive Traffic Management model: a live heatmap that integrated data from all our different sources.
Finding that traffic lights were the solution
Taking all this together, we figured out that the solution to improving air quality around the high street lay with traffic lights. Specifically, by changing the timing of the lights, we could smooth traffic flow and slightly increase average speeds to 10 mph. 🚦
Tracked on the pollution heatmap, this change meant vehicles spent less time idling at busy junctions, as well as using fuel more efficiently. By really getting under the hood of the problem –and not assuming we already knew the answer – our project successfully decreased toxic pollutant NO2 in Brixton by as much as 20% which is a massive reduction! 🎉
This innovative partnership quickly led to better outcomes for pedestrians, residents, and road users in Lambeth; and the knowledge we gained is now informing our strategy on air quality and traffic management across the city. By setting a big challenge, and partnering with Bosch, HERE Technologies, and Lambeth Council, we accelerated our progress towards our vision for a greener London.