Engineer Infrastructure & Reshape a City

Posted Monday, October 9, 2017 at 1:32 PM

"Large infrastructure projects can dramatically alter a cityscape and have profound influence on city life."

Engineer Infrastructure & Reshape a City

PostedMonday, October 9, 2017 at 2:16 PM

Kate Gramling
Kate Gramling
Engineer Infrastructure & Reshape a City

While doing research on engineering solutions to transportation problems, I came across a presentation on how different cities have dealt with traffic congestion. It included a variety of solutions that cities have tried to cut down on traffic jams, including:

  • Build more roads to increase capacity;
  • Introduce “smart” toll systems that automatically raise rates as traffic increases to encourage drivers to take less congested routes;
  • Establish HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes to encourage carpooling; and
  • Close roads.

Wait. Close roads?

It’s true. It’s an example of something called Braess’s Paradox.  In the late 1960’s Dietrich Braess was developing traffic models.  He found that adding roads to a traffic-congested area could actually increase travel times. Closing roads in such areas could actually speed up traffic.

One often cited example of this is an urban renewal project in Seoul, South Korea. The Cheonggyecheon, a stream that once flowed through the city, had been covered over in the 1960’s and 70’s – eventually by an elevated highway. Starting in 2003, the city tore down the highway and created a river walk through downtown.

Before the project, this one main artery into and through the city, which was nearly always jammed with cars. After, traffic was dispersed. With the construction of bridges across the restored river, it was now easier to get from the north side of the city to the south side, allowing for easier travel into and around the entire city.

The highway demolition was accompanied by major improvements to the city’s public transit system. Bus lanes were added that made taking the bus as fast or faster than driving a car. New subway stations were opened. Tokens were changed so riders could transfer between trains and busses without extra cost or delay. Finally, new signs and maps made the whole system easy to understand.

Following the project’s completion in 2005, fewer cars entered the city, which improved the air quality. Less traffic congestion and easier transport across the river led to more balanced development between the north and south sides of the city. Plus, the added green space encouraged pedestrians, provided cooler temperatures, and led to revitalization of the downtown.

No infrastructure project of this scale could be successful without engineering. Everything from predicting traffic patterns, to building bridges, to monitoring the health and flow of the Cheonggyecheon demanded engineering tools and expertise.  It took civil, environmental, systems, and computer engineers - to name just a few - working with historians, scientists, city leaders, and local community groups to make this vision a success.

Projects like the Cheonggyecheon Restoration in Seoul are very complex and expensive, and they have their critics. But they are great examples of how infrastructure shapes a city. Seoul’s elevated highway was, in the 1970’s, a symbol of the city’s industrial modernization. Today, its greener, more connected downtown is a symbol of the city’s sustainable future.

What great vision can you imagine for your community?


Photo credit: Cheong Gye Cheon 1 by madmarv00 found on Wikipedia.
Filed Under Special fields and Interdisciplinary Civil Environmental Construction Environment Transportation & Travel