by Chris Gibney, Business Development Director, Highways, WSP
Today, a typical highways project might be constrained by issues of space, budget, environment or design. But these factors are expected to change rapidly with the advent of new approaches such as digital design, and in the face of challenges like climate change.
The upshot? We know that we need to work both in our own business and with our clients and collaborators to change how we all deliver projects. This is what the Future Ready programme is all about.
Becoming Future Ready
Across WSP, Future Ready looks at four categories of change: environmental, societal, technology and resources. By looking ahead, it helps us prepare for the future by changing how we work today. We need to go beyond current codes on all our projects - without exception - to cope with, for example, higher and more intense rainfall in the future, or the need to incorporate infrastructure for autonomous vehicles.
A toolkit for resilience
Future Ready uses a toolkit that ensures we’ve considered all the factors that must come together to create a resilient piece of infrastructure.
Using the toolkit, our project teams take a wide-ranging view that considers every aspect of how to make roads better for everyone – incorporating the needs of today and those predicted in the decades to come. We look at seating to give an ageing population places to rest; shade to help deal with the impact of climate change; biophilic design to make use of natural materials; and integrating wireless technology into street furniture.
A resilience mindset makes this sort of integrated approach not only possible, but business-as-usual. We use the checklist across different disciplines – highways, structural, urban design and others – with everyone contributing their expertise. It encourages people to think across disciplines, which we believe is vital.
Innovation and research
Collaboration will be key to making the highways sector become more resilient, and this requires an open approach to design. For our Old Street project, helping Morgan Sindall and Transport for London transform the roundabout into a cycling and walking friendly space, we invited the client to a Future Ready innovation lab. In the online webinar, they heard hundreds of different specialists from across WSP offering ideas for improving the design.
The thing about resilience is that because it is such a wide-ranging issue, nobody has all the answers – including us. While there’s a huge evidence base for issues such as climate change, others – like the design implications of an ageing population – are less well understood and the solutions less well developed. To this end we’ve implemented an R&D programme to dig deeper into these disruptive changes.
Despite the challenges that lie ahead, I believe that together, the highways sector can become more resilient – that it can become Future Ready for its industry, customers, and road users. I for one am excited to play a part in that.