Modular removable paving system lets cities quickly reconfigure their streets

David Pike
© David Pike

Self-driving cars are making their way onto our busy streets, but there's still some ways to go before the technology is perfected and pedestrians aren't on the defensive (or potentially being killed by these autonomous vehicles).

In the meantime, it may signal the need to redesign our streets; some cities have added fences, while others suggest grade-separated cities where pedestrians and cars operate on different levels. Turin, Italy-based Carlo Ratti Associati and Toronto-based Google subsidiary Sidewalk Labs are proposing a modular, reconfigurable paving prototype called Dynamic Street. It's an alternative to curbs and painted lines, and instead of separating flows of traffic, the flexible system would allow the function of a street to change quickly -- from a roadway for cars one day to a kids' play space the next.

David Pike© David Pike
Says Ratti, who is also director of urban think-tank Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

The Dynamic Street creates a space for urban experimentation: with this project, we aim to create a streetscape that responds to citizens’ ever-changing needs. As autonomous vehicles are likely to start running on streets soon, we can start to imagine a more adaptable road infrastructure.

The system of hexagonal pavers includes ones that have lights embedded into them, which allows for not only nighttime illumination, but also a way to have a system of lights that can signal things like crossings or pickup zones. Inspired by French research group IFSTTAR’s pilot project on removable urban pavement, the modularity of the design allows for the pavers to "be picked up and replaced within hours or even minutes in order to swiftly change the function of the road without creating disruptions on the street."

David Pike© David Pike

David Pike© David Pike

David Pike© David Pike

In addition, the pavers are equipped with slots for inserting vertical "plug-and-play" elements like bike racks, basketball hoops and more. As seen in the team's installation of the prototype -- which simulates an 11-meter wide street and includes 232 hexagonal pavers of 1.2 meters each -- the latest technologies could be integrated in the operation of the paving system, making it more user-friendly. Though it's currently being exhibited as wooden elements, the team envisions the pavers being made out of materials like rubber or concrete.

David Pike© David Pike

David Pike© David Pike

David Pike© David Pike

While some may question whether such a system is cost-effective, one big advantage of removable urban pavement (RUP) is that it can be modified or removed easily with lightweight equipment, offering easy access to underground cables or systems that would otherwise require closing off the street to dig it up with big machines. You can view the installation at 307, Sidewalk Lab's Toronto office space until the end of the summer; to learn more, visit Carlo Ratti Associati and Sidewalk Labs.

Modular removable paving system lets cities quickly reconfigure their streets
This flexible and interchangeable system means that city streets can be easily transformed from one function to another.

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