Swiss study shows moving walkways could provide mobility in car-free cities


Researchers at a leading Swiss university have been studying futuristic transport solutions for car-free urban centers, and have come up with an optimal design for a network of accelerating moving walkways that could move 7,000 people per hour.

Moving walkways are not a new idea, with the first examples seen in Chicago in 1893, and seven years later they were used at the World Fair in Paris. Although they are regularly used in airports and transit terminals, moving walkways generally travel at a slower speed than a natural walking pace, and even when people continue walking, they tend to slow their pace to compensate, so walkways only minimally improve travel times and capacity.

However, the concept of high-speed walkways has been periodically studied by transportation engineers and urban planners in search of eco-friendly transport solutions. In a breakthrough study, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have analyzed the feasibility of fast moving walkways in an urban setting, with encouraging results.

The EPFL research project is part of the PostCarWorld future mobility initiative, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The team’s task consisted of imagining a city without private cars, in which space designed for automobiles could be repurposed. Individual transport needs would be met by a combination of conventional methods or by more innovative solutions, such as bike- or car-sharing or urban cable cars. EPFL’s Transport and Mobility Laboratory studied accelerating moving walkways that can go up to 9.3mph (15km/h), the average rush hour travel speed in most large cities, to see if they could compete with other means of transport.

Researchers focused on the feasibility of a network of moving walkways, and attempted to come up with the optimal design, taking into account the road network, demand, the speed required to make the system competitive, energy consumption, and operational and budgetary constraints. Using real data from Geneva to develop their mathematical model, they explored various configurations of: speed, acceleration, length and width, intersections, and entry and exit points. Their ideal network begins with a small ring around a car-free urban center and extends out along primary roads on 47 different links equipped with 10 gates for a total length of 20 miles (32km). There are 37 intersections using bridges or underpasses. The walkways could handle 7,000 passengers per hour, whereas a roadway can accommodate between 750 and 1,800 vehicles.

“Because they are entirely electric, moving walkways represent a sustainable and eco-friendly transport system, and their operating cost is similar to that of buses,” explained Riccardo Scarinci, lead author of the study. “The main downside is the cost of construction. It will cost about as much to install one line as to build a new tram line, but the cost could drop if the system were installed on a large scale. That’s why it only makes sense in dense and highly congested cities.”

Michel Bierlaire, director of the Laboratory, noted, “This study proves the concept is credible, and a car-less, pedestrian-centric city is conceivable.”

Share this story:

About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).