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What is road infrastructure planning?

A Guide to Road Infrastructure Planning and Management

Road infrastructure planning ensures transportation systems are efficient, safe, and future-proof. But what are the key elements of infrastructure planning? Read our guide to find all the answers.

Global passenger and freight travel is expected to increase significantly by 2050. To accommodate this growth, an estimated 25 million kilometers of road and 335,000 kilometers of trail tracks need to be added.

However, it’s not just about adding more roads and train tracks. Road infrastructure has an enormous impact on our lives. It defines the look of our cities, it connects communities, and it determines the way we move. Moreover, future road infrastructure needs to tackle future challenges, such as an increased urban population and rising air pollution.

To ensure that everyone has access to transport in a sustainable and resilient way, cities need solid infrastructure planning and management.

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What is road infrastructure planning?

Urban road infrastructure planning involves maintaining existing facilities while also planning new road infrastructure. These include the paved roads themselves as well as everything associated with them, e.g. signage, drainage, and earthworks.

Roads bring economic and social benefits as they link producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to schools, and patients to hospitals. They are vital to development. However, they can also come with environmental or societal  costs such as air pollution or deforestation.

These trade-offs need to be accounted for when planning new infrastructure projects. An inclusive road infrastructure planning and management approach aims to anticipate future demand and balances the needs of people, the environment, and the economy.

What is the importance of road infrastructure?


Improving efficiency

Congestion and a lack of space are challenges affecting almost every city. But how should limited urban space be distributed between different stakeholders and modes of mobility? And how can traffic flow and level of service be improved?

Traffic modeling and planning helps city planners test infrastructure virtually to improve existing work and plan to make better use of space. The tools can be used to analyze underlying problems, test different scenarios, as well as create a new, fair, and efficient transportation strategy by improving aspects like faster deliveries and connections.

Enhancing urban livability

Two thirds of the world’s population are projected to live in urban areas by 2050. This highlights the growing need for and the importance of transportation infrastructure in cities. Good transportation infrastructure improves the quality of life for city populations, increases safety, equal access to services and air quality, while poor infrastructure worsens it. But which measures lead to long-lasting success?

Analyzing accident data enables police and other authorities to identify, mitigate and prevent accident hotspots. Traffic analysis enables city planners to test various scenarios to develop transport infrastructure that reduces emissions, gives access to safe mobility, and reduces accidents in the long-term.

Strengthening public transport

Public transport plays a vital role in the accessibility of mobility. A demand analysis helps identify white spots and oversupply. This then serves as a basis for decisions on new lines or stations. Future scenarios or alternatives can be simulated using a traffic model and the infrastructure investments adapted accordingly. A model is also helpful for finding the right location for mobility hubs, bringing together public transport, as well as developing new forms of mobility, such as ride and car sharing, bike sharing, and electric scooters.

Future-proofing transportation

Cities are like living organisms that grow and evolve. People come and go, and so do real-estate projects, and mobility trends. Due to its immense costs, infrastructure is built for the long-term: bridges, roads, and rail tracks are put in place for decades to come.

Therefore, ensuring that infrastructure built today considers and meets the needs of tomorrow is crucial. Infrastructure design needs to adapt to changing demographic, economic, or spatial circumstances. For example, that involves evaluating mobility policies and regulations before implementing and optimizing  electric and shared mobility infrastructure.

Read more about our forward-looking research projects in the field of Urban Mobility.

Increasing safety and resilience

Roads, bridges, tunnels, and all other transport infrastructure age and degrade over time. To remain safe, they need to be adequately maintained. For example, bridge collapses are rare, but when they do happen, they can cause serious harm, including injuries, fatalities, and high financial damage. Less spectacular but an aspect that also causes a lot of economical  damage as well as serious crashes and accidents are potholes. In the US, for example, a third of major urban roads are deemed substandard, and about a third of traffic fatalities each year involve poor road conditions.

Unclear traffic signs, poor lane markings and generally bad road design can also be dangerous. In contrast, smartly designed infrastructure can improve road safety. For example, roads designed to minimize bottlenecks lead to a better traffic flow, which reduces accidents. Replacing traffic signals with roundabouts has proven to significantly improve the safety of road junctions.

What are the key elements of urban infrastructure planning?

The first step of road infrastructure planning is to determine infrastructure bottlenecks and needs. This involves:

  • identifying current bottlenecks through traffic counts, congestion monitoring, or accident reports
  • identifying maintenance and replacement needs for critical infrastructures
  • deriving future infrastructure needs from demographic projections, land use changes or planned developments
  • deriving infrastructure needs from social trends and from transportation related policies like climate change and decarbonization

The second step is to define possible infrastructure improvements or changes according to the identified needs and understanding whether they’re feasible. This step involves virtually testing different project variants, estimating capital and operating costs and conducting a cost-benefit analysis per project. Based on this analysis, the most suitable option is identified.

In the third step, a ‘Transportation Master Plan’ is created. This involves testing different infrastructure measures and variants and assessing their effects on congestion, travel times, mode choice, emissions, noise, and other (un)desired outcomes. Based on the complex analysis, project priorities can then be determined.

The fourth and final step is implementation planning. Now, the final project design and implementation timeline are set up. At this time, project funds need to be secured and measures during the implementation phase (like road blockings and detours) to be planned.

The third and fourth step typically have a political component and are embedded in political discussions.

FAQs About Road Infrastructure Planning

What does road infrastructure mean?

Road infrastructure includes physical assets like the roads themselves, as well as everything associated with them, for example bus stops, trucking terminals, signage, drainage, and structures such as bridges or tunnels.

How does road infrastructure help the economy?

The world bank refers to roads as the “arteries through which the economy pulses.” They connect manufacturers with markets, workers with jobs and students to schools thus driving economic development and GDP growth. Moreover, in today’s economy, supply chains are highly complex and interdependent. Good road infrastructure within countries and across borders ensures a streamlined transport of tools and goods which is needed in the production process and for the efficient distribution of finished goods.

How can we improve road quality?

Streets with potholes, poor signage and markings, and crumbling pavements don’t only make for an uncomfortable ride. Driving on them costs a lot of money as they slow down the transportation of goods and play a huge role in accidents. Not allowing infrastructure assets to deteriorate to a point where maintenance costs rise sharply is the first step in keeping the road quality at an acceptable level. This includes, for example, maintaining pavements, signage and marking of existing roads. Moreover, road quality can be improved in the long run by investing in innovative paving materials. Another approach to improving road quality is to reduce wear and tear, for example by making public transportation more attractive or by improving traffic flow.

How do you increase traffic flow?

There are different approaches to increasing traffic flow. One approach is to use existing traffic infrastructure more efficiently, for example, through intelligent traffic lights that switch according to traffic volumes. These lights smooth traffic flow, create green waves and avoid stop-and-go traffic. Another approach is to reduce individual traffic by prioritizing public transport, cyclists, and pedestrians to increase the attractiveness of sustainable forms of mobility. The costliest approach is to change or expand infrastructure itself, e.g., by adding or widening roads or replacing traffic lights with roundabouts.

How can we solve poor road conditions?

There are three approaches to solving poor road conditions. First, by regularly investing in road infrastructure and maintaining pavements, signages, markings, bridges and tunnels. Second, by improving city planning to avoid congestion and improve traffic flow. And third, by promoting and incentivizing other forms of mobility such as walking, biking and taking public transport.

How can we maintain road safety?

Road safety can be increased by continuously investing in maintaining existing road infrastructure to avoid crumbling pavements, unclear traffic signs, poor lane markings, and unsafe bridges and tunnels. Moreover, we can invest in road infrastructure that increases safety, such as wide enough and spatially separated sidewalks or roundabouts rather than traffic lights. Furthermore, we can invest in analyzing accident data to identify, mitigate and prevent accident hotspots.

Looking for a way to improve your urban road infrastructure planning initiatives?

Get your free demo version of PTV Visum - the world’s leading transport planning software - or get in touch with our experts. Road infrastructure solutions are at your fingertips:

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