20 June 2012
Reinventing the Wheel
Martin Smith, Chair Professor, Industrial Design, School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Transportation design courses have traditionally delivered car-centred programmes, but a new course at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) takes a more inclusive approach to reflect Asian transportation needs.
PolyU recently introduced a Master of Design (Design Practices) degree, a 10-month programme that immerses students in issues affecting the design and planning of transportation in the world’s fastest-growing region.
Martin Smith, Professor of the Industrial Design Department in PolyU’s School of Design, says the course reflects current transportation trends. “Many transportation design courses, such as the BSc in Transportation Design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, still focus largely on cars,” he says. “While students work closely with the auto industry and have been successful in developing new models, such programmes are very specialised and focused.”
Having worked as a consultant for General Motors and Subaru, Professor Smith says that he decided to develop a transportation design programme that catered to transport needs in Asia.
Students enrolled in Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Master of Design (Design Practices) programme study issues affecting the design and planning of transportation systems in Asia
Since the transportation design cluster was launched last September, students have tackled projects ranging from the deployment of a light railway system at the Hong Kong-Chinese mainland boundary, to the development of electric-powered bicycles, a mode of transport that is particularly popular on the mainland, with 90 per cent of the world’s electric bikes based there.
Professor Smith adds that the programme invites urban planners and politicians to present their views on transport. “We want students to consider transportation design and design systems from everyone’s point of view, and not just a design perspective.”
With a diverse transportation system available to residents, Hong Kong has much to offer other Asian cities. “The most important lesson is that cars are not the only answer, and there needs to be a more balanced transport solution,” says Professor Smith. “Shanghai’s land mass has doubled in the past five years, leading to urban sprawl and car-dominated highways. The challenge for Shanghai, and many other Asian cities, is to redress the balance and develop more light-rail and subway systems, and maybe even get more motorbikes on the road.” Professor Smith adds that it’s not always about reinventing the wheel, pointing to Shenzhen’s successful replica of Hong Kong’s MTR system.
“The WKT is part of an international and regional transport hub,” says MVA Director Francis Sootoo. “It will require efficient and safe access for travellers and for processing through a multi-level facility.” This, he says, will include customs/immigration/quarantine, ticketing and booking, waiting zones and about six platforms for shuttle trains to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, as well as platforms for long-distance trains throughout the mainland.
The project, he says, involves sophisticated computer simulation modelling of passengers and pedestrians inside the development and station, and of road traffic in the surrounding network. In conjunction with the WKT, Mr Sootoo says the planning concept for the West Kowloon Cultural District involves creating a 40-hectare, traffic-free ground level people-first development zone. A mechanised internal transport mode is under consideration for the later phases and could take a number of forms, including travelators, trams or elevated people movers.
Global transportation specialist MVA is the principal transport planner for the West Kowloon Terminus
While he notes that Hong Kong’s high-density development has been a natural advantage to building a seamless transportation network in the city, one challenge posed by other Asian cities is urban sprawl, which goes hand-in-hand with increased vehicle use. “The biggest challenge comes from low-density residential projects in the urban suburbs, which pay insufficient attention to travel needs and public transport and will create tomorrow’s traffic jams.”
Self-driving automobiles, which are already on the streets of Nevada in the United States, will play a big role in the future, according to PolyU’s Professor Smith. “In the next 15 years, we will see lots of autonomous vehicles on the highways,” he predicts, adding that “with such vehicles, the styling is no longer as important – it’s more about getting the mechanics, the configuration and layout of such vehicles right. Hong Kong companies recognise this and are already working on it.”
Self-driving vehicles rely on video cameras, radar sensors, lasers and a database of information collected from manually driven cars to navigate. Given that the vast majority of car accidents are caused by human error, they may make roads a safer place.