There is arguably an unprecedented level of uncertainty facing the future of transport with the prospect that the glue that binds society’s elements together may be mutating. In the face of such uncertainty and associated change there is a need for flexibility. This is especially true of infrastructure development both in terms of the transport system itself but also in terms of the associated land uses that give rise to demand placed upon the transport system. There are many examples of stranded assets, underutilised or abandoned facilities as well as legacy infrastructure that obstruct adaptive development. For example the limitations or legacy of a railway system’s design (its bridge heights, track gauge, station lengths, stability of carriages etc.) might mean that there are limits on being able to increase how many people or how much goods can be carried by trains, without building an entirely new infrastructure. Greater attention therefore needs to be given to how infrastructure can be ‘future proofed’ and made ready to accommodate the needs of a changing society. This is particularly pertinent to our cities and to the connections between cities. We need to be able to reallocate transport system capacity for different uses. This may include use by different modes or transfer of transport system capacity for use by new building stock or for recreational ‘dwell’ spaces that enhance interaction in urban environments. Major examples of pedestrianisation of formerly congested roadspace include Times Square in New York and Trafalgar Square in London.

In practice the implications of the issues raised in this article are that a number of different future outlooks for transport are likely to come into conflict as options for the way forward are examined and pursued:

  • predicted – an extrapolated outlook for the future (typically of growth in transport demand) giving a (misguided) sense of confidence;
  • plausible – an outlook for a future who’s potential emergence cannot be denied based on current knowledge (e.g. the demise of the motor age);
  • presumed – an outlook for the future on the basis of probability and instinct but without proof (e.g. the emergence of electric and self-driving cars);
  • preferred – an outlook for a future that is desirable (so therefore value laden – e.g. growth in aviation to support global business or growth in cycling and walking to support healthy urban environments); and
  • practical – an outlook for the future that aligns best with immediate interests and imperatives (e.g. the need for expanded transport infrastructure to support economic recovery).