Roads of the Future Study

Posted by Victoria Collins on

Over 4 in 5 Brits think the issue of climate change is important, according to YouGov. And with recent Government funding prioritising climate measures on the road, our motorways could look completely different in a matter of mere decades. 

Climate-friendly initiatives such as ULEZ zones, the installation of electric vehicle chargers, cycle parking spots and new green spaces are all in production, marking a positive step toward a greener future. However, there are a number of other green measures that could be applied to our roads to help combat issues surrounding climate change. 

In the study, used the AI tool DALL-E to picture the future of our roads. We guided the tool to incorporate global climate-friendly measures currently being used, to offer a glimpse into how roads could look in 2050. We also used data to examine countries with the highest carbon emissions and AI to visualise the potential impact on those nations’ roads. 

The study revealed:

- AI predicts over a third of cars on roads will be electric in only 26 years 

- Climate-friendly overpasses could save 1.8 billion UK animals by 2050

- AI depicts China, the US & North Korea in a bleak state if climate initiatives aren’t adopted

What will our roads look like in 2050 if we follow climate initiatives?

With incentives such as ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zones) and CAZ (Clean Air Zones) being implemented across London and the UK, the British government has shown its commitment to combating climate change. Unfortunately, it will take more than speed limits to create a transformative evolution of the country's roadscape. 

By utilising AI and instructing the tool to incorporate initiatives that other governments are adopting, has imagined what our roads could look like in 2050 - if we follow cleaner and more sustainable transportation schemes. 

The visuals have incorporated integrated green spaces, such as biodiverse corridors, noise-reducing green barriers, carbon-absorbing plants, electric charging stations, solar-powered rest areas and wind energy farms. 

  1. Electric Car Stations

Will Brits adopt electric cars?

In the AI visual of a road in 2050, the UK has a large electric car station for drivers to use with ease just off the main motorway.

According to ZapMap, 15.6% of all new car registrations in October 2023 were electric vehicles and, in total, there are around 920,000 fully electric cars on UK roads. As there were an estimated 33.48m licenced cars on the road in June 2023, this means only 2.7% were electric. 

The Government also announced that in 2035, the sale of new petrol and hybrid cars will be banned. With this in mind, asked AI to forecast how many electric cars will be on the road in 2050 - it predicted that 34% of cars on the road would be electric

With this many electric cars on the road, our motorways would have to be adjusted to accommodate the influx of chargeable vehicles. This AI-generated image reveals how electric car stations would appear on our motorways. 

  1. Wildlife Overpasses

Can we save British wildlife?

The AI visual depicts an overpass across a busy UK motorway which allows small mammals such as badgers, rabbits and foxes to cross to the nearby countryside with ease. 

Since the first wildlife crossing was constructed in France, in 1950, to help hunters guide deer, Europe has led the way in normalising this wildlife infrastructure.  Countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and France have incorporated nationwide overpasses and underpasses to safeguard their homegrown agriculture, such as amphibians, badgers, insects, and other small mammals.

Photo caption: Wildlife overpass in Switzerland

The Mammal Society raised a red flag, cautioning that familiar mammal species like hedgehogs, badgers, and hares could be on the decline, facing the risk of local extinction in some European areas, mainly because of road accidents. In the UK, it's estimated that each year, around 100,000 foxes, 100,000 hedgehogs, 50,000 badgers, and 30,000-50,000 deer fall victim to road casualties. 

Highways England states that 70m animals die each year on our roads. By 2050, this would amount to 1.82 billion animal deaths from now. On account of this, introducing wildlife-friendly road infrastructure could keep animals safe from transport. 

Data indicates the effectiveness of wildlife overpasses. The Colorado Department of Transportation, for instance, states that the construction of two overpasses and five underpasses between dangerous roads resulted in an 87% reduction in animal collisions.

In the AI image, the overpasses stretch over a traditional busy UK motorway, this depiction could be a vision of how our roads could look in the future if the Government prioritises animal welfare and green initiatives.

  1. Green Corridors 

What are green corridors and how would they help our future roads?

In the AI visual of the future road, the graphic showcases natural vegetation barriers along the roadside for animals to reside in safety and to improve air quality.

Like wildlife crossings, the integration of green barriers (natural vegetation barriers along roadsides) could not only help save and provide habitats for the UK’s local wildlife but also enhance air quality.  

Revealed during a conference, Biology researcher Rob Ament from the Western Transportation Institution shared findings indicating that the landscapes bordering federal roadways capture emissions equivalent to approximately 7.6 million cars and could be managed to absorb the emissions of millions more.

One country that has keenly adopted green corridor initiatives, is Morocco. In 2016, Morocco’s Highway Authority planted more than 3 million trees in the country over a period of a decade.

AI has imagined what our motorways could look like if the UK followed suit. 

  1. CO2 Absorbing Plants 

How can plants help our CO2 emissions? 

A motorway in 2050 could depict a roadside filled with CO2 plants, trees and wind farms like the one AI has generated. 

It’s not just trees that help absorb harmful emissions, as certain plants are recognised for their CO2-absorbing abilities too. 

As a result, strategically planting CO2-absorbing plants along motorways could contribute to carbon sequestration, reducing the impact of emissions. 

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, the Cotoneaster Franchetii is the best shrub for cleaning air polluted by car exhausts.  Other Google-recommended CO2-absorbing plants include the Transvaal Daisies, which have been depicted in the AI image of a climate-friendly road in 2050.  

  1. Solar-Powered Rest Areas

The AI visual depicts a bright future with a large solar-powered rest area for drivers to rest and cars to electronically recharge while using solar power to convert energy from the sun into power.

While not yet a widespread environmentally conscious effort, solar-powered rest areas might become commonplace by 2050. 

In Abu Dhabi, the Joint Committee for Traffic Safety joined forces with the city's primary food delivery platform to launch solar-powered rest areas specifically designed for delivery riders. This partnership seeks to establish convenient stations where delivery personnel can recharge and rehydrate during the hot summer season.

In the AI-generated idealistic depiction of UK roads in 2050, solar-powered rest stations might dot the highways, offering not only a sustainable energy source but also serving as convenient charging points for electric vehicles.  

  1. Wind Turbines 

Just how beneficial are wind turbines for energy production?

Although the UK countryside has thousands of wind turbines, they’re often seen in remote areas. In this AI visual, the UK landscape portrays a countryside filled with wind turbines.

Adding more wind energy farms along the roadside is arguably the most straightforward way to go green, and will likely make the biggest difference for the environment. The introduction of wind farms could harness renewable energy to power nearby communities and support the electrification of transport. 

However, of all the potential green initiatives listed, wind energy farms are potentially the most controversial, due to how they affect the appearance of the British countryside. 

For instance, the Welsh Government was in charge of allowing more wind farms in rural Wales, but received criticism from alleged residents and Conservative MPs. Fay Jones, the Conservative MP representing Brecon and Radnorshire, said: “People absolutely hate this project. It tells you a lot about how the Welsh government sees rural Wales as just a cash cow.”

In September 2023, the Government relaxed restrictions on planning wind farms - which means there are fewer steps when deciding to build one. On this basis, the vision AI has interpreted of a future UK motorway could in fact be an accurate one. 

Collectively, wind energy farms and the other measures listed could signify a holistic approach to rejuvenating the transportation infrastructure, promoting a cleaner, greener, and environmentally conscious road network in the UK.

Exploring Tomorrow: The Consequences of Ignoring Climate Initiatives

 Caption: How UK motorways could look if we don’t follow green initiatives

If the UK neglects the adoption of green initiatives such as wind energy farms, animal road crossings, and the widespread use of electric cars, our roads could undergo a concerning transformation.  Without the integration of sustainable practices, fuel consumption will increase, worsening environmental damage and speeding up the usage of limited resources. Infinity Renewables estimates that if we continue usage at our current rate, all of our fossil fuels will be depleted by 2060.

The absence of dedicated animal road crossings might contribute to an alarming increase in wildlife fatalities, disrupting the ecological balance. As aforementioned, the deaths of 70 million animals on the roads each year would equate to 1.82 billion animal deaths by 2050. 

It’s not just local wildlife that would be affected though, the repercussions would extend beyond the roadsides, impacting plants, trees, and the overall countryside. According to the WDF, forest loss and damage are the cause of around 10% of global warming. As a consequence, we must continue planting more trees and plants. 

The rise in air pollution, stemming from reliance on fossil fuels, poses severe risks to both the environment and human well-being. The failure to embrace cleaner technologies and green initiatives could result in a dystopian-looking landscape, with depleted ecosystems, compromised biodiversity and a dangerous atmosphere. 

The Worst Countries for Carbon Emissions

Using Worldometer data, explored the worst countries for carbon emissions. The exploration sought to uncover the extent of carbon footprint contributions from various nations, shedding light on their environmental impact on the world. 

This data was supported with AI imagery to offer a glimpse into how the countries’ roads might appear if they don't embrace climate-friendly initiatives in the lead-up to 2050.

Five worst countries for carbon emissions: 

The data unveiled the carbon emissions of the top five countries contributing the most to air pollution, has paired this data with AI-generated visuals to provide a visual insight into how these countries could look if they don't adopt eco-friendly initiatives by 2050. 

  1. China

With a population surpassing 1.4 billion residents, China unsurprisingly leads the world in CO2 emissions. However, it's not solely the large population that bears responsibility, as other factors include rapid industrialisation, heavy reliance on coal for energy and its extensive manufacturing activities.

The Chinese government has invested in renewable energy and implemented environmental policies. Unfortunately, though, the grand scale of the economy and its citizens’ energy demands means the country continues to use an excessive amount of energy. The AI image depicts how the roads and the air could look in 2050 if climate-friendly initiatives aren’t adopted. 

  1. USA

The US is the second-largest contributor to global CO2 emissions and like China, the dense population of the nation is a prime factor. With 332 million citizens, many of whom are car drivers (91.7% of households had at least one vehicle in 2021), the country is heavily dependent on petrol and diesel. This ultimately plays a substantial role in the high CO2 emissions. 

The vast scale of industrial activities and manufacturing processes, coupled with a historically energy-intensive lifestyle, further showcases the nation's CO2 output. 

While there are ongoing efforts to transition towards cleaner energy alternatives, addressing vehicle and fuel dependency is essential in curbing the US’s carbon emissions. The AI depiction could portray a realistic vision of what’s to come. 

  1. India

India holds the third spot in global CO2 emissions, and there are several factors contributing to this status. A significant aspect is the country's rapid industrialisation, as various sectors attempt to meet the demands of a growing population. 

Unlike some other nations, India heavily relies on coal for a large portion of its energy needs and accounts for 55% of the country's energy needs. A surge in the number of vehicles on the roads also contributes significantly to the carbon footprint. 

As India undergoes economic development and strives to uplift its standard of living, finding a balance between growth and environmental sustainability is key in addressing its position as a major contributor to global CO2 emissions.

  1. Russia 

Russia has an extensive land area - it is the largest country in the world, taking up 11% of the total world's landmass. This could be part of the reason it is the fourth largest contributor to global carbon emissions.  

However, the main reason is because of its heavy reliance on fossil fuels, especially natural gas, for energy. While there have been some efforts to use cleaner energy sources, the historical reliance on fossil fuels and industrial practices make it a challenge to reduce emissions. 

  1. Japan 

Japan is the fifth-largest contributor to global CO2 emissions, mainly because it has high factory use and homes some of the world's leading manufacturers that produce a significant amount of carbon. 

The country also experienced a spike in emissions following the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. If Japan isn’t able to reduce its impact on global CO2 levels, then the AI graphic could be a glimpse into Japan’s future. 

The top five countries with the highest growth in CO2 emissions per year also utilised the data to reveal the carbon emissions of the top five countries with the highest growth in CO2 emissions and also paired this with AI visuals. 

  1. North Korea

Despite having an estimated population of 25 million, North Korea is reported to have only 30,000 vehicles on its roads. With a limited automotive industry, the majority of cars in circulation are either imported or several decades old. This means it’s unlikely that it’s transport emissions that contribute to the high growth in CO2 emissions. 

North Korea's increase in carbon emissions may be attributed primarily to its dependence on coal, rather than other factors.

  1. Mongolia

Despite its expansive and seemingly barren landscape, Mongolia ranks as the second-highest contributor to the growth in carbon emissions. 

This can be rationalised by the fact that Mongolia holds the position of the world's second-largest coal producer, providing a logical reason for its second-place position.

AI predicts that the once beautiful desert terrain could be breached by air pollution in 2050 unless more environmentally friendly resources are embraced

  1. Philippines

The country with the third highest CO2 growth is The Philippines. Like many developing nations, the Asian country may face challenges related to balancing economic growth with environmental sustainability. 

Factors such as industrialisation, dependence on fossil fuels, population growth, and infrastructure development could contribute to increased carbon emissions. AI has predicted how the Philippines’ roads could look in 2050 if CO2 emissions continue to grow.

  1. Nepal

Nepal ranks fourth in CO2 emissions, with the primary contributor being the transport sector, responsible for 50% of energy-related CO2 emissions. Following closely is the industrial sector at 27%, and the building sector at 15%.

This means the country’s government would need to invest in climate-friendly initiatives in this sector in order to vastly improve its emissions. Otherwise, AI has predicted a hazy road with heavy pollution in 2050.

  1. Pakistan 

Pakistan's position as the fifth highest growing contributor to CO2 emissions can be linked to a combination of factors. 

 The country's energy landscape heavily relies on fossil fuels, with a significant portion of its electricity generation coming from coal. Rapid industrialisation and economic growth have led to increased energy consumption, further intensifying emissions too. 

The UK has most reduced rate of carbon emissions

According to the Worldometer data, the UK has the most reduced rate of carbon emissions, demonstrating a remarkable decline in recent years.  

Both policy initiatives and advancements in technology could be the reason behind the latest achievement. The UK has implemented ambitious climate targets, striving to become a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050. Also, initiatives like the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in cities such as London and CAZ zones in other areas of the country play a pivotal role in curbing emissions by imposing strict standards on vehicle emissions. These measures, as a by-product, have encouraged the use of electric or low-emission vehicles. 

The Government’s investments in renewable energy sources, progressively phasing out coal-fired power plants may have also played a significant role. 

How Brits can reduce their carbon emissions & fuel consumption

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that has a huge impact on air pollution. While CO2 itself is not directly harmful to human health in the concentrations we’re exposed to, its presence in the atmosphere contributes to various environmental problems, including air pollution. 

It’s one of the major greenhouse gases responsible for the greenhouse effect. When released into the atmosphere, it traps heat from the sun, leading to global warming and climate change. Brits can play their part in reducing their vehicle’s fuel consumption and ultimately their carbon emissions by following these five steps. 

  1. Walk more

The one surefire way to ensure the petrol in your tank lasts longer is to use your feet instead of your wheels. 

How many of us are guilty of using the car to run errands that could be done on foot? It’s those small journeys that add up.

So next time you’re thinking of taking the car for a 2-mile round trip, grab your trainers and take a walk instead, you won’t regret it.

      2. Go easy on the AC

 Turning on the air conditioning system in your car can affect fuel consumption by over 10%, this is because petrol energy is required to carry the cold gas into your car. 

In the summer months using the air conditioning can be unavoidable, but to save fuel it’s a good idea to get your car to the desired temperature and then switch the air conditioning off.  

Your car’s onboard heaters work in the same way too, so if you’re feeling the pinch and trying to save money - wrap up warm before you make your journey to avoid turning your heater on.  

  1. Stick to the speed limit

Every road has a speed limit for a reason, although it can be tempting to break those limits when you’re in a rush, by doing that you’re jeopardising safety and fuel economy.

Most cars are at their most economical when travelling between 45-50mph, so, unnecessary accelerating can burn more fuel than is required.

Data from Energy.Gov shows that even travelling on the motorway at 80mph instead of 70mph can decrease fuel economy by 15.4%. 

  1. Try car sharing/carpooling

Not only does car sharing protect the environment but it also protects your wallet. Most UK drivers spend the majority of their time behind the wheel when driving to work. Therefore, splitting the commute to work with a colleague can cut your monthly petrol costs in half.

Carpooling is also very social, there’s nothing as boring as being sat alone in traffic, with a commuting companion you have someone to keep you company on the drive while reducing your fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

     5. Check your tyres

Checking tyres and oil levels regularly should be common practice for drivers, but unfortunately, it’s something that’s often skipped.

Tyres without adequate grip will spin more on the road which can cause a significant rise in fuel consumption.

Underinflated tyres that aren’t at the recommended tyre pressure cause the vehicle to drag which negatively affects fuel consumption. Ensuring tyres are inflated correctly will also help your vehicle run more economically.

Checking your car's tyre pressure and grip once a month as well as before long journeys will ensure your vehicle is running at maximum efficiency. 


Utilising ChatGPT and Dall-E, generated images by inputting visual prompts relevant to the study section.

Research conducted by the team utilising the sources here:

Information correct as of 29th November 2023.

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