Cities around the world are reinventing the highway with things like de-icing pavements, color-changing paint and wind-powered street lights.

Imagine you're cruising on a motorbike along a narrow road winding viperlike through the mountains. Around the next bend, a flooding natural spring has covered the pavement with thin, slippery ice. A rider who's none too careful might slide right into this frozen street-lake and suffer a bone-shattering crash.

Now imagine you're cruising on a highway that's wired to sense the local temperature. Ghostly, blue snowflake symbols begin to appear on the surface of the asphalt, warning that the road is cold enough to freeze. You brake in time to avoid the ice, as well as a bunch of pain and hospital bills.

This "smart" highway is closer to fruition than you might think. A stretch of Route 66 in the Dutch province of Brabant will employ temperature-monitoring "dynamic paint" as early as 2013; in another nifty safety feature, its center lines will glow in the dark. Brabant's highway engineers are one of several forward-thinking groups worldwide who are reimagining roads for the 21st century. Crandon, Wisconsin, is rolling out pavement containing a chemical that prevents ice from forming in the first place. Israel, meanwhile, wants to build streets that convert the vibration of passing automobiles into electricity. 

Thanks to the creative efforts of Manchester's Neo Mammalian Studios, we can taste a sampler menu of planned highway innovations served up in one fetching infographic. Have a look at the vastly sophisticated "Road of the Future," which is about as far away from asphalt slapped on dirt as you can get:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    A History of the American Public Library

    A visual exploration of how a critical piece of social infrastructure came to be.

  2. Equity

    Berlin Builds an Arsenal of Ideas to Stage a Housing Revolution

    The proposals might seem radical—from banning huge corporate landlords to freezing rents for five years—but polls show the public is ready for something dramatic.

  3. Maps

    Mapping the Growing Gap Between Job Seekers and Employers

    Mapping job openings with available employees in major U.S. cities reveals a striking spatial mismatch, according to a new Urban Institute report.

  4. A photo of a design maquette for the Obama Presidential Center planned for Jackson Park and designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
    Design

    Why the Case Against the Obama Presidential Center Is So Important

    A judge has ruled that a lawsuit brought by Chicago preservationists can proceed, dealing a blow to Barack Obama's plans to build his library in Jackson Park.

  5. Multicolored maps of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Tampa, denoting neighborhood fragmentation
    Equity

    Urban Neighborhoods, Once Distinct by Race and Class, Are Blurring

    Yet in cities, affluent white neighborhoods and high-poverty black ones are outliers, resisting the fragmentation shown with other types of neighborhoods.