America’s future: More roads, more cars, more congestion


“It hurts to lose the 405 even for a weekend not because freeways are so valuable or because we love them so much but because we’ve painted ourselves in a corner in terms of mobility. We have left ourselves no escape hatches or viable alternatives.”
— Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, on this weekend’s shutdown of the 405 Freeway

It’s called The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: “If you increase the number of highways in a city by 1 percent, it causes driving to also increase by 1 percent.”
In other words, members of Congress and state and city planners who believe that more highways or more traffic lanes on existing roads is the answer to congestion are only exacerbating the problem.
The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion comes from the title of a 2009 study at the University of Toronto by Matthew A. Turner and Gilles Duranton. The study was cited, and Turner was interviewed, in a July 9 National Public Radio report on plans in Greater Los Angeles to widen one of its major arteries, Interstate 405.

Expect big delay on the 405 Freeway this weekend. Bloomberg photo by Jonathan Alcorn

The 405, driven by an estimated half-million Angelenos every work day, traverses Greater LA from the San Fernando Valley in the north to Irvine in the south. A 10-mile stretch of the 405 will be closed for about 53 hours this weekend, from Friday night until the early Monday morning.
Construction crews for the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project will be demolishing part of the 50-year-old Mulholland Bridge in the Sepulveda Pass area of the 405 to build a new and wider bridge and add a northbound high-occupancy-vehicle lane.
Locals are preparing for what’s been dubbed “Carmageddon.”
The aim of the project, of course, is to ease traffic congestion. But Turner told Guy Raz, weekend host on NPR’s “All Things Considered” program, that the Interstate 405 improvements project will actually make traffic worse.
“What we found,” Turner said of the University of Toronto’s research of traffic in 228 U.S. cities, “was that in cities where there was more roads, there was more driving. In particular, if you had 1 percent more roads, you had 1 percent more driving in those cities.”
So if Americans had more transportation choices — commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, buses — they’d drive less? Right? Well, Turner’s answer was surprising, and an indication of the depth of this country’s love affair with the automobile.
“What we find,” he said, “is that as you increased a city’s stock of light rail or bus cars, that there’s no impact on the amount of driving.”
How, then, do we deal with traffic congestion?
“We have really a small number of possible policy responses to congestion,” he said. “One is capacity increases; one is transit increases. And the third is congestion pricing. And what we’ve shown is that the first two of those policy responses are unlikely to work, which leaves congestion pricing.”
Such cities as London, Singapore and Stockholm have adopted “congestion pricing,” which means that motorists are charged a toll to drive into the centers of the cities. Turner said that Stockholm, specifically, has seen a 50 percent reduction in travel time at peak times because of the tolls.

Countdown to the closure: From the website on the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project

All of those cities have very good public transportation, which makes possible “congestion pricing” for cars. In Stockholm, many residents commute to work by bicycle. And London, under Mayor Boris Johnson, has been been aggressively increasing the number of bicycle lanes to sharply increase the number of bike commuters.
But many cities in car-centric America lack decent public transportation, and many Americans probably wouldn’t stomach having to pay to drive into city centers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York unveiled on April 22, 2007, a plan for the city’s long-term sustainability through 2030. The plan, PlaNYC 2030, included among its transportation initiatives a congestion fee for driving into or within Manhattan’s central business district. That part of the proposal, which had to be appoved by the State Assembly, ran into opposition and was never put to a vote.
So, in my lifetime at least, the future of transport in America is more roads, more cars, more congestion. As the architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times observed, “we’ve painted ourselves in a corner in terms of mobility. We have left ourselves no escape hatches or viable alternatives.”

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4 Comments

Filed under Americana, Environment, History, Politics, Urban cycling

4 responses to “America’s future: More roads, more cars, more congestion

  1. So, when does funding get cut off for frivolous stuff like this?

  2. Ben

    Hi Dad,
    I’m sending this from a train back to Amsterdam….the city of bikes. The public transportation here is awesome and the bike trails and facilities are excellent. See you soon. Ben

  3. I love when I have free time to check out blogs online. I learn a lot from then and many are very funny. Keeping a smile on my face while relaxing is always a pleasure! Thanks for sharing yours.

  4. Here youll learn why putting a price on scarce road space makes economic sense and how it benefits many different modes of surface transportation..In London which successfully implemented congestion pricing in 2003 drivers now get to their jobs faster transit users have improved service cyclists have better infrastructure and pedestrians have more public space. More people have access to the central city and when they get there the streets are safer and more enjoyable. .. music .. Gridlock Sam Schwartz .. 00 13 Congestion pricing was invented here in New York City. ..William Vickery in the 1950 s an economics professor who later went ..on to win the Nobel Prize for economics came up with this concept that ..one of the most precious resources in a city is space and that space ..needs to be priced just like we price theatre tickets we price the ..airlines during the holiday season or hotel rooms the same we should ..price Fifth Avenue s space. So congestion pricing is a way of ..setting a price so that we can achieve a level of service. Stockholm ..has congestion pricing. Guttenberg is about to do it in 2013. ..Singapore has been doing it for over 35 years now. We go to London ..and we see that they ve introduced congestion pricing… ….Lucinda Turner .. 01 02 The main purpose of congestion charging is to reduce traffic ..and congestion. So in cities like London road space is a really ..scarce resource and we ve got lots of competing demands for that space ..we ve got cars freight buses taxis pedestrians cyclists. ..We also want to use space for public squares street cafes things ..like that. So congestion charging is a means of allocating that ..limited space whereby motorists who want to drive on the roads within ..the zone pay a charge. Everyday if they want to drive in the zone ..they pay 8 and it applies Monday to Friday 7am to 6pm. Since ..the introduction of congestion charging we ve seen traffic in the ..zone reduce by about 20 . In practice that means about 90 000 ..fewer vehicles in the zone everyday. In 2008 9 there was about .. 150 million in net revenue the charging scheme raised. By law ..we have to use that money to put back into the transport system. ..And that was used for investment in buses in cycling facilities in ..walking in maintenance… …. Gridlock Sam Schwartz .. 02 06 The people that are in their cars are moving faster and the ..people that are in the subways are getting some kind of revenue stream ..that assists them in getting to their destinations faster. We re ..using less of the planet lower carbon footprints the air quality is ..better. We re all better off. .. ….Tom Vanderbilt .. 02 24 An economist would say you have a certain amount of a good ..how are you going to distribute that good? You can ration it by ..price or by queue. If you sort of under price something you re ..going to have a queue. When a store like Costco has these sort ..of like Thanksgiving flat TV specials where there s a flat TV for .. 200 what happens? You have a line of people at the door in the ..morning because it s under priced TV s. I think roads are ..sort of the same way. We give away road space for essentially ..nothing in this country. We have some of the lowest fuel taxes ..in the world they don t pay for themselves. And it s no surprise ..that the result of that is our queues. We could choose to distribute ..that space differently through pricing. You wouldn t expect ..to fly home at Christmas and pay the same for flying in the middle of ..sort of September. When there s peak demand in other areas of ..life you pay more. The roads we sort of just give it all away ..and then we re surprised. .. ….Lucinda Turner .. 03 15 Congestion charging helps to encourage people out of their cars ..and onto other modes of transport such as public transport or cycling. ..And our monitoring shows that about 70 of people are affected by the ..charge have actually switched to other modes. When charging was ..introduced we saw an increase of about a third in the numbers of people ..coming into Central London by bus during charging hours. About ..half of this is directly attributable to congestion charging. .. ….Anne Korin 03 41 ..At the end of the day it s about the value of your time your time ..has a value. If it s leisure time if it s work time and ..being able to pay to get home faster pay to get to work faster pay ..to meet your friends faster whatever it is that you re going to do ..we should have the ability to do that. So road pricing let s ..us do that. First of all we have an infrastructure problem in ..this country. Secondly we have a deficit problem. Third ..oil prices are going up. So this is kind of a perfect storm of ..concern. I think on the left and on the right there s starting ..to be a realisation that we need to find solutions that make sense to ..fiscal conservatives to environmentalists to security folks to people ..that are looking at this from a transportation angle or an energy angle ..and it really can move us forward in terms of opening a more competitive ..market among transportation modes. .. …. Gridlock Sam Schwartz .. 04 28 Let s face it the supply and demand curve for gasoline has ..always been related to the size of the middle class. Well folks ..we re going to see a quintupling of the middle class with the Chinese ..middle class coming online the Russian and Eastern Bloc countries coming ..online that supply demand curve means that that demand is growing. ..Any world city that wants to compete in the 21st and is thinking ..about the 22nd Century needs to think about congestion pricing. …. music ……Transcription Sponsored by .

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