Here’s the latest installment of Sunday Reading starting with a cartoon cameo of parking guru Donald Shoup.

Eric Jaffe. “California’s DOT Admits That More Roads Mean More Traffic“, CityLab.

Congestion relief itself is a dubious claim when it comes to road expansions. Transportation experts have repeatedly found that building new roads inevitably encourages more people to drive, which in turn negates any congestion savings—a phenomenon known as “induced demand.”

So it’s refreshing—and rare—to see the California DOT (aka Caltrans) link to a policy brief outlining key research findings from years of study into induced demand. The brief, titled “Increasing Highway Capacity Unlikely to Relieve Traffic Congestion,” was compiled by UC-Davis scholar Susan Handy. Here are the highlights:

There’s high-quality evidence for induced demand. All the studies reviewed by Handy used time-series data, “sophisticated econometric techniques,” and controlled for outside variables such as population growth and transit service.

More roads means more traffic in both the short- and long-term.Adding 10 percent more road capacity leads to 3-6 percent more vehicle miles in the near term and 6-10 percent more over many years.

Much of the traffic is brand new. Some of the cars on a new highway lane have simply relocated from a slower alternative route. But many are entirely new. They reflect leisure trips that often go unmade in bad traffic, or drivers who once used transit or carpooled, or shifting development patterns, and so on.

Joe Cortright. “A “helicopter drop” for the asphalt socialists“, City Observatory.

While advocates of the road system regularly cloak their arguments in the rhetoric of choice and the free market, our transportation system is actually characterized by heavy government intervention on behalf of private vehicles. Massive, taxpayer-supported subsidies effectively bribe people to drive, and insulate them from the financial consequences their choices impose on others.

Drivers want more roads—as long as they don’t actually have to pay for them. The fact that there’s no stomach for increasing the gas tax—even though gasoline prices have fallen by more than a dollar a gallon in the past year—shows that when put to the test of the marketplace, there’s actually little demand for more transportation.

The irony, of course, is that transportation is clearly one policy area where traditional free market principles would put a serious dent in the problems of traffic congestion, air pollution, and safety. If car users faced anything close to the actual costs of building and operating roads (and mitigating or preventing the injuries and pollution effects), we’d see much less driving, and much less demand for additional capacity.

Carlin Carr. “The War on Cars Is Winnable“, Next City. An interesting long read about how countries are moving away from car-based transportation systems.

To encourage more people to buy cars, Japan went on a road-building frenzy. Bridges and highways materialized overnight. Gun factories were transformed into automobile plants. In 1956, only 2 percent of the country’s roads were paved. The Japan Highway Public Corporation was formed to change all that. In the 1960s and ’70s, road building absorbed an astounding 40 percent of all public works spending. At the same time, manufacturers and banks introduced extended warranties and auto loans, all of which allowed more and more households to buy a car.

But then something unusual happened: The government looked a few decades into the future and realized that encouraging the public’s obsession with cars, while a powerful short-term economic stimulus, was a dangerous and unsustainable plan for a country with no domestic oil and little space to expand. There was also the simple fact that financially strapped post-war Japan just couldn’t afford to sprawl, with suburbs — and all the many layers of infrastructure that accompany them — being too expensive to build and maintain…

Today, the country that makes the world’s bestselling car, the Toyota Corolla, has done an outstanding job of discouraging its own residents from driving it. In Japan, you may be able to afford to buy a car, but using it costs a fortune. First, there’s the compulsory 60-point safety inspection, called a shaken, required every two years. The inspection has been in place since 1951, and can set owners back anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000. The exhaustive test inevitably turns up multiple failures, which then cost even more to fix. The shaken also comes with a compulsory insurance and a weight tax. The endless circle of tests, fixes and fees is a perpetual source of grumbling in Japan.


Sarah Oberklaid. Melbourne: a case study in the revitalization of the city laneways, part 1, part 2, The Urbanist.

Only a few decades ago, the intricate network of laneways in Melbourne, Australia, carved into the street grid by property owners for access, sewerage, and waste disposal during the Victorian era, were overlooked and devoid of life. As a result of incremental initiatives, Melbourne’s laneways are now world-renowned — transformed into inviting passages, lined with an enviable mix of alfresco eateries, unique bars, boutiques, street art and residences. Given growing interest and efforts to enliven alleyways in Seattle, the revitalization of Melbourne’s laneways provides an example of re-envisaging these spaces as public assets.

Opinion. “A slower speed limit would make Wellington even more delightful“, Stuff.

As transport expert Stewart McKenzie said in his personal submission: “The 30 kmh speed limit proposed for Northland Village and other suburban centres is a no-brainer.”

The case is not just about road safety, although that is the most urgent issue. It is also about having a liveable city. A suburb where the traffic roars through is not a pleasant place to live.

Wellington falls naturally into a network of villages, each with its own geography and its own particular charm. A 30 kmh speed limit can add to that village atmosphere and make the capital an even more delightful city than it is now.

Eric Jaffe. “Some 20-MPH Streets Are Safer Than Others“, CityLab

Daniel Simons, “A Simple Solution for Distracted Driving“, The Wall Street Journal. I’ve never understood why mobile phones aren’t disabled automatically or even voluntarily while people are driving. Here’s a story about how a robust “driving mode” on smart phones would save lives.

For a solution to work, it must respect the limitations of human cognition and the flaws in human intuition. A robust Driving Mode feature on phones would do just that. It would eliminate the most common sources of distraction: phone calls, text messages, games and social media. It should disable all communication between the phone and the outside world, with the exceptions of GPS, navigation apps and emergency notifications.

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  1. Good one Kent. I see you’ve bought into Transportblog’s libertarian objectivist bias against socialist solutions to transport problems. Sheer claptrap.

    1. Are you sure that you read and understood this article correctly? Because I have, and no part of the author’s argument supports building roads on every demand from lobby and special interest groups. His position is certainly far from laissez faire (which I presume is what you mean by liberterian). In fact he is against subsidising road users which is as far from socialism as you can get!

      1. I liked the article. The comment was a bit of a joke going between Kent and me. Some people seem to have concluded that I’m a right-wing ideologue based on some recent posts I’ve written.

  2. Great selection Kent. A shame the sub-ed went for the sensational ‘war on the car’ line because that is a really good analysis of how real world cities have delivered balanced transport systems. Because the push for a balance of options and systems only looks like a ‘war on the car’ in totally auto-dependant places to people stuck in the past. The article offers real answers for how China and India’s cities can develop from here into more sustainable [economically and environmentally] and successful places. Great practical read.

    1. Ian read the article. It is completely impossible for China and India to run auto-dependantly like we do, there isn’t the physical space, the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb the emissions, the oil in the ground; it just isn’t going to happen. The growth in car use in these countries has been large but is still nowhere near 600-700 hundred cars per 1000 people we have- they will never get there, and our point on this ratio has peaked and is falling gently. Yet better access and mobility are required as these countries modernise. The great news is that Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore show the way this same problem was solved in very similar societies at the same point on the development curve. ‘The war on the car’ is a silly phrase for planning balanced transport systems, as I said above.

      You can talk all you like about preference but preference is meaningless outside of possibility.

      Read the article; it’s very good.

  3. Why exactly would it be ‘completely impossible for China and India to run auto-dependently like we do’? Your points about emissions and oil are strawman arguments. India and China could become the worlds biggest EV users or they might just adopt the attitude that the developed nations have no right to deny the developing world the private motor car.
    Some people may not like it but China and India are going to buy more and more cars and more oil to power them. The rest of the world will have to adapt.

    1. It’s simply spatially impossible; 1.5 billion cars just cannot fit. They are not building Houstons in the middle of deserts, these are highly urbanised cities; they are building roads manically but it is physically impossible to for the vehicle storage and road space to be delivered much beyond what there is now. There just is an upper limit for this spatially inefficient movement system; the same as New York or Tokyo; it is isn’t preference that limits car ownership in these cities but space.

      In China already the air in major cities is already unbreathable, there is no chance that this rate of uptake can go on and EVs are not yet statistically significant and anyway would require more coal power stations to generate the electricity. EVs will not allow the car industry’s fantasy of getting the Chinese and Indians to drive like americans to happen.

      Have you read the article?

  4. History repeating it’s self with a different set of players, the horse was to expensive to keep, land was needed for humans as populations increases, along came the hobbyhorse to be followed by the bike all with a speed much the same as a horse and carriage, the cyclist then who were confined to roads by laws prohibiting there use on footpaths they in turn demanded better roads which were exploited by the first cars and slowly as speed increase force the cyclist into virtual extinction.

    The car and road haulage is in the same position the horse was in and getting to expensive and needs to be slowly replaced by more efficient transport and nothing is more efficient then walking or a bike with rail for long haul, first off lower the speed limits to match that of the bike so taking the conflict out of cycling, the world needs to do this if it wants a climate that will sustain it, we have to leave oil in the ground.

    1. Bryan, I wonder if the “population” factor is one of the items that we have not taken into account.
      The world population growth is a real factor in the livability of cities. It seems as though with the increasing corportisation of factory farming and the rural shift to cities with ever larger slums and the congestion of the affluent minority demanding evermore roading so they can get where they want to go at speeds that their vehicles are capable of that we are reaching a critical mass where there will be an explosion of changes forced on these metropolis.
      Japan seems to have been much more foresighted than we in the west have understood.

      1. I agree population is one hell of a problem and getting worse. Japan has some very good policy’s that we could take on here, but we can all do our bit as individuals and not leave it to the politicians who will sit on the fence till it’s to late, at least we haven’t got the problems some have like the Middle East and North Africa, 20 million to 380 Million in 100 years no wonder there are problems plus the drought they had in Syria resulting in a shift by the rural poor to the cities.

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