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.
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.