No Sleep Til Brooklyn

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On the heels of New Jersey outlawing driving while drowsy, researchers at Texas A&M release a study showing that traffic congestion is mostly getting worse around the country.

Reports the AP:

If it seems like more of your time is spent stuck in traffic, you may be right. In cities large and small, the daily struggle with bumper-to-bumper traffic is getting worse.

The average rush-hour driver wasted more than two full days ? about 51 hours ? sitting in traffic in 2001, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. That's an increase of four hours in the last five years.

The price tag: $69.5 billion in wasted time and gas, said the study, which looked at 75 urban areas.

"Congestion extends to more time of the day, more roads, affects more of the travel and creates more extra travel time than in the past," the study said.

The report found that the average rush-hour driver in Los Angeles spent about 90 hours waiting in traffic in 2001, far more than anywhere else.

The San Francisco-Oakland area was next at 68 hours, followed by Denver (64), Miami (63) and Chicago and Phoenix, which tied for fifth (61).

Was it only earlier this year that the Census reported commutes were getting shorter?

Whatever the truth of the matter, one of the new study's main recommendations–build more roads–is also one of the more controversial (and obvious) solutions. Why? Check out this 1999 Reason story on urban planning for the deep politics of the issue.

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  1. I live in Houston and I was suprised that it didn’t feature in the top 10. Man the traffic here is bad. Interestingly enough, there was a program on Discovery-Times called “Nowhere Fast”, where all sorts of data and solutions were put forward about this problem.

    I personally think that a single approach won’t solve the problem. Simply building more roads or buying more busses is not the answer. There has to be a coordinated approach between the public and private sector in terms of town planning, traffic control, etc etc. Where I live, public transport is laughable (there basically isn’t any), the city is sprawled out into a mass of little satellite towns (that have grown into each other), the roads are in terrible shape (such that the constant construction slows traffic) and the road system is openly hostile (IMHO) to pedestrians.

    I think the solution needs to involve:
    1, Better public transport that provides an incentive for people to use it (i.e. cheaper than driving and can get you where you want to go).
    2, More HOV lanes on freeways with single occupant cars able to pay a premium (this was one of the good suggestions from “Nowhere fast”
    3, More roads linking suburban areas with the fairly typical “one entry – one exit” road systems
    4, Better town planning, where you don’t have the old style “hub and spoke” system.
    5, Revitalising down town areas, to encourage more people to live in inner urban localities, thus reducing the amount of people driving 45-60 minutes on freeways every day.
    6, Make cycle paths easier for people to use if they actually want to ride to work.

    I used to bitch about the city I am from (Perth) being crap about traffic, but after living in Houston, I doubt I’ll ever complain again 🙂

  2. Adam,

    I’m all about walkable mixed use neighborhoods and repopulating vacant urban areas, but neither of those are going to solve American cities’ traffic problems, because 1) most jobs aren’t in the central city, and 2) many (most?) residents of middle class inner city neighborhoods don’t work downtown or in their own neighborhood. Getting people from the suburbs into the city, from the city into the suburban job centers, and from suburb to suburb is still a must. We just have to find a better way to do it.

  3. I don’t know why you people can’t accept fate. Let the damn cities die. Less dense more distributed development is where we are going. There is nothing wrong with that. The automobile and interstates made efficient, perfectly scheduled travel outside of the city possible, and better communications will dissolve the need for people to be located close together to work efficiently. If you would just stop trying to carry your romantic ideas about the urban hub on the backs of those who don’t want it, these problems would just go away.

  4. Amen, JDM.

  5. I didn’t realize fate required so many decades of regulation and subsidy. Or that “efficient” meant “using a lot more energy and space per person.”

  6. Fate means people want to go, and you can’t stop them, you can only make the process more painful. Efficient means cheaper. There’s lots of space, and the population won’t grow forever. You should read the linked ’99 Reason article.

  7. Is there any evidence that, in the long term, building roads actually reduces congestion? It certainly reduces congestion on the 1-3 year time frame, but the congestion always seems to me to come right back — usually worse — on the 4-10 year time frame. Is there a rate of road-building fast enough to keep ahead of that? And how long until we run out of pavable area?

    Mind you, I like the thought of entirely paving, eg, Connecticut from border to border. But the people living there might quite reasonably object. I’m beginning to think that congestion is simply a feature of life. And I’m becoming happier each day with my decision to bicycle.
    –G

  8. Driving while drowsy:

    What’s with the “laws” being named after children now? (I know “maggie” was 20, but that’s a minor.)

    And I guess this means that med interns pulling 24-hour shifts are now one step closer to being criminals.

  9. Hey, I don’t want to see Connecticut paved over. Pave over some ugly state, like New Jersey or Rhode Island.

    What we really need are here giant cannon to shoot commuters to and from NYC.

  10. If you have an SUV, you don’t need paveable area.

  11. “Build more roads” means “condemn more industrial, commercial, and residential land in cities, thus reducing their tax base, population, and viability, so that suburban commuters can get to work faster, and suburban real estate will become more valuable.”

  12. Cool . . . a Beastie Boys reference.

  13. The “road network paradox” shows that adding roads can actually slow traffic:

    http://www.davros.org/science/roadparadox.html

    There is something that can help, but it relies on spontaneous order so I doubt many bureaucrats will sit up and take notice:

    http://63.111.59.137/archive/outputgo.cfm?ID=1605

  14. Damn you, Nick! I now have that frikkin’ song stuck firmly in my head! It’s gonna take a hatchet to get it out, I fear

  15. There’s something about that riff …

    Anyway, I can’t believe that Denver has worse traffic than DC.

    NO

    SLEEP

    ‘TIL BROOKLYN!

  16. The biggest problem with roads is that builders provide too much (and too easy) access to them. And they can also build too many lanes of traffic. True, additional lanes add throughput capacity, but they also provide opportunities for drivers to “lane hop” back-and-forth. If traffic moves in a straight-line, back-ups should be rare. What causes back-ups is people moving sideways from lane to lane. Builders and developers have exacerbated this problem by providing on and off ramps on major highways every 1/2 mile or so in many big cities.

    The other problem is that too many roads are free. There is no economic deterrant to using roads. Toll roads are the way to go. You want to use the road, fine. You pay for it. That would get rid of a lot of unnecessary traffic, and would also provide another disincentive to long commutes.

  17. Amen on toll roads. Make the user pay. Unless you thought roads weren’t subsidized to the hilt …

  18. Brad, you obviously don’t live in Chicago. All those remedies have been tried and haven’t worked. The only places in Chicago where the traffic isn’t bad is in the neighborhoods you have no ecomonic incentive to visit or where the “zoning” isn’t as clustered.

  19. “If you build it, they will come:” that is the overriding principle of new road construction: just ask anyone traveling on Boston’s Big Dig. You misrepresent the building of raods as a be-all-and-end-all solution. As you write, building roads is “ONE [emphasis mine] of the new study’s main recommendations,” but their recommendations are equally weighted around transit options, managing demand, development, and expectations (ie cities will have traffic). Building roads will only take you so far.

  20. I think we’re forgetting the libertarian principle for building roads in the first place – incentive.

    Housing may get built to alleviate congestion (there’s money in that), but roads almost never are. Roads are built to provide access. The only times roads get widened are to provide more access, generally an economic incentive. Roads get widened so that more people can use them, so that more people can use the commercial potential of the real estate the roads provide access to. Roads never get built for the sole purpose of alleviating congestion, there’s no money in that.

    The only thing that “might” work is a freeway with a parallel “toll” way that provides a “premium” driving experience. While that wasn’t the intent of the Chicago Skyway, that is in effect what it has become. Even with its construction, the skyway (I-90) is generally a safer, speedier road than the nearly parallel Dan Ryan/Calumet Expy (I-94). But it’s only better because it costs two bucks versus zero. The two dollar cover keeps the riff raff off.

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