Thursday, 17 of April of 2014

Category » Highways & autos

Congestion Costs in the UK

The Daily Mail reports that gridlock on Britain’s roads is costing families £500 a year in wasted time and fuel.  $800 U.S. dollars.  This represents a more comprehensive way to assessing costs than from previous studies, for it includes indirect costs from businesses passing along the costs to end-users.  From the INRIX summary: “These costs are a result of the direct impact of traffic on drivers in terms of wasted time and fuel as well as indirect costs to U.K. households resulting from businesses passing these same costs on to consumers in the form of higher prices.”

Sounds like the Brits need to abandon their sprawling car-centric ways and adopt Smart Growth, right?  Well, as ADC friend Phil Hayward says: “The UK under its Town and Country Planning system, after 60 years, has attained several targets that urban planning fads aim for. It has the highest urban densities of any western nations. It has the most compact urban form. It has very high petrol taxes and massive subsidies of commuter rail and subway systems.”

In other words, it exemplifies Smart Growth.  Consequently, Great Britain also has the West’s “least affordable housing, in spite of the lowest land consumption per person; the west’s greatest social exclusion, particularly from home ownership, the west’s worst traffic congestion delays, the west’s longest trip-to-work times, and the west’s worst local air pollution.”  (By contrast, the U.S. with much lower densities has the most affordable housing and much shorter trip-to-work times.


More Tolling of Roads to Meet Demand

With many states struggling in this weak economy, we’re seeing toll roads proliferate to compensate for state financing shortfalls.  My view is that tolling should be the first choice when considering ways to build new capacity.  I also think it should be considered on roadways with terrible congestion where variable tolling on select lanes can be used to improve traffic flow.  I have more difficulty with converting existing freeways into tolled roadways since motorists have already paid for them.


Don’t Know How to Interpret This …

not even gonna try.


The New Normal for Highway Capacity

Congestion continues to worsen around the country’s major cities, yet the political will for taxpayer-financed new highways seems to be lacking.  A solution to this dilemma that is increasingly gaining currency in public policy circles is tolling.  Indeed, tolling is already more extensive than one might first think.  Where there is resistance comes from the general public that sees a road and believes it has been paid for with gas taxes and, consequently, they believe paying a toll to drive on it represents a double billing.

Such is the sentiment S. Masani Jackson, as quoted in the New York Times: “I’ve been living here my whole life, and I have never had to pay for the 110 Freeway.  It’s ridiculous.”  She’s referring to Interstate 110, which is converting an 11-mile stretch across central Los Angeles into tolled express lanes.

One of the driving forces behind this policy development is Robert W. Poole, Jr. of the Reason Foundation.  His work on Congestion Pricing makes the case that all states and metropolitan areas should be looking into this opportunity to create capacity while associating the costs with those who actually use it.

But there are benefits beyond just reducing congestion and eliminating/reducing taxpayer subsidies.  Tolled roads tend to be safer, which enables motorists to drive faster.  The newly constructed Texas Tollway 130 posts a speed limit of 85 miles per hour.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend.


Good News for Mobility

“Texas opens first 85-mph highway in U.S.,” is the partial headline from Yahoo! News about the opening of a high speed toll road.  The article goes on to portray Texas State Route 130 (TX130/5&6) as a risky and dangerous venture.  “But truckers may shun it,” concludes the headline.  The reason is that “many trucking companies prevent their vehicles from going faster than 70 mph or 75 mph, he said, and fuel consumption goes up exponentially as speeds increase – potentially cutting into company profits.”

Then they don’t have to use it … or they can travel at a slower speed, say 75 mph.  The other concern comes from people who automatically associate higher speeds with loss of life.  “We all worry about safety. Such high speeds lead to worse accidents and a greater loss of life,” says Sandrea Helin of the Southwest Insurance Information Service.  Yet that is not necessarily so.  In fact, two highways in Texas have had 80 mph limits for 17 years, and it doesn’t appear that these stretches of road have had a disproportionately high rate of crashes and fatalities.

As for this new road, Texas State Route 130 is a toll road built privately.  In other words, the taxpayer bears neither the risk nor the costs of maintenance.  Those who want to use it pay for the privilege of driving on it.  That is the future we should be looking to when assessing capacity needs in our own states.


“If you go forward with this, traffic congestion will get worse and you’ll waste a lot of money.”

That is Wendell Cox’s assessment of T-SPLOST, Atlanta’s awkward acronym for a July 31 referendum for a 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects.  In the public’s eye, Atlanta rivals Los Angeles for its legendary traffic congestion, and proponents of the new tax that would raise approximately $7 billion say the projects funded would overhaul highway interchanges, fund mass transit projects, and pay for road construction and improvements across metro Atlanta over a 10 year period.

So why wouldn’t pumping all that money into metro Atlanta alleviate congestion?  Because 52 percent of the funding would go to mass transit, “leaving less than half of the money for road improvements.”  And transit’s impact on congestion is negligible.


Innovations for Reducing Congestion

National Geographic has an interesting article about the different ways some city are fighting traffic congestion: Cities Bet They Can Curb Traffic With Games of Chance.


Progress

Texas looks to prove once again it’s the most progressive state in the union.

“A stretch of highway under construction in Texas could be the first U.S. road to have a posted speed limit of 85 miles per hour, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.  Texas State Highway 130 will run between San Antonio and Austin with the aim of taking traffic loads off of Interstate 35.”


When Streetsblog Talks About Libertarians Talking About Transit

I recently presented at the Mobility Choice Roundtable in Washington, D.C.  This is put on by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and moderated by the always impressive Anne Korin.  And the pro-transit, progressive Streetsblog D.C. covered the event.  The author of the piece, Ben Goldman, lets slip his bias right away:

“There’s more than one way to approach transportation reform. One is to believe that an ideal transportation policy promotes the use of modes that are environmentally sustainable and which foster livable cities, while those that perpetuate overdependence on automobiles do neither.”

There you have it.  The ideal policy pushes what Washington bureaucrats deem to be sustainable and “livable” and, by definition, “automobiles do neither.”  That is the policy environment into which I entered last Thursday.  There were some allies at the table and, of course, Ms. Korin was a skillful moderator, but the general assumption is that transit can and should be the catalyst to transform society into a high density, transit-oriented place.  I challenged that view.

Read the article here.


Stepping Back On Automobility

It’s a bit of a joke within the transportation industry that self-styled “progressives” want the country to move forward by retreating to late 19th-/early 20th century rail technology as the preferred mode of travel.  Meanwhile, automobiles – although also more than 100 years old – continue to evolve as personal mobility machines, incorporating the newest technologies to make our drive safer, more efficient and more comfortable.

Rail enthusiasts and transit boosters don’t like this because it gives the personal transport a big (and growing) advantage over collective transport.  Remember this truism: Public transportation works only if the alternative is worse.  So instead of simply promoting transit, Smart Growthers et al actively seek ways to make auto-mobility more expensive and less convenient.

The latest salvo comes from the National Transportation Safety Board that would also like us to retreat into the past.  NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart recently testified in New York where he urged the Empire State “to become the first to ban all use of personal electronic devices while driving.”  Hart also hinted that this would be consistent with forthcoming NTSB recommendations tied to federal highway funds, and he has personally advocated a nationwide prohibition of personal electronic devices.

Despite the rhetoric of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that such an effort is not underway, these recommendations “to the 50 states and the District of Columbia” exist and await only an overzealous control freak to get crafted into a bill.  We all have reason to be concerned about distracted drivers, but as Popular Mechanics argues a federal ban would be simplistic and likely ineffective.