Congestion and “Choice”
The Wall Street Journal carries a report on congestion in the USA:
Traffic in America’s big metropolitan regions is a nightmare much of the day. The scale of the problem is bigger than you might have guessed. Since 1982, the number of hours each year that the average traveler spent in rush-hour traffic jams rose to 36 in 2007 from 14 in 1982. Put another way, big-city commuters spend nearly a week’s vacation time dawdling on the road. In the process, that same average commuter wasted 24 gallons of fuel in 2007, compared with nine in 1982.
The article quotes U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D.-Ore Light Rail) who says policymakers should “focus federal spending on the problems of big urban areas, and give commuters in those populous areas more transportation choices.” Blumenauer stresses that word “choice.”
Transportation choice is a key element of Smart Growth, and to the average citizen, transportation choice sounds like a great idea. We appreciate our freedom to choose how we live, work, and play, so transportation choice appears to be consistent with our little-d democratic values. Who could be against that?
In practice, transportation choice means the re-allocation of tax dollars away from roads and capacity-building strategies in favor of wasteful and ineffective projects like mass transit, bike paths, lane reductions and light rail. Smart Growth advocates claim this will reduce traffic congestion, curb sprawl, and improve the environment by allowing people to walk, bike, or bus to work.
But it doesn’t work.
Phoenix has been diverting tax money away from roads for years, yet its congestion has steadily worsened. And their light rail ridership has dropped to its lowest level yet. In Portland – the Mecca of Smart Growth – the effect of light rail (begun in 1985) has proven negligible. For nearly a generation, we’ve been practicing transportation choice, and transit’s market share of urban travel is less than 2 percent.
Unfortunately, the rhetorical appeal of phrases like “transportation choice” is too powerful for our political class to ignore. Chances are they will soon double-down on transportation choice and other Smart Growth schemes.