Alternatives to the Automobile
More Concrete, More More!
There's a persistent belief among drivers (who can be excused
on the grounds that they are mostly not traffic analysis or
planning experts) and city/traffic planners (for whom there
is no excuse) that if you have a traffic congestion problem,
the obvious and right solution is to add some more lanes.
For fifty years the official solution to gridlock has been
more concrete, more parking lots, more paving in general.
This is odd because the best studies available show that
constructing more roadway never solves the problem, that it
costs a hell of a lot, and that the real and cost-effective
solution is to provide people with an alternative transit
method like train, monorail, bus, subway, bike paths, etc.
This is by no means an exhaustive bibliography, but it should
point you to some useful facts and figures to mention when
you are faced with the "same old" pro-concrete cliches. Go
out on the Web and look around... you'll find megabytes more.
- From the Ground Up
- Before we can even talk about road-building, urban design, planning
and similar issues, we need to revise the language currently in use in
the planning and traffic engineering professions. This 1996 (!) document
from West Palm Beach, Florida, could be a good starting point.
- Road to Ruin
- This interview with Jan Lundberg (Alliance for a Paving Moratorium)
outlines the fundamental problems of road building and car dependence.
- This inaugural lecture delivered by P B Goodwin (upon accepting
the Professorship of Transport Policy, University College, London,
in 1997) is an excellent and relatively brief introduction to
the new school of traffic management theory which challenges the
old, simplistic (and doomed) "predict and provide" model.
- Alliance for a Paving
- This NGO offers some useful fact sheets on paving and automobile
- Light Rail vs Freeways
- A snappy, useful point-by-point comparison of light rail vs freeways,
from a Tucson group advocating for sustainable transport. It covers most
of the pitfalls of road capacity increments as a solution to congestion.
- Victoria Transport Policy Institute
- This is one of the best resources I've seen. Excellent writing
and research on issues from parking and land use to social equity.
Recent research, formatted for download and printing as well as
- Transportation for Livable Communities
- "A Resource for People Working to Create More Livable Communities by Improving Transportation" according to the banner. And so it is.
Great resources for traffic calming, pavement busting, etc.
- World Transport Policy and Practise
- Online journal offering a quarterly review of papers in forward-looking
and radical transportation theory (that is, basic common sense).
- Transportation Action Network
- This is a generally excellent site for people wanting to know
more about transit in urban and suburban areas. Here are a couple
of good documents they offer, just to get your attention:
- The 15-year Texas Transportation Institute Study
- I made a local copy of this doc, but you can also find it at
location. As official documents go it is quite readable. Here's
the basic point: "By analyzing TTI's data for 70 metro areas over 15
years, STPP determined that metro areas that invested heavily in road
capacity expansion fared no better in easing congestion than metro
areas that did not." CalTrans are you listening?
- Santa Monica: Case Study
- What's the story? This: "What makes Santa Monica unique, however, is
its strategy to manage this problem, particularly within its heavily congested
downtown district. Santa Monica is not attempting to build its way out of
congestion by adding more physical capacity for automobiles, but is focusing
instead on accommodating pedestrians, bicyclists and transit. The result of
this strategy is to reduce the physical space given to the automobile..."
What a concept, eh?
Really Reduces Congestion?
- Counter-intuitively, closing roads actually reduces traffic congestion!
- Do Highways
Create Jobs and Stimulate the Economy?
- The proponents of concrete often claim that highway construction
is the ticket to prosperity, creating jobs and boosting local
economies. In this article Hank Dittmar concludes that most of
this talk is wild hyperbole: "The study found a positive annual
average rate of return for highway investment, with much greater
rates of return in the early years of Interstate system construction.
However, according to a review of the original study by the
Congressional Budget Office, 'benefits diminished over time as
the highway network expanded...' ... In fact, the study update completed
last year found that the rate of return has continued its precipitate
decline, from .54 in the 1960-69 period of rapid Interstate development
to just .09 in 1991." And furthermore, "In fact, studies for the
Economic Policy Institute found that benefit-cost ratios for
transit exceed those for highway spending. If the reason for public
investment in highways were simply to generate employment, then other
more labor-intensive public sector areas such as education or public
safety would clearly outperform highway investment." So let's stop
pretending that highway expansion is some kind of benevolent New Deal
activity, shall we? European experts are also
gung-ho rhetoric of road-builders. If you have a lot of free time
you might enjoy following this
Debate from the House of Lords, UK
about sustainable transit (starts at 3.8 pm).
- Interested in Light Rail? Check out
- This is a conference for people interested in reviving rail transit
to help create livable communities and reduce auto dependence.
Side Effects of Paving
- The more land you pave over, the more urban surface runoff you
get. This paper is one example of an area (Puget Sound) that is
threatened by the increase in urban runoff water (bearing toxics
and pollutants not filtered by passage through soil) due to increased
percentages of paved area and suburban lawn... The point is that
aside from displacement of housing, and aesthetic ghastliness,
the acres of concrete we keep expanding have a measurable negative
environmental impact even by just sitting there. If all the
cars stopped travelling on the asphalt and concrete, the paving
itself would still present a problem. See also Reed Noss's document on
impacts of road construction.
- Aside from not expanding roads, some communities are
brave enough to try
what are called "traffic taming" or "traffic calming" measures, which
are polite euphemisms for making it really unpleasant to drive fast
through residential areas. Here is a
bibliography on traffic calming, bike safety, etc. A rather
technical but substantive document from the EDF makes an
international survey of traffic calming and other transit issues.
- Sustainable Planning and Technology in general
- This page offers another heckuva bibliography, for those who want
to delve further into the theory and practise of sustainable tech.