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.
Solving Congestion
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 Moratorium
This NGO offers some useful fact sheets on paving and automobile use.
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 HTML viewing.
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 the original 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?
What 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 questioning the 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 Rail-Volution '99
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 the ecological impacts of road construction.
Traffic Calming
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 heckuva 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.
De Clarke