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The statistics show that each of us is driving less. So why do our roads feel more jammed up? Why does it take longer to get anywhere? And what can we do about it? Some politicians have begun blaming Traffic Calming and bicycle lanes for the backups; saying that Complete Streets and pedestrian bulb-outs are making roads less safe because less accessible for emergency vehicles. Is there any truth to this? More fundamentally, is car congestion a problem to be solved or a solution to a problem?
A 2013 report from US PIRG showed that the average number of miles driven by the average American has been falling for about a decade, through economic booms and busts, and was down to mid-1990s levels. Millennials, our nation’s largest-ever generational cohort, are using transit and bikes more and taking fewer and shorter car trips, resulting in a 23% drop in the average number of miles driven. The percentage of high school seniors with a driver’s license fell 12%. Walkable city life is increasingly attractive to both young people and retiring baby boomers. The rise of on-line shopping, social media, and telecommuting has meant fewer quick car trips.
Despite these trends, as every driver knows, our roads are increasingly congested – not everywhere or all the time but for increasing periods at a growing number of key intersections and road segments. Congestion radically reduces the volume of traffic passing through a road section, the through-put, thereby creating a negative feedback loop that creates more backups. It’s estimated that USA drivers spend about 14.5 million hours every day stuck in traffic. Congestion not only costs us time – in 2011 Boston drivers collectively lost about 137 million hours, or about 53 hours per commuter per year – but also fuel and therefore pollution, health, and money. Not to mention frustration and occasionally murderous road rage. Although we Bostonians believe we’ve got it worst, car congestion seems to be clogging roads like kudzu in nearly every city in the country – and, by some reports, across the globe .
It’s true that a new report has said that the first four months of 2015 has set a new record in total vehicle miles in the US – up nearly 32 billion since the previous high in 2007, pushing gas consumption as well as prices upward. Lower gasoline prices and a recovering economy (consumer spending in May, 2015 had the highest month jump in six years) are two reasons for the jump, probably augmented by the continuing lack of viable alternatives to car driving for many people. But a four-month blip is not enough to explain years of delays.
We do know some things that are contributing to the larger problem – land use patterns and population growth are the most important. The low-rise dense designs that make older urban areas walkable and transit-efficient is illegal to build in many places today due to parking requirements, anti-mixed use and other zoning requirements, etc.
We know some things that may appear to be causative but actually aren’t – making roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, prioritizing bus and trolley traffic, even reducing the average speed of cars.
We know some things that (counterintuitively) do not help reduce congestion – most notably building more roads or adding lanes, all of which eventually fill up as our additional drivers decide to move into the new space.
And we know some things that do improve the situation, but usually only when they are applied as a group rather than singularly – improving road use efficiency using technology (signal timing, access controls, central monitoring) and other methods (car pools, HOV lanes, car sharing, perhaps driverless cars), increasing alternative options (transit both regional and downtown, bicycling), changing land-use patterns (Smart-Growth style transit-orientated development), requiring corporate and municipal Transportation Demand Management programs (incentives to not drive alone or to not drive at all), and (most effective of all) congestion pricing of various kinds.
What is needed is the cultural and political willingness to accept this knowledge and act upon it – while also coming to grips with the reality that the continuing imbalance of potential drivers to current or any plausible future amounts of road space means that congestion is a permanent part of a car-based reality.
Tags: boston, cars, livable streets, traffic
Posted in advocacy, Commuting | No Comments »
Yesterday our fair city got a good dose of snow, a sizable storm in its own right, but combined with the big ass blizzard we had last week, the entire city was struggling to keep up. Today the city woke up to an public transportation system crippled by yesterdays snow, the head of the MBTA actually told people to drive to work…
Anyone unlucky enough to drive into the city today (or drove in any of the cities around Boston) knows that without the MBTA to carry most of the folks to work, driving simply is not an option. Snow or no snow, there are just too many cars, and not enough road. There was bumper to bumper grid lock for both the morning and evening commutes today.
I have been riding through this weather, and a lot of my coworkers have been telling me just how crazy I am. But the only thing moving on wheels today was people riding bikes.
Not only did the cars fail to get people around, but they made removing the snow a lot harder as well. They also slid around crashing into things, getting stuck in snow banks, and potentially killing or harming people or property.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If even 20-30 percent of people rode bicycles (levels many snowy northern European cities accomplish), the roads would be relatively unclogged, allowing the folks that absolutely needed to drive the road space needed to do so. It is also a lot easier to clear space for cyclists on the road, as they need much less of the road clear in order to cycle safely. The lack of cars parked on the road would also allow for more area to place the snow.
Sure it sounds like pie in the sky thinking, but as today’s epic traffic jams illustrate, the current system isn’t working for anyone.
Tags: boston, cars are the problem, snow, traffic
Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »
Once again Bikeyface nails it. Nothing is more annoying than hearing all your coworkers complain and complain (and complain and complain…) about how HORRIBLE their commute was, especially when you know they all live like 3 miles away and just refuse to bike/walk/take the train.
Read the rest of this AMAZING comic, here.
My coworkers all think I am nuts but my commutes have been relatively awesome the last couple days. Door to door my 3 mile commute has been in the 20-30 minute time frame, my friend waited 45 minutes for the bus to arrive, and another hour and a half for the bus to go the same distance.
When I got home yesterday, I was warm, dry, and it had only taken 20 minutes I was like:
If we lived in a place where we had really top notch bicycle infrastructure, and the city made it a priority to clean it off when it snowed (special machines for the lanes etc.), EVERYONE could have such a stress free awesome commute, not just us “crazy people who ride our bikes in the snow.”
Cars are stress machines, especially when it snows. If you want to spend less time stuck in traffic, and a lot less time talking about traffic, give bike riding a try. See the side bar for some helpful winter riding tips. Happy snow cycling!
ps. If you have any questions about winter riding, drop them in the comments.
Tags: bikes evaporate traffic, snow, traffic
Posted in advocacy, Commuting | 1 Comment »
In Manhattan they did anyway, with the help of more pedestrians and higher transit rates, as well as the new bike share program.
After several blocks in the heart of Times Square were pedestrianized and protected bike lanes were added to five avenues in the middle of Manhattan, motor vehicle traffic is actually moving more smoothly than before, according to the latest release of NYC DOT’s annual Sustainable Streets Index [PDF].
The report, which gathers data from the MTA, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and DOT’s own counts, also shows that the volume of traffic entering Manhattan has basically stayed flat since 2009. At the same time, transit ridership has started to rebound from the recession and service cuts.
Even with population and employment levels increasing after the recession, car traffic into the Manhattan CBD declined 1.7 percent in 2011. Since 2003, traffic volumes are down 6.5 percent, while transit trips to the area have increased 11.3 percent.
The annual report incorporates numbers on bike-share usage. Between the Memorial Day launch and August 26, Citi Bike riders made more than 2.5 million trips covering more than 5.5 million miles. There have been eight crashes involving Citi Bikes, none causing injuries classified as serious. Of stations sampled during the final two weeks of July, the busiest included those near hubs like Grand Central Terminal and Union Square.
Read the rest of this fascinating article here. It seems obvious that if you take a bunch of people out of cars and instead they take public transit/ride a bike/ or walk that traffic would move better, but its always nice to see some real world data to prove it.
What I think is the real take home from this study is that peoples lives are improving. They are being more healthy (even public transit is healthier than driving). They are saving money, they are reducing their impact on the planet, and even the people who are still trapped in their cars are happier because traffic is moving smoothly. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they were happier as well. Its a win win win win.
People defend cars, and get very upset when you try to make it harder to use them, but they really have so very few benefits and so very many drawbacks. I think what we are seeing is that this fact is finally sinking in.
Thanks Ben for the heads up on this.
Tags: Bike Lanes, improvement, new york city, traffic
Posted in infrastructure, news | No Comments »
A recent study by MIT and UC Berkely using anonymous cell phone data and gps have determined that it is just 15 areas in the Boston metro area (out of 750 tracked by the census) are causing almost all of the traffic jams in Boston.
What they found, perhaps surprisingly, is that during rush hour, 98 percent of roads in the Boston area were in fact below traffic capacity, while just 2 percent of roads had more cars on them than they could handle. These congested roads included short stretches of I-495 southbound and Route 128 southbound, a number of downtown streets, and a wide scattering of suburban arteries, such as Bridge Street in Lowell (southbound) and Water Street in Haverhill (northbound). Each of these roads has what the engineers term a high degree of “betweenness”—that is, they’re essential for connecting one part of the metropolitan area to the others.
The backups on these roads ripple outward, causing traffic to snarl across the Hub. Marta Gonzalez of MIT, one of the lead engineers on the study, explains the effect this way. “The analogy we make is of your circulatory system,” she says. “When you have one artery that is blocked, it will affect your entire circulation.”
By tracking the cell records, they found that it’s just a small number of drivers from a small number of neighborhoods who are responsible for tying up the key roads. Specifically, they identified 15 census tracts (out of the 750 in Greater Boston) located in Everett, Marlborough, Lawrence, Lowell, and Waltham as the heart of the problem, because drivers from those areas make particularly intensive use of the problematic roads in the system.(via)
What this says to me is that, if we could connect these areas to decent public transportation and cycling options we could eliminate large amounts of traffic in this town. By working smarter, not harder, we could burst the bubble of traffic with laser guided improvements to our infrastructure.
The study demonstrated that “canceling or delaying the trips of 1 percent of all drivers across a road network would reduce delays caused by congestion by only about 3 percent,” MIT wrote. ” But canceling the trips of 1 percent of drivers from carefully selected neighborhoods would reduce the extra travel time for all other drivers in a metropolitan area by as much as 18 percent.”
The effectiveness of this “selective strategy” is attributed in the study to the facts that “only [a] few road segments are congested” and that these road segments are clogged by people originating largely from only a few areas. Even though data was anonymous, researchers were able to infer drivers’ home neighborhoods “from the regularity of the route traveled and from the locations of cell towers that handled calls made between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m,” UC-Berkeley said.(via)
If we can get drivers in these targeted areas to bus/train/cycle to work, we could dramatically reduce traffic in the rest of the town. Combined with some sort of congestion tax to keep otherwise non-car drivers from filling in the empty space made by the reduction of traffic, and using the money from that and a re-organized tax system to fund improvements in public transportation infrastructure, we could be living in a very pleasant city devoid of most single occupancy car drivers.
Tags: cars, MIT, science, traffic
Posted in advocacy, Commuting | 6 Comments »
The good folks at ABC are trying to keep tabs on the Craigie Bridge construction (which PS. starts next Friday).
Got this in the email
Dear Boston bicycle and pedestrian community,
Anybody commute or ride regularly on the Craigie Bridge? If so, can you get in touch with me? Here’s what I’m trying to find out:
1. Start and Destination?
2. Do you take an alternative bridge / route?
3. The construction on the Craigie is starting the night of Friday, Nov. 5th. Like the BU bridge, the Craigie is supposed to remain open to bikes and peds throughout construction. Can someone confirm this?
A Better City is working on a bridge construction / traffic advisory website for all forms of transportation. Any input would be greatly appreciated!
I assume you can contact them here or you can leave them in the comments here and I will have them take a look.
Tags: Construction, Craigie bridge, traffic
Posted in advocacy | 1 Comment »
Thanks to Erik for pointing this out to me.
It’s great, watch it twice and think hard. Also read this book its fantastic.
Tags: traffic, video, why we do what we do
Posted in advocacy, education, video | No Comments »
DCR CREWS WORKING ON BU BRIDGE
Cambridge-to-Boston traffic will be detoured to the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge
WHAT: Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) crews will be installing barriers in preparation for the first phase of construction on the BU Bridge, which carries traffic over the Charles River between Cambridge and Boston. During the work, all Cambridge-to-Boston lanes will be closed and traffic will be detoured to the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge. Only buses and emergency vehicles will be allowed in the Cambridge-to-Boston direction. One lane of Boston-to-Cambridge traffic will remain open.
WHEN: Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night October 28, 29, 30 7 p.m. – 5 a.m. each night
WHERE: BU Bridge Between Cambridge and Boston
Tags: traffic, watch out
Posted in infrastructure, news | 2 Comments »