Friday, April 15, 2005

Transportation, Congestion and Planning

One of my favorite writers Anthony Downs. He has written a couple of very good books on dealing with congestion and transportation, and relates it to how we manage land use on a regional level.

A couple of interesting excerpts from his book Still Stuck in Traffic: Coping With Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion:

"In almost every U.S. metropolitan area, attempts to carry out effective regional anticongestion tactics will be met by strong resistance. Any organizations created for this purpose could work well only if they exercised authority and powers now divided among many local and state government agencies, but most officials in those existing agencies strongly oppose any reduction of their present powers. Local governments are loath to yield any control over their land use to outsiders. ... Yet many tactics for reducing peak-hour congestion would require shifting at least some local powers over land use to a regional agency."

"This does not mean states will never create effective regional anti-congestion agencies, simply that such actions will be rare. ... Underlying that resistance is the fundamental belief among many citizens that reducing traffic congestion is far less important than pursuing other social or personal goals. Therefore, if reducing congestion means they must change behaviors they have cherished for other reasons, they may prefer to endure congestion -- while, of course, still complaining loudly about it."

In the book, Downs suggests a number of ideas for dealing with congestion, but, as you can see from the above quote, recognizes that making any of them happen may not be very likely. So, he concludes, get a good book on tape, find a good carpool mate, and learn to enjoy sitting in traffic because it isn't likely to change.

Many of Downs' ideas were succinctly expressed in a speech he gave to the New York Regional Plan agency in November 2004. He concluded that speech by saying, "In summary, my conclusions may surprise you. On one hand, I don't think traffic congestion is nearly as bad as most people do; in fact, I think it is a sign of economic and other success in a region. And I recommend your getting used to it, since I believe it will get worse in the future no matter what we do, as long as we keep growing and getting richer.

"On the other hand, I do not think our current method of planning land-use and transportation facilities...is anywhere nearly the most rational and effective method we ought to have. Yet political prospects for changing it are not very promising. Yet I believe we should not quit trying to improve.

"And finally, I believe we cannot expect to raise more money to meet our mobility requirements without confronting our overall social need to start saving more and taxing ourselves more, rather than continuing to live off the sacrifices of foreign savers and future taxes on our own children. That thought may not be popular, be we who are leaders have to start getting it across to the entire citizenry -- and soon."

Well said.

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