Thursday, August 31, 2006

More on Dealing with Traffic

A story in this morning's DesNews about increasing congestion and where Utah is at -- we're more congested than we were, we will get a lot more congested in future years (more so than what New York and LA are now). The story cites as one source a study by the Reason Foundation which touts building new highways as a viable way to reduce congestion. The Reason Foundation generally takes what some would call the conservative, hard-line approach to planning-related issues, and this sort of falls in that vein, as most urban planner types are all about transit, walkability, and demand reduction through better land use coordination with transportation.

The study points this out in one section, noting that many metro area long range transportation plans do not even include congestion reduction as one of their primary goals, and in some cases the plans indicate that building new road capacity is the last thing on their priority list.

The Reason study contests the old maxim that "we cannot build our way out of congestion." Often, Reason commentaries are very critical of transit, particularly rail transit, but this study says virtually nothing about it.

In a region growing as rapidly as ours, there is no way we can survive without building new road capacity. The question becomes how much can we afford, and what else should we be doing (like transit).

Again, I go back to my "hero" Anthony Downs, who for a variety of well-thought out reasons, believes that we will always be stuck with congestion from here on out, so just learn to live with it. One thing to consider, according to Downs: congestion is a characteristic of growing and vibrant economies. Places that are stagnating generally don't have this problem, so maybe it's a good sign!


At 1:02 PM, Blogger vagabond said...

Congestion will always be with us as long as cheap gas and relatively cheap cars continue to be the norm.

We still don't pay on average what Europeans do for fuel and until we do, we'll just keep driving for every little thing. Just in the last year I have made a few changes to what I do. I avoid unncessary trips by combining my errands with other family members. I have also finally "discovered" that my wife and I could carpool once or more times per week to save $. We talked about it this morning and we may simply take the plunge and see if our employers will be flexible enough to allow it. We have decided that when gas hits about $4 or perhaps $5 per gallon, that we'll need to move or change jobs. It would kill my kids to move and leave their school, but insanity is insanity.

The problem is that I only contemplated these changes when I was forced to look at reality. I can either eat well, take a vacation once in a while or pay off my home early or spend $1000+ per month on gas and maintenance and not think of a more efficient way to move around.

Funny thing, now that I am thinking about peak oil, etc, it occurs to me that natural gas, which is as nonrenewable as oil, needs to be conserved as well; hence shorter showers, less barbequeing, etc. I have also become a bit of a power miser by continually turning off any light in my home and at work that is not necessary. It's easy and I feel great about the fact that I don't have to think twice about it.

Yes, for the moment, we need more roads. Yes, in the last few months I have noticed a dramtic increase in the traffic congestion as I leave earlier and earlier for work with no reduction in time on the road.

But, isn't it truly awful that we'll only make changes when it becomes really painful? Is Legacy needed? Yes. Commuter Rail? Yes. But we must ask ourselves at what point do we reconize that we truly can't build our way out of congestion as long as we keep having babies, growth will continue and resources will be tighter and tighter.

The new McMansions being built in the farm lands near my home, I fear, may become in the not too distant future, the ghost towns of tommorow. Where I live, the jobs, housing mix is very weak with a gerat preponderance of housing. As a planner, I have a hard time swallowing the rehtoric coming out of the Beehive Forum that takes the position that we sprawl is good and should be continued and that planning and common sense resource management and conservation are bad.

I need some time to wrap my mind around that philosophy.

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