A small but growing number of state DOTs are putting planned highway expansion projects on hold as they work to stretch their available funds and assess how to meet ambitious environmental goals. Certain environmental organizations, cities, and equity-focused advocates interested in rebuilding communities damaged by urban freeways are among those pressuring DOTs to change their long-standing practices.
Induced demand. It’s a concept that used to be popular only among the wonkiest transportation experts, and now gets covered by outlets ranging from the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal. Governing calls it “the almost universally accepted concept” that almost no one understands, while Strong Towns calls ignorance of the concept “professional malpractice.” With new tools and a better understanding emerging, some transportation agencies are now beginning to wrestle with the implications.
Two reports issued within days provide contrasting takes on the enduring issue of highway traffic congestion. One report from traffic-data firm Inrix is an update of previous scorecards that rank world cities for highway delay, calculated by aggregating travel times slower than free flow. In contrast, Transportation for America’s new report looks closely at how the frequently-employed solution of highway capacity expansion has worked, and finds it wanting.
Urban highways and plentiful surface parking lots, once considered essential, have outlived their promise in many large U.S. cities. Observers see growing interest in dense urban living, with some mobile segments of the population opting out of car-dependent suburbs. Bold cities have been redeveloping the areas opened up by highway removal, and developers are poised to profit from the development of surface parking lots within revitalizing urban cores.
Wider lanes and shoulders encourage faster driving, according to a new study published in the Journal of Transportation Engineering. Based on more than 650,000 observations of uncongested freeways, researchers from Texas A&M found that drivers travel 2.2 mph faster, on average, in 12-foot lanes than in comparable 11-foot lanes. Perhaps even more striking, wide left shoulders adjacent to 11-foot lanes can increase speeds by as much as 1.1 mph per foot of shoulder width, ranging from 1.5 to 11 feet. Unfortunately, the study also highlights how speed and capacity are often conflated in misleading ways and how safety can be ignored altogether.
A recent study indicates that raising speed limits on non-limited access highways from 55 to 65 miles per hour is likely to have a negative benefit-cost ratio when crash injury and fatality costs are fully accounted for. The analysis evaluated the costs and benefits associated with required infrastructure upgrades, travel time benefits, fuel costs (due to lower fuel economy), and costs associated with increased crash frequency and severity.
In a widely covered March 29 speech and interviews, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx described some of the negative effects that highway building has had on cities— particularly middle- and lower-income neighborhoods. The former Charlotte, N.C., mayor recalled his own childhood in an urban neighborhood, where highways moved through traffic but degraded local conditions.
When $17 million in funding was set aside for a new interchange on NJ Route 42 in suburban Camden County in 2005, NJDOT’s design concepts involved traditional clover leaf and diamond designs to improve automobile level of service and mobility. However, after engaging the community in a dialog about their vision for the future of the area—which focused on increasing development near the interchange and creating a more walkable environment—planners and designers settled on a more context-sensitive solution that would slow traffic, preserve land for development, and set the stage for a grid roadway network.
The transportation record of a prominent presidential candidate is the jumping off point for a lengthy, critical report on American transportation policy in Politico last week. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently proposed to dramatically increase borrowing in order to support several highway megaprojects in southern Wisconsin. But the Politico article points out that the size of the budget is not the only, or even the most important, issue—both in Wisconsin and in Washington.
Despite the prevalence of anti-tolling sentiment reported in the press, cities like Atlanta and Los Angeles that operate variably priced toll lanes have seen early skepticism give way to heavy use of these lanes by commuters. These successes and the approaches taken by the two agencies to manage increasing demand suggest a need to manage these facilities in the context of the entire transportation system. The two approaches taken by Atlanta and Los Angeles could be used by other agencies struggling with similar issues.