Dueling congestion reports released

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.

More highways, more congestion

In pursuit of congestion relief, the United States added 63 percent more urban freeway lane-miles between 1990 and 2017. That rate far outstripped the 46 percent growth in urban population. It didn’t work. As widely reported last month, the Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Report has returned after a five-year hiatus.

Yet more evidence: “If you build it they will drive”

There’s new evidence, from academia and a prominent real-world case, that ever-expanding highway capacity is a futile strategy for reducing congestion. Crosstown, a data-analysis project at the University of Southern California, looked at vehicle speeds on the 405 over five years, capturing the last year before the new lanes opened and the period since. One example does not confirm the Fundamental Law of Road Congestion, but the 405 case is consistent with that theory, as is a new comprehensive study of induced demand, by Kent Hymel of Cal State Northridge.

A tool to estimate the added VMT from highway expansions

Since passage of S.B. 743 in 2013, California agencies have wrestled with questions around the added travel and emissions resulting from land use and transportation projects. On the land use side, see SSTI’s recent webinars about land-use review reforms in San Jose and Pasadena. On the transportation side, the National Center for Sustainable Transportation has developed an induced travel demand calculator designed to calculate the percentage of additional annual VMT when highways are widened.

Bridging the gap between research and practice: new study on the role of induced vehicle travel

A newly released study sponsored by CalTrans offers a thorough review and analysis of research and practice related to the limitations of existing travel forecasting models. The authors focus on limitations in forecasting induced vehicle travel generated by adding lane miles during a capacity expansion. Acknowledging that many practitioners may not have access to more advanced travel models capable of capturing induced demand, the authors recommend project staff in these cases rely on general elasticities while acknowledging the shortcomings in the analysis.