Here’s the most interesting quote from the summary version of “It’s Time” – a document from the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission:
Defining what we mean by “congestion” is important. Congestion should be considered as extra travel time based on how ‘efficiently’ roads are used, as opposed to free-flow travel time. Reliability of travel times also need to be considered.
Isn’t “extra travel time” anything less than the time it would take in free-flow traffic? – which is how a lot of agencies and companies like Tom-Tom define it.  (If not, what does “efficiently” actually mean? )
The paper is right: defining ‘congestion’ is important – especially because the commission is basing its strategy on reducing it.  But if most people believe congestion is anything less than free flow, then the commission will have a credibility problem.
A century of car advertising has only reinforced the notion that the car should always be able to drive minimally at the posted speed limit – or beyond.  Take a look at this CBC report on car-advertising production in Vancouver and see if you can find a single shot where the vehicle is constrained by traffic.

No other car on Lions Gate?  Sure, it’s a lie.  But it’s also conditioning – and that’s what the Mobility Pricing Commission should recognize.
And we haven’t even started to discuss what we mean by ‘tax.’


  1. Questions are more important than answers. If we ask the wrong questions, we will come up with the wrong answers. How do we cure congestion is the wrong question. If struggling to redefine a well-understood word risks a credibility problem, then maybe it’s the wrong word: and the wrong idea.
    Congestion isn’t the issue: mobility is. So don’t talk about congestion. Talk about mobility (“working roads”). Don’t measure congestion either: measure the work the roads do.
    I’m not saying that would be easy. I’m sure that measuring mobility is a significant technical challenge. But we measure what we care about, and we care about what we measure. That fellow who searches for his keys under the street light: not because that’s where he lost them, but because that’s where he can see? Right now, that’s us. If we truly want mobility, if we think transit and walkable neighbourhoods are solutions, then we have to use a metric that captures their contributions.
    What we want is mobility. Actually, that isn’t even right. We want what mobility gets us: time with our families, groceries, employment, a walk in the park. But for now, mobility will probably do.
    A couple of off-the-top thoughts about better metrics:
    – Daily per-person trip time: by car, transit, walking, bike, whatever. Build a walkable neighbourhood and the metric will improve even if traffic doesn’t.
    – Daily per-person destinations: count trips and tasks achieved rather than time spent. If someone bikes home from work and stops for groceries on the way home, that’s two destinations. Visits a friend? Three.
    – Per-person time with family.
    – Transportation satisfaction (all modes).
    I bet specialists have developed some excellent mobility metrics. Let’s use them.

    1. It is still a mystery how mobility seems to be largely divorced from land use in these studies. Is that the result of thinking in silos? The association in this document is primarily with road geometry, not with the encompassing aura of urbanism. Newman and Kenworthy (2015) have shown how car use, VKT, per capita emissions (see Eric Doherty’s comment below) and new road construction decreased in cities that implemented mass rail transit in a big way. They also wrote a chapter on the types of “urban fabric” in relation to transportation.
      Congestion charges work to limit private vehicle use in inner city and other districts, but that can also be accomplished by closing some streets to all but pedestrians, and by improving transit. You achieve huge improvements in urbanism with the latter, while the former serves as a revenue generator that supplements transit funding.
      In London the congestion charge has financed the purchase of hundreds of new double decker buses. This was concurrent to the construction of CrossRail, an express Underground service. That is to say, implementing a congestion charge on its own is kinda like redirecting a stampede of elephants with a broom. The key is to stop the stampede by building a better habitat for elephants, so to speak.

  2. If an AV drives me and it is very comfortable, will congestion be perceived as less of an issue than today ? Today the driver has to watch, brake, react, decide, accelerate, decelerate, stop, honk etc .. but if a machine does it for me, and I can sit (or stand) in comfort and watch TV, read this blog, comment on it, read the news, answer my emails, talk on the phone or Skype will we see even more congested streets as folks are willing to accept even longer commutes ?

    1. Indeed. This initiative is also too limited in scope and time when you consider zoning and the ramifications of sea level rise on existing urbanized floodplains by the time those born today are retired. Richmond is already experiencing salt water infiltration from below. Hydrostatic pressure from the ground water and infiltrating seawater will probably be that city’s nemesis long before they consider building a new set of dykes.
      Congestion charges? What an irrelevant topic that would be to a floating city of the future.

  3. Congestion in any form is restricting and blocking. It leads to illness and stagnation. It’s toxic. In traffic it’s all the above as well as polluting. In Metro Vancouver congestion is found at bottlenecks where traffic flow is restricted by design. It is easily relived. Charging drivers to get around everywhere to relieve the few bottlenecks is risky political play.

    1. We have tried the relieving bottlenecks scenario as have many cities in North America and it seems to be not as simple as you may think. LA has tried to build their way out of Congestion for decades and have finally realized that this is impossible. We spent billions on PMH1 and were about to spend more billions on Massey replacement bridge. All that PMH1 did is increase traffic and move congestion to another spot. Without tolls, congestion returned to the bridge. Should we build another 10 lane parallel bridge to relieve the congestion? Twin Hwy 1? Will that even work? Whack a mole is a good analogy.
      “Easily relieved”? I think not.

      1. There is no more congestion on either side of the new Port Mann Bridge. Neither is there any lining up to cross the William R. Bennett Bridge in Kelowna. These previously congested blockages have been relieved.
        The heavy traffic crossing the Second Narrows Bridge is certainly not due to the previous traffic that was delayed east of the old Port Mann Bridge. Does anybody think that all that traffic was not going to Vancouver but to North and West Vancouver?

        1. Anonymous posted: “There is no more congestion on either side of the new Port Mann Bridge”
          Well, we’ve heard that before. We also read that:
          “We noticed a blip since the Port Mann bridge was completed and that really opened up a corridor on the approaches to the Second Narrows … It’s quite significant,” Jason Jardine, of the Parsons consulting firm and a consultant to the provincial ministry of highways, told council.
          It seems like the daily jams — albeit not all the same vehicles — at the Port Mann for the last few decades simply moved a few dozen kilometres up Highway 1 to the interchanges by the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge.

          How soon they forget. Eric posted a link showing this last year. He was trying to prove that there was no congestion on Hwy 1 west of the Port Mann construction after completion of the wider roadway, but instead shot himself in the foot and provided evidence of the opposite.
          Nobody said “all” Jen/Eric/Anonymous, except you. The highway engineers said it only takes a little extra to cause significant congestion. And now we see it. It was very predictable, except for those spinning stories. It is exactly the same as we would have seen on the Oak St bridge if the Massey replacement project had created more lanes to lead to, and then end at, the Oak St. bridge. Despite Eric/Anonymous/etc’s claims that some of those vehicles crossing the new bridge were going to Richmond, so there would be no effect on the Oak St. bridge.

      2. It is a myth that in a growing city that will get 1M more people the next 20-30 years we do not need more road capacity. We need that AND, of course, we also need more bike lanes, subways, LRTs, buses etc.
        More people means more folks moving about.
        Just look at the mess in N-Van with the massive construction there the last 2-3 decades with hardly any new roads, subways or LRTs. A new Seabus and a few more bus lanes won’t cut it.

        1. MV traffic in and around downtown Vancouver has been falling for decades even with huge growth in population and jobs. It’s a myth that we need meet growth with more roads. Private MVs are the least efficient way to move people so it only makes sense to discourage their use.
          There is already more than enough road to provide for transit, goods movement and emergency services.

        2. Yes downtown is fine with highrises. Not everyone wants to live in tiny shoeboxes in the sky though. Many folks actually want some space, a yard and some distance to neighbors. As such, transit and roads have to accommodate that.
          We canNOT export what works in downtown Vancouver to the rest of Vancouver let alone the region !

        3. It needn’t be highrises and certainly not shoeboxes to get the mixed-use density required for walkability and good transit. Of course we can do this throughout the region – not as a blanket but strategically applied at existing nodes and growing from there.
          Not everyone needs to live in the dense areas to create a downward trend on MV travel. Some areas will remain car-oriented low density for a long time. But growth in private MV travel can be stopped by applying the lessons learned downtown. Road pricing takes away the false economy of sprawl.

        4. Fair enough. But at $1500+/sq ft along Cambie corridor in your average 6 story midrise people (especially those with kids) still flee to the suburbs !!

        5. You are using the same phrases as the other bots.
          That said, we do have screenline counts of all vehicles, vehicle classification, and vehicle occupancy.
          The automated vehicle counts utilized “109 stations at 32 regional screenlines, collected in 15‐minute intervals over 24‐hours for a continuous two week period. Following validation, ten weekdays in that period were averaged to produce typical weekday traffic volumes.”
          So yes, we do have data. City of Vancouver vehicle counts continue to decline.

  4. “Congestion in any form is restricting and blocking. It leads to illness and stagnation. It’s toxic.”
    Well, actually… no. Congestion is a symptom of illness generally speaking. You don’t get a cold because your nose is blocked. You get a blocked nose because you get a cold.
    Useful to look at congestion and why it is there. Treating it instead of the root cause only leads to longer bouts of illness. Be it the common cold or a highway.
    A useful metaphor incorrectly applied. Start from a false premise and you get a faulty solution. No clearer example than thinking more roads will cure the root cause of traffic delays.

  5. Objection #17 Meaningless Language
    What is the baseline for road efficiency?
    What is the baseline for travel time reliability?
    Should bumper to bumper traffic traveling at full posted road speed be considered free flow efficiency and travel time reliability?
    Should an accident, a technical malfunction of just about anything, a lost dog on the road be considered agents of congestion rather than automobiles?

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