May 10, 2016

Shocking News from Seattle: No Viadoom from Viaduct Closure

Something really bad didn’t happen when Seattle closed the Alaskan Way Viaduct to traffic, reported to carry 110,000 vehicles a day.  From Crosscut:


In news coverage leading up to “Viadeath 2016”, Inrix provide the official data forecasts for Seattle’s traffic snarls. The company predicted commute times would increase by 50 percent …

But in an e-mail exchange with Crosscut, a representative speaking on behalf of Inrix backpedaled on their initial predictions, saying that, “According to INRIX’s analysis, commute times have not dramatically increased and several of the major routes into the City have been only moderately affected.” …

On I-5 travel time has increased by about five minutes, and rush hour has shifted toward 6 AM as people allow themselves more time to get into work. The same goes for the West Seattle bridge, on which travel times have jumped about five minutes. On I-90 Westbound, commutes have only increased by between three and five minutes. And on 520, traffic’s about normal.

Obvious question: Why is Washington spending over $4 billion to build a bored tunnel when demand management, a new surface street and better transit could have done the job?

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OMG traffic cones are all the rage. The revolution has begun and it has bounced off Twitter onto our streets.
First, I recommend following AwarenessCone on Twitter. A silly Philadelphia-based account, it mocks the traffic cone’s responsibility to protect us from danger with overqualified cones placed in menial, dead end positions. Their bio sums it up well:

AwarenessCone: a cone placed at the site of damaged infrastructure; a cone marking construction; a cone forgotten. Be aware.

Two examples are better than one.

Secondly, The Man systemic car culture wants everyone outside who’s not in a car to be dressed in clothing with high visibility (hi-viz). We all know black is the most slimming colour. Drivers are jealous of our active lifestyles. They want us to look chubbier than those in vehicles. They also want to take no responsibility for hitting and killing us with their cars. Activist people on foot and on bike and on board refuse to wear reflectors or bright clothing day or night in protest. Active transportation moderates get mocked as sell outs for having reflective trim on any clothing.
Moschino, always known for its tongue-in-cheek, society mocking designs, has a new line out for Spring/Summer 2016 called Dangerous Couture featuring ridiculous, high fashion, hi-viz clothing and their version of street signs (including little Do Not Enter signs as earrings).

Which all leads me to the third trend for cones. People are using them to control their streets. Call them safety heroes or vigilantes, drivers don’t know if they are City-issued or not and are slowing down. These movements are cropping up in various cities. PDXTransformations in Portland, OR was separating cars from bike lanes with traffic cones recently. Now its members have put up (illegal) 20mph speed limit signs and are getting local media coverage for their antics. (The Portland Bureau of Transportation has said publicly removing the signs is not a high priority with limited resources.)


We are not a “bike advocacy group.” We are a Transformation Action Group. We want our streets to serve everybody.
Our dream is that the people of Portland stand up to unsafe drivers and say ENOUGH. You can’t do that here anymore.

They are inspiring others.

If these rogue antics were organized in your town, would you be tempted to make a request? Is there a dangerous spot near you? Have you reported it to the City?
Clearly cones are trending and improved safety for all on our streets can’t be far behind.

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“Every time we go through this, it seems to be the same pattern. There’s predictions there’s going to be ‘Carmageddon,’” Price said. “Every time it doesn’t happen. And then we go on to the next one, and have to go through the whole cycle again.”

– Gordon Price, SFU City Program, in The Province


Today in Metro:

A year and half after the city raised an uproar by shutting a stretch of Point Grey Road to vehicles to make way for a bike lane, travel time for buses and cars is almost identical to what it was before the closure, according to data released Monday.

The city monitored how re-routing extra cars to Macdonald Street would affect the 22 bus re-route using “extremely detailed” GPS data and found travel times to be “so similar it’s hard to say whether there’s a change,” said Lon LaClaire, Vancouver’s acting director of transportation. “

“It’s pretty much the same,” LaClaire said. “There’s no real interesting story there.”


But of course the interesting story here is that there’s no interesting story.  Imagine if the delay had been even 5 minutes.  Carmageddon!

It’s so frustrating when confident predictions of bad things don’t happen, but it’s important to acknowledge for the next proposal of a greenway or bike lane.  Let’s see if we get any.

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Bringing an Agustin comment to the foreground:

The absolute number of cars registered in the City of Vancouver is indeed growing. In absolute numbers, “peak car” has not yet arrived in Vancouver.

There’s an interesting pattern to the vehicle registrations added each year, though:



So how does one explain the pattern above – and the data which indicate a drop in traffic coming into the city and, even more, to downtown?

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From NewGeography, via Ron Richings:


Urbanists Need to Face the Full Implications of Peak Car


As traffic levels decline nationally in defiance of the usual state DOT forecasts projecting major increases, a number of commentators have claimed that we’ve reached “peak car” – the point at which the seemingly inexorable rise in vehicle miles traveled in America finally comes to an end.   But while this has been celebrated, with some justification in the urbanist world as vitiating plans for more roads, the implications for public policy haven’t been fully faced up to.

Indeed, the “peak car” is antithetical to the reigning urbanist paradigm of highways known as “induced demand.”  Induced demand is Say’s Law for roads: supply of lanes creates its own demand by drivers to fill them. Hence building more roads to reduce congestion is pointless. But if we’ve really reached peak car, maybe we really can build our way out of congestion after all.

Traffic levels have stabilized or even fallen in recent years. According to analysis by economist Doug Short featured in Streetsblog, aggregate auto travel peaked on a per capita basis in 2005 and has fallen since. Per capita traffic levels are now back to 1994 levels, a two decade rollback in traffic increases. …

This data is complemented by a slew of recent stories about the poor financial performance of toll roads, resulting in part from traffic falling far below projections.  For example, the concessionaire operating the Indiana Toll Road recently went bankrupt. Streetsblog reported that while projections forecasted traffic level increase of 22% in the first seven years, traffic actually fell 11% in the first eight.

Recent traffic declines are a reversal of a long running trend of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) increases at above growth in population. Some of this is no doubt due to the poor macro-economy. But there are reasons to believe we may be in a new era of traffic growth or lack thereof.  Many of the trends that drove high growth have largely been played out: household size declines, suburbanization, the entry of women into the workforce, one car per driver, etc. That’s not to say these will necessarily reverse. But we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns in terms of how many more women, for example, will join the labor force given that there’s already 57% female participation and their labor force participation rate is projected to decline in the future. …

So the idea that we need to build fewer roads than we thought is sound. But less attention has been paid to the flip side implications of this.  To repeat, the induced demand theory says that there is a more or less infinite supply of traffic, thus any new roadway capacity will be used up shortly, leaving congestion as bad as the status quo ante.

Despite peak car, articles touting induced demand as a reason not to build roads continue unabated, including recent ones in Wired (“What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse”) and Vox (“The ‘fundamental rule’ of traffic: building new roads just makes people drive more”).  In a world of peak car, where traffic levels are flat to declining on a per capita basis, induced demand no longer holds court, certainly not to the level claimed by those who believe it’s pointless to build roads.

In fact, what peak car means is that while speculative projects may be dubious, there many be good reasons now to build projects designed to alleviate already exiting congestion.  Places like Los Angeles remain chronically congested, which has great economic and social consequences, not the least of which is the value of untold hours lost sitting in traffic.  While individual projects there might indeed be boondoggles, maybe it’s worth building some of the planned freeway expansions there in light of peak car. In short, in some cases peak car strengthens the argument for building or expanding roads.

On the other hands, many of the regional development plans designed to promote compact central city development and transit may be predicated on an analysis that assumes large future traffic increases in a “business as usual” scenario.  Not just highways but all aspects of regional planning are dependent on traffic forecasts. 

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