THE WEIRD CASE OF EXPANDING HIGHWAYS: TRAFFIC GETS WORSE!

According to the U.S., Americans traveled 40 per cent more miles in 2019 than in 1994. Department of Transportation. More driving means more traffic is congested. Building more highway lanes so that more vehicles can fit makes sense to reduce congestion. Exactly right? In fact no. A new report from the Transportation for America policy group, reveals that this does not work at all.

The researchers found that the largest urban areas in the U.S. added 30,511 new lane-miles of roads between 1993 and 2017—an rise of 42 per cent. That’s a faster growth rate than population growth, which grew 32 per cent over the same time in those cities.

But traffic congestion hasn’t fallen at all in that 24 year period. In fact, it has risen by 144 percent, even as states have spent more than $500 billion on highway capital investments in urbanized areas, and a substantial portion of this has gone toward highway growth. This means governments spent billions, and the end result was Americans spending more wasted time on the roads, sitting in vehicles this spraw climate-warming and polluting pollution from the neighbourhoods.

Yearly Oil Demand Is Now Projected to Fall for the First Time in a Decade Because of COVID-19 The growing global crisis brought about by COVID-19 is leading to international negotiations being cancelled… Read more This is because when you create more highways, people start driving more and filling the lanes in a matter of years. The average person rode 20 percent more miles between 1993 and 2017. Right after a highway is extended, traffic is accelerating, and drivers are taking advantage of this by “switching from other routes, driving further distances or traveling during the busiest time of the day,” says the report, which looked at federal and state traffic and freeway growth data. “People who have previously avoided congestion— whether by riding transit, carpooling, commuting at less congested periods of the day or forgoing the trip altogether — start driving on that path more because it has become more convenient.” People also start moving further away from central metro areas because the growing number of roads makes it a more appealing, cheaper option. But as cities sprawl out, this creates the need to drive more, causing more traffic in effect. Within a few years of a highway expansion (which is costing millions of dollars of public money), traffic is rising enough to congeste the roads again. Drivers are angry, and elected officials are responding with surprise!—Expanding the highways to reduce congestion. Instead, the cycle begins again.

This trend occurs throughout the world, from San Diego and Nashville to Pensacola and Buffalo, the analysis shows. Even cities that witnessed relatively low population growth did not reduce traffic congestion by widening networks on the freeways. Jackson, the population of Mississippi grew by just nine percent between 1993 and 2017 while the city extended its freeways by more than 60 per cent. Final result? The area also faced an increase in traffic of 317 per cent.

Which means dealing with a colossal waste of time for drivers. A separate study released on Monday by transport analytics company INRIX shows drivers spent an average of 99 hours in traffic last year, up two hours from 2017.

Everything this traffic often creates pollution. The average car emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year and is responsible for 29 per cent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. All of these emissions fuel the atmosphere while other forms of emissions pollute the air, causing health problems of all kinds. It refers in particular to those in poorer colored neighbourhoods who are far more likely to breathe polluted air from vehicles and other sources.

It doesn’t have to be this way, as the investigators prove. The U.S.’s approach to transportation can and should fundamentally change.

“The bigger picture lacks the insistence on reducing congestion,” the report says. “We will prioritize investments based on how well people are connected to jobs and services, not how much quicker cars will be able to drive on a certain highway route.” To really reduce traffic, the report says policymakers need to enhance access to work, education, health care, grocery stores, entertainment and other daily needs. This means calculating connectivity between destinations rather than road delays, and prioritizing road maintenance rather than expansion. It also means making towns safer for cyclists, because people need not travel to take short trips.

Importantly, American cities also need to improve public transport urgently, which would improve access to destinations and reduce car pollution. As Aaron Gordon at Vice points out, the U.S. has really been awful in building public transport. But this year, we have an opportunity to change things. The current federal transport budget authorisation is due to be renegotiated in 2020. When passed, it will set federal transportation funding rates for another five years.

“With negotiations on the next federal transport legislation going on— a cycle that only occurs every five years — now is the crucial time to make changes before we pump out billions more into a solution that doesn’t work,” the report says. “We can not continue to rely on the same costly and ineffectual method.”

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