Traffic Hell Not Relieved by Roadbuilding

WASHINGTON, DC, May 7, 2001 (ENS) - Los Angeles maintains its number one ranking as the city with the most hellish traffic congestion because its residents suffer from both major congestion and have relatively few ways to avoid it, according to a new study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project. The analysis finds that places adding roads most aggressively over the past 10 years have had no greater success in fighting congestion than those not adding roads.

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Some Los Angelinos avoid the traffic jams by forming carpools. (Photo courtesy Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA))
California commuters are stuck in traffic longer and have fewer alternatives than are available in most other regions. Los Angeles tops the list with 5,268,751 people driving to and from work daily and only 761,148 workers taking other forms of transportation. The San Francisco Bay Area ranks second, and San Diego comes in fifth among the countryís most congested regions.

A new ranking called the Congestion Burden Index developed by the Surface Transportation Policy Project shows how the average commuter is affected by both congestion levels and the availability of transit in 68 U.S. cities.

The Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) is a nationwide network of hundreds of planners, community development organizations and public interest groups working to improve the U.S. transportation system.

The STPP analyzed data collected by the Texas Transportation Institute for its annual Urban Mobility Study and released today. Their analysis shows that while road building is the traditional response to traffic congestion, it has done little to clear the roadways, while transit service does in fact lessen the burden of congestion on many commuters.

Rush hour is now more like three hours in the nationís major cities, the Texas Transportation Institute has found. Travel time has doubled in less than 20 years, increasing from nearly three hours, morning and evening combined, in 1982 to almost six hours in 1999. Congested travel periods today consume nearly half of the daylight hours in any given workday.

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Rail system relieves some traffic congestion in Miami-Dade County, Florida which ranks 15th in the Congestion Burden Index. (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Lab)
"The misery inflicted by traffic congestion is not the same everywhere," said Roy Kienitz, executive director of STPP. "The places where commuters suffer most are the ones with the fewest transportation choices."

STPP analyzed data collected by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) for its annual Urban Mobility Study and found that metro areas that added the most roads have had little success in easing congestion. But metro areas with good transit service rank lower on the new Congestion Burden Index.

San Francisco, which has the second worst rush hour congestion as measured by TTI, also has almost 500,000 citizens traveling to work by means other than driving. This puts it 29th in the Congestion Burden Index. While TTI gives Boston and Atlanta similar scores for rush hour congestion, Atlantans suffer more due to congestion because a higher share of them drive to work. As a result, Atlanta ranks 6th in the Congestion Burden Index while Boston ranks 47th.

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Rush hour in Denver, Colorado (Photo by Warren Gretz courtesy National Renewable Energy Lab)
STPP's analysis finds that the places adding roads have are still dealing with congestion at the same rate as places not building new roads. In the 23 metro areas that added the most to their road systems, road space per person increased by 17 percent. In the 23 places that added the least to their road systems, road space per person actually fell by 13 percent.

Yet both congestion levels and growth in congestion over time were about the same in the two sets of metro areas which were matched for population growth over the 10 year period studied.

Many Americans take public transit rather than fighting traffic. Over the past five years transit use has grown by 21 percent while driving has increased only 11 percent. This is a turnaround from the early 1990s when driving grew steadily as ridership on trains and buses fell.

"People are searching for alternatives to driving in rush hour traffic, and increasingly they are choosing bikes, buses, subways, and other options," said Kienitz.

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Los Angeles commuters board the train at the Metro Red Line North Hollywood Station. (Photo courtesy MTA)
STPP's analysis shows that the places with the best transit service, as measured by the Transportation Choice Ratio, are also the places where the smallest portion the workforce drives to work. This shows that efforts to provide transit at the local level are delivering a direct payoff to commuters, Kienitz says.

One reason why roadbuilding shows disappointing results in easing congestion is that adding road capacity spurs additional driving, STPP reports. When a road is widened, more people will choose to drive on it - by either switching from another route, time of day, or mode, or by taking additional trips.

"We canít build our way out of congestion," said STPPís California Director James Corless. "Clearly, commuters need real alternatives to being stuck in gridlock."

Los Angeles is trying to provide alternatives to traffic congestion. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has set up a telephone hotline at 213-922-2660 to provide information on this yearís Southern California Bike to Work Day, Thursday, May 17. Bicyclists will get free rides on Metro buses and trains. Participants can register online at: http://www.californiabikecommute.com. In the past eight years, the MTA has provided an estimated $62 million for 94 bikeway projects in Los Angeles County including bike paths along the Los Angeles River.

A full copy of the report and metro area fact sheets with additional data on commuting patterns, congestion rankings, and road capacity are available online at: http://www.transact.org

The Texas Transportation Institute study is online at: http://mobility.tamu.edu/2001/study/short_report.stm