You Can Build Your Way out of Congestion

Los Angeles is still the most congested urban area in the world, according to the latest INRIX traffic scorecard. However, what is more interesting is that congestion seems to be declining in several fast-growing cities in Texas, thanks to construction of new highways.

Dallas is twice as big as Seattle and Houston is three times as big. The Dallas and Houston urban areas are both growing nearly twice as fast as Seattle’s, but Seattle is concentrating its growth in the city while Dallas and Houston allow more people to settle in the suburbs. INRIX found that congestion was worse in Seattle than either Dallas or Houston, which was a direct result of Washington’s growth-management policies.

Moreover, while INRIX’s congestion index for Seattle — and most other cities — grew worse since last year’s scorecard, the congestion indices for Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso all improved. That’s unusual in the United States, INRIX observes, but cities in Scotland and Germany have also managed to reduce congestion by building new facilities.

San Antonio’s congestion ranking is particularly impressive, as it has about half the congestion of Seattle even though it is more than twice as big. San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in America, while Dallas is ninth and Seattle is twenty-third. But, unlike Seattle or even Houston, San Antonio hasn’t concentrate people or jobs in its downtown area: Seattle and Houston both have almost three times as many downtown jobs as San Antonio, which makes them more congested.

INRIX notes that new construction is not the only way to relieve congestion. Dallas and other Texas cities used managed (i.e., variable priced) lanes. INRIX also mentions ride sharing, dynamic traffic lights, and letting people drive on shoulders during peak hours. While INRIX says “there is no silver bullet that will erase congestion,” that’s only because no city has tried city-wide congestion pricing (as opposed to cordon pricing, which is a very different thing). In any case, the INRIX data put to rest the old claim that cities can’t build their way out of congestion.

Share

5 thoughts on “You Can Build Your Way out of Congestion

  1. Sandy Teal

    The Antiplanner should highlight the success of planners in reserving land for highways in many western cities. Phoenix, for example, reserved the land for its highway system thirty or forty years before it was built. Now its highways are straight, plenty of room for safe interchanges, and businesses and homes were built knowing where highways would eventually appear. Same for utility grids that are invisible but the reduction in cost and conflicts is huge.

    I can’t imagine how much waste is created by a city planning to make growth hard and trying to force growth into existing properties by denying all other options. Great for land value, but terrible for the future of the city.

  2. C. P. Zilliacus

    Sandy Teal wrote:

    The Antiplanner should highlight the success of planners in reserving land for highways in many western cities. Phoenix, for example, reserved the land for its highway system thirty or forty years before it was built. Now its highways are straight, plenty of room for safe interchanges, and businesses and homes were built knowing where highways would eventually appear. Same for utility grids that are invisible but the reduction in cost and conflicts is huge.

    Not just in the West either. States in the East as diverse as Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey plus the District of Columbia (and others) placed land in reservation for highway projects that were mostly never built. Some of the highways were not built because the reserved land was parkland which ran afoul of Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966 (Public Law 89-670) which severely restricts the taking of parkland for federal-aid transportation projects. That is one of the reasons why I-70 ends in Woodlawn, Maryland at a very odd location, down the street from the Social Security Administration.

    But the bigger reason is probably good old-fashioned American syndrome of not in my backyard (NIMBYism). More than a few proposed highways were removed from state, county or municipal planning maps by elected officials feeling pressure from NIMBY groups and NIMBY individuals. Often these removals were rationalized with phrases like “they should be riding transit” or “it is not needed” or “it will never be needed.” Generally proven wrong with the passage of time. Maryland refused to go along with the NIMBYs when it came to MD-200 in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., but it took 40 to 50 years of political argument, three environmental impact statements, efforts by EPA Region 3 (Philadelphia) to sabotage the project in the 1990’s, a federal lawsuit (dismissed) and much hysteria before ground was broken. And the road was only completed in 2014.

  3. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    While INRIX says “there is no silver bullet that will erase congestion,” that’s only because no city has tried city-wide congestion pricing (as opposed to cordon pricing, which is a very different thing).

    Doesn’t Singapore have (what amounts to) a citywide (effectively nationwide, but the city and the nation are the same in this case) tolling system to manage peak commute period highway traffic congestion?

    I have not visited there, but from reading about Singapore, that is what it sounds like.

  4. LazyReader

    You cant build your way out of congestion with the current California govt.
    Maybe 30 years ago, California had the greatest highway system in the world, but they’ve let that fall to shreds.
    Over the last decade, California amassed extensive debt that it will
    have to repay over the coming decades. based on a review of federal, state and local financial disclosures. The
    total includes bonds, loans and other debt instruments as well as
    unfunded pension and other post-employment benefits promised to public
    sector employees. Our estimate of California government debt represents
    about 52% of California’s Gross State Product of $2.48 trillion. That’s 1.3 Trillion in debt.

    $72 billion on new debt was issued in the year ending December 2016. This amounts to a debt increase of about $1,800 percitizen or about $4,600 per taxpayer in only one year (but this is partially offset by maturities and early repayments of exiting issues).

    The estimated California government debt of $1.3 trillion can be allocated back to all residents or just those that pay taxes. Thestate’s population is about 39 million. According to the IRS, about 17 million individual tax returns were filed in 2014. These levels imply California government debt burdens of $33,000 per resident and $74,000 per taxpayer – excluding their share of federal debt.
    Roughly 5 Million people left California in the last decade, it’s population grew by 3.9 million. Since 54% of California’s income tax is attributed to just 5% of it’s citizens. Businesses have been leaving at a rate of 300 per month. Once they finalize the car ban, upper echelon tax and universal healthcare the Exodus will be breathtaking. For every tax paying American who leaves California, 2 low skilled government dependent foreign insurgents on the democrats guest voter program are taking their place.

Leave a Reply