Drew Carey: We Can Build Our Way out of Congestion

The Reason Foundation has posted a great video about traffic congestion featuring Drew Carey. Carey touts variable-priced high-occupancy toll lanes as a solution to congestion.

The video features California’s SR 91 HOT lanes, which cost anywhere from $1.50 to $9.50 to use depending on the traffic. “Sounds pricey,” says Carey, “but each day about 40,000 people pay the toll.”

“Traffic can often keep parents from picking up kids at day care on time,” says Cary. “Imagine paying five bucks for each minute you are late.” Carey interviews a man who was paying $120 a week for daycare late fees. Now he uses the HOT lanes and saves most of that, plus his time.

Just for fun, Carey gives one lucky commuter a ride to and from work by helicopter. “I had no idea what my neighborhood looked like at 5 pm,” said the commuter. For one day, his 90-minute one-way commute was reduced to 9 minutes.

The Carey video can be downloaded in Quicktime format for replay when you don’t have a high-speed Internet connection. The iPod version is about 100 MB; I didn’t download the HD version.

The Reason.tv site also features a number of other videos, including Robert Poole talking about highway finance and Ted Balaker talking about the myth that new roads simply induce more traffic.

If that is not enough, there are scenes deleted from the Drew Carey video on HOT lanes vs. HOV lanes and what would you pay to end gridlock? (above).

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15 thoughts on “Drew Carey: We Can Build Our Way out of Congestion

  1. aynrandgirl

    I hear what you’re saying, but variable priced toll lanes don’t solve the problem. Freeways are usually the only practical route for most commuters. Variable pricing on all lanes, which is where this whole idea is headed, will in the end only serve to make driving more expensive. Freeways will still be gridlocked due to chronic undercapacity until our governments stop diverting gas taxes and user fees to vanity rail projects and start building roads like they’re supposed to. They won’t, of course, so long as “solving commuter’s complaints makes our rail system undesirable” remains the dominant mode of thinking in government transportation planning.

  2. Dan

    …Ted Balaker talking about the myth that new roads simply induce more traffic.

    It is only a myth if your ideology refuses to believe that new* roads induce** more traffic.

    DS

    *

    The effect of lane mile additions on VMT growth is forecast and found to account for about 15% of annual VMT growth with substantial variation between metropolitan areas. This effect appears to be closely correlated with percent growth in lane miles, suggesting that rapidly growing areas can attribute a greater share of their VMT growth to growth in lane miles.

    **

    The Federal Highway Administration has recently concluded that this phenomenon of “induced traffic” does in fact occur quite frequently in metropolitan areas throughout the United States. Another detailed study has also concluded that traffic in the Bay Area and Los Angeles would actually decrease if no new highway expansion took place. It also determined that two-thirds of the growth in traffic in San Jose and San Diego in the coming decades will be attributable to induced demand.

    A recent study conducted by the U.C. Berkeley Institute for Transportation Studies concluded that 90 percent of all new highway capacity added to California’s metropolitan areas is filled within four years, and 60 percent-70 percent of all new county-level highway capacity is filled within two years. This, authors Mark Hansen and Yuanlin Huang explain, means an additional highway lane-mile constructed in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles or San Diego regions would increase traffic by 10,000-12,000 vehicle-miles traveled per day; in Sacramento and Stockton would equate to 7,000-8,000 additional VMT; and in smaller but nonetheless rapidly growing areas like Modesto, Merced, Monterey and Bakersfield would translate into an additional 3,000-6,000 VMT per day. The authors conclude:

    “Our results suggest that the urban state highway lane miles added since 1970 have, on the whole, yielded little in the way of level of service improvements. Consistent with previous work, we find that increasing highway supply results in higher vehicle miles traveled (VMT). An induced traffic impact of such magnitude must be considered when assessing road capacity enhancements, whether in a broad policy context or on a project specific basis.”

    […]

    “New road capacity will typically lead to new traffic, especially in urban areas, because people and businesses benefit from the mobility that the transportation system provides and seek to use it to their benefit. Ultimately, road use will increase, leading to congestion of new road capacity. For this reason, expansion of the existing transportation will rarely alleviate congestion permanently; however, by restraining demand this tendency can be offset and existing congested roads, as well as new roads, can be made to operate efficiently.”

    […]

    [Because most transportation folks know these facts,] authorities in the United Kingdom [canceled] more than 70 planned highway construction and road expansion projects in the 1990s alone. Similar experiences have been reported by transportation officials in Germany, Holland and Japan.

  3. aynrandgirl

    Dan, what a crock of BS.

    “Another detailed study has also concluded that traffic in the Bay Area and Los Angeles would actually decrease if no new highway expansion took place.”

    In what fantasy land do these people live in? What is going to cause this decrease? The population isn’t going down. Light rail can handle only a fraction of the person-miles a highway lane can.

    “A recent study conducted by the U.C. Berkeley Institute for Transportation Studies concluded that 90 percent of all new highway capacity added to California’s metropolitan areas is filled within four years, and 60 percent-70 percent of all new county-level highway capacity is filled within two years.”

    Proving what, exactly? Did they measure traffic on nearby surface streets to prove this was new demand and not substitute demand? Did they measure commute times for the new traffic? If there’s a new highway I’ll take that instead of surface streets. Even if the new highway becomes full it might still be faster than the previous alternative. Did they adjust for population increases over time to show that lane miles per capita increased after the improvement? Highway projects in CA are so slow to be completed that by the time they’re done lane miles per capita has actually decreased despite the additional capacity.

    “Our results suggest that the urban state highway lane miles added since 1970 have, on the whole, yielded little in the way of level of service improvements.”

    Of course they didn’t, not enough lane miles were built. Lane miles per capita has gone way down since the 1970s despite those additions. It should be no surprise, then, that service quality has decreased.

    “New road capacity will typically lead to new traffic, especially in urban areas, because people and businesses benefit from the mobility that the transportation system provides and seek to use it to their benefit.”

    This is bad because? Why shouldn’t people want and use mobility?

    “expansion of the existing transportation will rarely alleviate congestion permanently”

    Duh! Any planner who thinks in terms of one-time additions is an idiot. Expansion must be regular and continuous.

  4. lgrattan

    Could it be that new jobs are the cause of more road congestion. After the Dot Com crash in 2001 in Silicon Valley we had a lot less road congestion and a lot less jobs.

  5. Dan

    Thank you, arg, and feel free at any time to provide studies, testable hypotheses, empirical evidence, data, equations, models, journal articles, papers, case studies, scribbles on the back of a napkin to back your claims that disagree with the literature. Thank you in advance for one or more of these forms of empirical evidence.

    Nonetheless, as I said above and in one of the mouseovers to the links, you can choose to believe the copious evidence or not.

    DS

  6. Dan

    Could it be that new jobs are the cause of more road congestion. After the Dot Com crash in 2001 in Silicon Valley we had a lot less road congestion and a lot less jobs.

    Yes. New jobs = new people = more traffic. People = traffic.

    Traffic consists of non-discretionary trips (going to work) and discretionary trips (ferrying Brittanie and Trevor to soccer).

    The ITE Trip Generation Manual figures that the average single-family dwelling unit generates 9.1 Trips Per Day (TPD), IIRC. If people are remaining in place yet not working, that eliminates that fraction of the trips on area roadways. I certainly enjoyed the safer biking on the peninsula during that time.

    DS

  7. kzimman

    OK, Dan, let’s take a look at your links and see what’s there…

    I’ll start out with the TRB preprint (your “new*” link). Notice that, in the paper, it said it was talking about “freeways and arterials.” The problem is that not all lane-miles of roadway are considered here. There are a large number of miles of roadway that are classed as “collector” or “local” that are not included in most analyses (or planning models, for that matter). These roadways are not intended for long-distance, cross-zonal travel. They can and sometimes do carry a considerable amount of traffic, though. When the arterials are congested, they get used for “short-cuts” to avoid the congestion. This is why the whole concept of “traffic calming” came about–there were all these people traveling through neighborhoods that weren’t there before, because the neighborhood offered a viable alternative to the overloaded, congested arterials (which were not widened because we “can’t build our way out of congestion”). When an arterial is improved, these folks tend to go back to the arterial because it is now “easier and faster” than the shortcut. That may be the predominant source of what looks like “induced demand.”

    Unfortunately for the other three links, they’re using the same basis. All of this “new” travel had to come from somewhere. It isn’t people hopping in their cars all of a sudden just because a new road is there, and “new” roads aren’t sucking people out of their houses just because they’re there. Heck, we have at least as many cars as people anyway (see any of the recent datasets from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, for example), nobody can drive more than one car at a time (I hope you don’t need a link for this), and car’s aren’t driving themselves yet. There’s an upper limit to “new” travel.

    This lack of data on collectors and locals is probably where the “induced” demand is coming from…or bad data collection, or poor data analysis (not matching origins and destinations completely, for instance), or changing traffic patterns favoring one route over another, or (in the case of the Sierra Club) bias. My opinion is that the idea of “induced” demand comes from cherry-picking the available data, albeit in many cases it’s unintentional because that’s the only data available.

    Just so you know, I am a transportation engineer, and I do have field experience with this area. I have yet to see a traffic forecast that’s correct due to the unknowns involved. I’ve also yet to see a planning model that gives accurate predictions. But, then, all predictions are wrong–some are just more useful than others.

    (I also haven’t figured out how to do linking yet, but I’m getting there.)

  8. aynrandgirl

    “When an arterial is improved, these folks tend to go back to the arterial because it is now “easier and faster” than the shortcut. That may be the predominant source of what looks like “induced demand.”

    That was exactly my point when I used the phrase “substitute demand”. Demand for the freeway is substituted for some other route. Dan appears to think we would ignore that kind of error in measurement.

  9. Dan

    I’ve been over this ground already on this site; that previous thread has additional quotes from linked papers that address the arguments above.

    The arguments above are not borne out by empirical evidence.

    Lastly:

    Just so you know, I am a transportation engineer, and I do have field experience with this area. I have yet to see a traffic forecast that’s correct due to the unknowns involved. I’ve also yet to see a planning model that gives accurate predictions.

    Thank you for your input. Induced demand is a measurable response. Measuring that response is not dependent on forecasts or planning models being accurate.

    DS

  10. kzimman

    “I’ve been over this ground already on this site; that previous thread has additional quotes from linked papers that address the arguments above.”

    And I think those arguments just don’t make much sense.

    Let me try this again. I’m not saying that there isn’t additional travel that occurs on particular roadways. That happens. It’s supposed to happen. It’s vital to the economic health of a city as we in the West have traditionally defined it. That’s why freeway and arterial improvements are done–to move people off of other roadways and onto facilities better suited to long-distance and high-speed travel. It was the whole basis behind the U.S. Highway System–to “get the farmer out of the mud”–and the Interstate Highway System after that (troop movements in nuclear war situations notwithstanding). What I’m saying is that this “induced” traffic is most likely coming from somewhere that isn’t included in the original calculation, for whatever reason.

    What’s being done here is a huge database is being taken, and two variables in it are being compared–growth in population and growth in vehicle-miles traveled. The difference is then “induced travel.” (Duh, right?) This is NOT emperical evidence, this is “number-land.” What are in these databases? How accurate is it? Do these folks know? Do you? I don’t, and I don’t think the researchers know for sure, either.

    What if the estimate of arterial road-miles is wrong, by a considerable fraction? Some states, cities, and towns are very careful about keeping their databases “clean.” Others don’t spend much time or effort, for a variety of reasons, usually related to lack of resources. You’d think this would be obvious, but it’s harder than it looks (as a planner, you certainly know that), and the various databases are not always linked correctly (or at all). We’re not talking about small towns, either–we’re talking about very large cities, like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., and (maybe) their metro areas. This number directly impacts the calculated number of vehicle-miles traveled.

    What about the measured traffic volumes? Most traffic counts are short-duration, and then adjusted using data from a relative few permanent counters. What if the adjustments are off? What if the wrong permanent counter(s) are used to establish the adjustment factors? Plus, some roadways aren’t counted even if they are locally veyr important, again due to resources or a mis-defined functional classification. Again, that affects the number of veh-mi directly.

    Vehicle-miles traveled is also a poor metric because it doesn’t say which actually occurred–more vehicles, more miles of travel, or both. If I drive my car 10 miles, that’s 10 veh-mi. But, if ten people each drive their cars one mile, that’s also 10 veh-mi, and the latter has a very different impact on roadway capacity and infrastructure needs. If all I told you was that there were 10 veh-mi, would you be able to tell which situation occurred?

    (Admittedly, vehicle-miles is the only measure we have, which is unfortunate. If you can think of a better metric, great! Let me know, and I’ll try it out.)

    Lastly, how large an area is being considered in the calculations? Does “Atlanta” mean the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta MSA, the area covered by the Atlanta MPO, or something else? You’ll get a different answer for each one. Let’s say it’s just the City of Atlanta. The City itself won’t grow much percentage-wise, if it grows at all–that’s just what happens with large cities. However, travel from the surrounding region, especially driving from suburbs to jobs within the City and travel from suburbs to shopping in the City, will show up as “induced traffic” above and beyond the small growth of the City itself. Why? The suburbs are growing, too, and generating more traffic, but they weren’t included in an analysis of just the City itself.

    Even if you use a whole MPO-related area, there are still people who work and shop within the MPO but who live outside of it. Same problem. As an MPO grows, more folks choose to live farther and farther away. (That’s been true for at least a couple of thousand years–just look at ancient Roman development patterns. Those who could afford it got as far out of Rome as they could.)

    This is why I’m very skeptical of the concept of “induced traffic.” There’s too much room for magnification of errors in databases and (usually accidental) errors defining the sources of travel. (Logically, these erros should not be magnified in just one direction, but strange things do happen, especially with big numbers.) The researchers involved really don’t know how accurate the data are in those databases–they’re counting on others to ensure data quality, which may or may not happen. The metric is poor–you can’t tell if there’s more miles of travel, or more vehicles traveling, or both. When you put all of those together, you get something that’s just not very reliable. Using this information as a general guide is one thing. Using it to “prove” there is “induced traffic” is another–I just don’t think you can.

    Obviously, you’re getting my opinion here, Dan. We’re probably not going to agree on this issue. I just don’t think your linked sources “proved” anything except that you can get strange things out of a database.

  11. Dan

    Lots of questions. In some circles, asking questions turns into ‘there are questions about the research’ and this gets carried around and voilà! a new talking point about how the myth has been debunked again.

    Surely we don’t think these questions negate the findings of people who almost certainly have thought of them during the research process, as they are unanswerable without input from the researchers, who likely have answers.

    But never mind that. You have an obvious expertise and thus have a responsibility to the mortoring world to let these researchers know their findings may be flawed without answers to the questions above. This leads to the obvious conclusion that the literature may be flawed, and the actions of many countries to address induced demand are flawed too, thus confirming our beliefs that induced demand is a myth.

    Please share with the group the researchers’ replies and any manuscripts you may have that expands upon the extand literature, or share the data you have but didn’t include above (for obvious reasons).

    DS

  12. the highwayman

    We have no shortage of road space, it’s just under valued. If people had to pay for every mile that they drove, instead of the current highway welfare system things would be different.

    Now with the second video, it’s amazing how high volume mass production brings down prices!

  13. the highwayman

    aynrandgirl Says:
    I hear what you’re saying, but variable priced toll lanes don’t solve the problem. Freeways are usually the only practical route for most commuters. Variable pricing on all lanes, which is where this whole idea is headed, will in the end only serve to make driving more expensive. Freeways will still be gridlocked due to chronic undercapacity until our governments stop diverting gas taxes and user fees to vanity rail projects and start building roads like they’re supposed to. They won’t, of course, so long as “solving commuter’s complaints makes our rail system undesirable” remains the dominant mode of thinking in government transportation planning.

    THWM: That’s pure bullshit, it was the government building FREEways that helped to create the mess in the first place.

  14. the highwayman

    craig Says:
    Density creates congestion not roads

    Build a 10 land freeway in eastern Oregon and see if it fills up

    THWM: That’s bullshit!

    This isn’t a question of density, this is question of demand.

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