The soviets had a successful policy for minimizing traffic congestion: keep people too poor to drive. Environmentalists today want to use the same policy: tax the heck out of gasoline; prevent the development of Alberta tar sands (“keep the tar sands oil in the soil” says one group); stop the development of natural gas.
The policy seems to be working. Thanks to the recession, Inrix says traffic congestion has declined in most U.S. urban areas. The worst congestion now is in Honolulu, followed closely by Los Angeles.
Inrix scores are based on actual measurements of traffic. A score of 10 means it takes an average of 10 percent more time to get anywhere in an urban area than it would take without congestion. Since that’s a 24-hour average, a score of 10 probably equals a score of 30 or 40 during rush hour–that is, rush-hour travel takes 30 or 40 percent more time than if there were no congestion. Honolulu’s 2011 score of 24 must represent a score of 50 or more during rush hour.
Not surprisingly, the pro-rail people in Honolulu claim that the city’s $6 billion rail line will somehow solve the congestion problem. “Rail transit is the only thing can save our transportation system from a complete meltdown,” they claim. Not likely. Rail will serve too few destinations and carry too few riders to do anything about Oahu’s traffic congestion.
Despite spending billions on a rail network far more extensive than the planned Honolulu rail line, transit’s share of Portland commuting has remained flat. When counting the Portland area as a whole, it has fallen from 9.8 percent before rail was built to 7.1 percent in 2010. Honolulu buses currently have some of the highest market shares of major cities; a falling share is not going to relieve congestion.
The dream of a compact Portland served by transit and bicycles has turned into a nightmare that Portland business leaders are rejecting. It doesn’t do much good to be the nation’s number one bicycle city is bicycling still represents only about 5 or 6 percent of travel. It is worth noting that the most congested cities, according to Inrix, also tend to be the most compact, i.e., have the highest population densities.