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  • The Katy Freeway in Texas connects Houston's western suburbs with the city's downtown.

  • At its widest point, right here, it spans 26 lanes including parallel roads, before

  • it intersects with another freeway, creating this massive web of pavement. The Katy Freeway

  • is among the widest in the world. But it didn't start out this big. The freeway was initially

  • built in the 1960's with 6 lanes in most places. But as the suburbs and office space

  • around Houston started growing in the 1980' s and 90's and more people began using the

  • freewayit became a traffic nightmare. By 2004, it was ranked the second worst bottleneck

  • in the country. To accommodate the growing commuter class, the city began a nearly 3

  • billion dollar expansion project, to add the additional lanes. The solution seems natural

  • more lanes equals less congestion. But traffic didn't get any better. In fact,

  • it got worse, in both the morning and afternoon commutes.

  • The reason why hinges on a simple economic theory. One that is often overlooked, because

  • actually reducing traffic is far from simple. Highway expansion has gone hand in hand with

  • the suburbanization of American cities like Houston. It becomes a self-fulfilling recipe

  • for urban sprawl: a highway gets built to connect suburbs to a city center, which encourages

  • more development along it, which necessitates even more highways when those get congested

  • and on and on and on. The instinct to widen

  • highways to relieve traffic makes sensebut there's a reason it doesn't work: due

  • to a concept calledinduced demand.” These represent 3 highway lanes. And these

  • balls are the commuters that drive on them. These particular commutersthe red ones

  • will sit in traffic no matter how bad it gets, because they have to. Driving to

  • work on the highway is their only option. Let's say this is what congestion looks

  • like, during peak rush hours. Once a certain number of cars get on the highway, traffic

  • slows to a crawl. Now let's add a new lane. These drivers now have more room to spread

  • outwhich should make traffic flow better. That might happen at first, but it doesn't

  • stay that way. That's because there's another set of

  • people who will take the highway under the right conditionseven though they have

  • other commuting options. When a highway is congested, they might take

  • local roads instead. Or be able to drive during off-peak hours. They might use other modes

  • of transportation, like public transit or biking.

  • Or maybe they can work from home that day and skip the commute altogether. In a few

  • years, these people will start taking the highway, enticed by less congestion. This

  • is induced demand at play: the more supply there is, the more demand will follow, to

  • exhaustion. And in this case, the supply is highway lanes. And sometimes, like on the

  • Katy freeway, congestion gets even worse after a highway expansion, until some of those people

  • with more options go back to their old ways. But in the end, you're still left with more

  • drivers, and congestion that's at least as bad as it was before. When our transportation

  • system is so reliant on highways and private automobiles, there's almost no way around

  • it because that's the system that we've created. This is Kyle Shelton, an urbanist based in

  • Houston. The endless reduction of congestionshould that be...the driving, honestly the

  • driving policy question for a lot of our transportation funding? Big expensive highway infrastructure

  • projects are still the prevailing band-aid to congestion in the US. The transit advocacy

  • group Transportation for America found that between 1993 and 2017, the US added over 30,000

  • miles of new freeway lanes in 100 metro areas. Building more highways may provide some short-term

  • relief. And it's easier than most infrastructure projects to get federal funding to do a highway

  • expansion. But if we want less traffic and fewer drivers, giving flexible commuters better

  • choices is a good place to start. Like by improving public transit by adding more and

  • better bus routes or trains. That alone might not be a silver bullet for congestion relief,

  • for the same reason that adding another lane isn't: new drivers will take the place of

  • transit commuters on the highway. And for many people living off highways in sprawling

  • US cities, public transit may never be an adequate solution.

  • 'Cause it's not just about the infrastructure. It's also about individual behaviors. It's

  • about where job opportunities are located. And most of our cities have now been constructed

  • in this way where the car is the prime mode. Another option is to enact policies that actively

  • disincentivize people from using the highway. Like congestion pricing, which charges people

  • who drive on highways during rush hours. Or remote work programs that deter people from

  • traveling during the highest traffic timesor make it so they don't have to commute

  • at all. And in the long-term, better land use policies can help as well, like by building

  • communities that put people closer to where they need to go. And if building more highways

  • results in more drivers and congestion, then removing them could have the opposite effect.

  • For example, the city of Boston removed a freeway in its city center in the 1990s, and

  • replaced it with a boulevard with biking and bus lanes and more space to walk. It reduced

  • congestion by 62%. And now the Democratically controlled Senate is considering nearly $10

  • billion in funding for similar highway-removal projects in other cities. What we build and

  • invest in in the world of transportation truly changes our behavior.

  • If building more roads makes us drive on them more. Then giving people better choices by

  • investing in the right things, will make us drive less. Because, if we build it, they

  • will come.

The Katy Freeway in Texas connects Houston's western suburbs with the city's downtown.

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B1 Vox highway congestion freeway traffic transit

How highways make traffic worse

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/02/12
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