Gordon Price

Councillor, City of Vancouver

Director, TransLink



This paper is posted at the

Victoria Transport Policy Institute




(February, 2001)





A Local Politician’s Guide to Urban Transportation is a P3 project: it's personal, political and (possibly) provocative. 


It is still in draft.  I do reserve the right to say at some future point that what I wrote in the past was wrong or just plain dumb. (You can advise me on which particular parts you think those might be.)


It certainly is missing things, particularly Canadian content.  Much of the history of transportation on this continent is an American story - or at least most of what has been written is American.  References and original material about Canada would be greatly appreciated.  Nonetheless, we find ourselves in much the same predicament as the U.S., for many of the same reasons.  The lessons, I think, are mutually relevant.


There is also a distinct Vancouver focus, not surprisingly, that I hope to broaden over time.  Unavoidably, this analysis is largely about big cities, particularly big growing cities.  If the population (both of people and cars) of a place is not significantly increasing, then the pressure and speed of change will not be as great as it is in a place like Vancouver.  But if a region continues to sprawl, even without population growth, it will likely experience similar dilemmas.


I have focused primarily on the problem of vehicle congestion; there isn't a lot about the particular problems of transit, cycling and other alternatives.  That's because the primary political problem of transportation (both of reality and perception) is vehicle congestion.






Gordon Price

Councillor, City of Vancouver, B.C.

Director, TransLink





  "Careful, you may run out of planet." 

          - ad for a sport-utility vehicle


Pity the politician who promises to fix the urban transportation problem.  Traffic congestion may be their constituents' No. 1 frustration, but given the resources and policy levers available to local government, there's only so much that can be done, and it's not nearly enough.


We know we can't just build our way out of congestion, and so we speak highly of alternative transportation options and better land-use policies.  But these take time, and meanwhile drivers demand action.  Their conclusion: someone do something!


Voters, however, want their infrastructure carrots before the fiscal sticks.  But even the nature of our vehicle-based transportation system, with continually expanding demand, concrete solutions are often temporary or ineffectual - and staggeringly expensive.  A billion dollars isn't much in the transportation game.


Politicians intuitively appreciate that transportation policy is rooted in feelings. Feelings about our cars, feelings about our homes and neighbourhoods (places made possible by the car), and feelings (often guilt or frustration) about the consequences of our choices.


Politicians must appreciate that individuals can hold completely contradictory views about the automobile, depending on whether their point of view at the time is personal or collective.


Individually, people may view attempts to reduce car use as hopeless or misguided - when it applies to them.  Their lives may be unimaginable without unlimited access to the car.  Lifestyles, communities and cultures have been shaped by the car for as long as anyone can remember. Alternatives are believed to be unrealistic or unacceptable. People may be physically unable to cope without an engine to aid mobility, obesity being partly a consequence of the extravagant use of hydrocarbons.


However, these same people can also be heartily in favour of drastic actions to reduce car use - when it applies to others.  Through traffic racing down their residential street must be curtailed.  Air quality cannot be allowed to further deteriorate.  Restrictions on buses and trucks should be rigorously enforced.


Nothing so well represents the contradiction as the rise of the SUV.  At a time when society is supposedly concerned about air quality, traffic congestion and road safety, why did we suddenly start buying bigger, more polluting and more dangerous cars? 


Possibly because the decision to buy was made by individuals, pursuing their own self interest, with no constraints or considerations at the time of sale as to the collective consequences.  (Here, as well, advertising played a critical role: it positioned the SUV as an 'environmental' vehicle, able to get people closer to the outdoors and natural environment.) (1)


Locally, the response to a vehicle levy proposed by TransLink (the regional transportation agency) for improved transportation also reflected this individual/collective dichotomy.  Most of the discussion at the initial stages of TransLink's strategic plan was about the infrastructure we needed collectively for our community to function.  People understood the need to jointly pay for what we wanted.  The plan passed unanimously.  But the consensus fell apart when it became clear that the car would have to be individually taxed. (2)  (Raising transit fares passed almost without comment.)


Without an appreciation of the assumptions inherent in our auto-centric society (often unrecognized), we won't understand the real nature of the problem.




The Critical Expectation

Politicians are faced with a paradox: the pursuit of self-interest leads to unfortunate collective consequences that threaten the individual benefits achieved.  Simply put: As more people want to drive the open road, less likely is the road to be open. 


Vehicle miles traveled around the U.S. have increased by 70 percent over the last 20 years, compared with a two percent increase in new highway construction.  The U.S. General Accounting Office predicts that road congestion in the U.S. will triple in 15 years even if capacity is increased by 20 percent. (3)


In the Greater Vancouver Regional District, peak traffic volume is estimated to rise 60 percent in the next two decades - and that's after we've made substantial improvements and added capacity to both our road and transit systems. (4)


Yet advertising, that most powerful of influences, markets mobility and freedom.  We see the most beautiful images of the car on the open road.  Those ads sell many things - freedom, power, individuality, success and youth - but every ad reinforces one big idea: the car is never constrained by an excess number of other cars.  You never see the car caught in congestion. (5)


The freely moving car on the open road is one of our society's most hallowed images, synonymous with success, reinforced over many generations, marketed to the world - and yet increasingly frustrated at every turn.  Cars and trucks are getting bigger and more powerful, engineered to be capable of speeds well beyond any legal limit, even as the roads become more clogged and average speeds decrease.  This disconnect between promise and reality has produced responses of both rage and passivity, with an underlying sense of betrayal. (6) This is not the way it was supposed to be.


People have always assumed that as we buy more cars, we will build more roads.  Each purchaser takes for granted that there will always be room for one more. Always room for one more - an assumption that there will be essentially unlimited capacity.   


That is what traffic engineers have been trained for: to provide enough capacity to meet demand, which, if there is always room for one more, must be theoretically infinite.  Their job is to translate infinity into reality.


In fact, engineers are never asked to determine what the upper limit on capacity should be -and how we could maintain that limit - so that the vehicles which do use a properly managed system could function efficiently.  To do so would imply a limit on the number of cars that can be served, and hence destroy the illusion on which the car industry and our planning is based.


The Practical Limit

Constituents expect problems of congestion to be solved, but not at their individual expense.  People want carrots, not sticks - but don't want to pay for expensive carrots and don't want the sticks to hurt.  Each wants the other to use transit. 


The politician is caught between the expectation that enough room needs to be provided for an ever-increasing number of vehicles and the reality that there is not enough space, tax dollars or community support to do so. 


Consider, for instance, the growth in vehicles in the Greater Vancouver Regional District.  Currently, there are 1.1 million motor-vehicles.  Each year that number increases by about 23,000 - 63 more vehicles per day, about three per hour, another car or truck every 20 minutes.


The average car length is about 15 feet.  We'd need another 65 miles of asphalt just to park a year's worth of cars, and about 260 miles of single-lane roadway if they were all to drive safely at 30 mph (or about 105 km to park, and about 420 km to drive at 50 kph).


To be conservative, let's cut the demand to a tenth of that.  If we wanted to build only 26 miles (42 km) of new roadway by widening existing roads by one lane each (say, five arterials in Vancouver), we would have to spend (very conservatively) about $20 million in construction costs. 


But the real expense is land, particularly along the routes on which the traffic concentrates - those that lead to the town centre.  Since almost all roads leading into Downtown Vancouver have residential zoning along them (and the average house price in Vancouver is $343,000), a billion dollars might get us most of the way if we were to purchase the houses on one side of five arterials running through the city (say, First, Renfrew, Knight/Clark, Oak and Granville - equal to about one year's demand for road space) to widen them by one lane. (7) 


The political prospects of that scenario are something less than zero.  Even trying to acquire a few feet of property for a left-hand-turn bay at a major intersection can take years.  If expropriation is required, the City would certainly end up paying massive legal fees - and the prospect of forcibly evicting thousands of people to widen roads is out of the question.


Even after the roads are widened, the real need for space remains largely unmet.  The car must be parked, usually many times a day, and there must be a piece of asphalt waiting at every destination.  If underground, the cost of a single parking space easily exceeds $15,000.  If surface, then the land must be cheap and the densities low in order to provide sufficient space. 


Parking standards have increasingly driven urban design for most of the century.  The need for wide roads and abundant parking is the reason why the endless strips of commercial frontage now appear everywhere and why the dominant form of commerce is the decorated box in the midst of the asphalt parking lot, with the big sign out front to attract the speeding passer-by.


Unfortunately, the result is a kind of placelessness, unfriendly to every mode save the car and truck.  The corollary, of course, is that most places worth going to have parking problems.  (Notice that advertisements for automobiles frequently show the car in places where there are narrow streets, abundant landscaping, historic architecture and often no visible parking - all impossible or unlikely under most cities’ zoning codes.)


Who Pays?

Given the limits to road expansion, it's no surprise, then, that every car added to the road means less remaining space for those already there.  That makes the space more valuable as it becomes scarcer.  So what do we do?


We give it away for free.  There's no cost to use the road no matter how much space is used or how often - unlike the per-trip cost of transit and taxis.  Consequently, there's an incentive to take advantage of unfilled road space.  And so it is.  


Take, for example, the Ford Excursion, the biggest sport-utility vehicle ever, over 19 feet long.  Ford makes more than C$20,000 pre-tax profit with each sale, significantly more than the profit on smaller cars.  But Ford does not pay a cent to any municipality to build the additional space its product requires, save for the property tax on its dealerships. (8) If Ford had to pay for the marginal cost of the space the Excursion will take up, the vehicle would cost $60,000 but the marginal cost of the new space could be $106,000.


It is the local taxpayer who will pay, not the automobile company - the same local taxpayer who, though willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a new car, would be distressed at the prospect of paying hundreds of dollars in new taxes for more road space if charged directly at the time of sale. 


So the cars and trucks keep coming, they keep getting bigger, and the expectation remains that government will build and maintain the needed road space, and it will get the money largely from local property taxpayers.  And it can't be done.


A Charge by Other Means

From the individual's point of view, driving more and driving longer continues to make sense.  Why?  Because the roadway is seen to be 'free' - and so, typically, is the next trip.  The marginal cost of the car is practically zero, at least when measured by the amount of money taken out of pocket.  Except for the occasional cost of parking (over 90 percent of parking is free for most people), everything else has been covered - purchase price, insurance, gas - regardless of how much may be owed.  The next trip appears to cost nothing ... and we tend to use a lot of something that seems to be free.


Because the price of highway space is so low, we pay by other means.  Just as cheap land leads to sprawl and cheap energy to pollution, cheap road space has led to congestion.  Congestion is the means by which we price the value of the space.  It works, but we hate it.


Many economists and environmentalists have suggested 'road pricing' as a more rational way to allocate a scarce resource.  But pricing the road is a touchy political problem.  The road is our commons.  No matter who you are, you have the same right to the road.  Rich or poor, powerful or weak, you are equal, even if you're caught in the same congestion.  Especially when you're caught in the same congestion.  To price the road on a per-trip or distance basis would change the status of road users.  People would no longer feel equal. 


Both the rich and poor feel they have a stake in the free roadway and the cheap car.  To maintain the auto as a low-cost form of transportation means the poor meet the rich on common ground, while the de-facto subsidy for the rich remains disproportionately large.  The left defends the free road so the poor can drive farther for cheaper housing and needed work.  The right opposes the tax grab that road pricing would entail.  The politician has little ground on which to stand. (9)


We are confronted with a dilemma of our own making: limited resources, infinite demand.  The only realistic tool we have - congestion - is seen as the problem, not as a necessary consequence.  Those who benefit don't proportionately pay, and don't want to.  We look for rational solutions for a problem largely emotional in character.  We talk limits but we avoid action. 


So how did we get into this in the first place?






In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model T.  His genius was evident not only in the development of the assembly line but also in the creation of the mass market.  By paying his workers $5 a day, they could afford the $850 car.  Personal, affordable transportation for the average man (and freedom from the transportation monopolies) became a reality.


"I will build a motor car for the great multitude," said Ford, "so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessings of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."  (10)


Of course, never again would the spaces be quite so open.  The building of roads and the conquest of a continent were synonymous.  In 1919, an army convoy struggled to cross America.  Among the officers was a young lieutenant named Dwight D.  Eisenhower.  The army discovered, not surprisingly, that the trip was almost impossible.


The Great Compact

When asked about the lack of good roads, Henry Ford was said to have replied: If we build the cars, they'll build the roads. 


Road-building soon became the greatest public-private partnership in history.  For most of this century, our auto-based transportation system has been built on this understanding: the Private Sector will produce the vehicles and the Public Sector will build the pathways.  


There is no real constraint on the number of vehicles the private sector can produce.  Government, however, undertakes to build the roads and bridges necessary.  For most of the 20th century, government has devoted huge resources to constructing road capacity, to the point where people believe it is an entitlement.


Consider the irony: at the turn of the century, good roads were first promoted by cyclists.  In the U.S., roads were frequently built to give vehicles access to the first national parks (Yellowstone, Yosemite and Rainier) and to scenic wilderness (the Columbia Gorge Highway).  Consider the image: roads were wide-open highways to wide-open spaces. 


The first problems were elsewhere.


Congestion in the City Functional

Rather quickly, it became apparent that there wasn't enough space for everyone downtown.  The streetcar and the motor-vehicle just couldn't get along.  The streetcar lost.  Throughout the inter-war period, transit systems lost revenues, capital and the political support needed to grow.  "Strangulation" was the word used to describe traffic conditions in the city. 


Consequently, cities were redesigned to serve the automobile.  In Los Angeles, for instance, the Major Traffic Street Plan of 1924 led to the widening of arterial roads in a crosstown grid.  Little attention or money was paid to the transit system.  Vancouver in 1928 undertook a similar treatment - another "City Functional" plan authored by Harland Bartholomew (who helped author the 1924 L.A. plan) that became the basis for street improvements through to the 1980s. 


The success achieved by the expenditure of many millions on public works was short-lived: increasing the traffic capacity of major roads eventually made the existing problem worse. Wider streets eased congestion and encouraged more residents to leave public transportation for their automobiles, leading to more congestion. By 1930, the Traffic Commission of Los Angeles once again despaired that "traffic conditions ... are becoming chaotic."


Romance of the Open Road

The congestion in the city made the desire to escape all the stronger.  Among the first major urban roads in North American cities were parkways.  Frederick Law Olmsted designed 1,400-foot-wide swaths of green through Brooklyn in the early 1860s, modelled after the verdant avenues of Paris. 


In 1936, Robert Moses's improvements to Riverside Park on the west side of Manhattan allowed the creation of a curving parkway through upper Manhattan.  The Henry Hudson Parkway needed only to be connected to the Bronx River Parkway, the first grade-separated road in America, to provide a useful commuter route out of Manhattan.


The consequences on land development were initially unforeseen.  In the late 1920s, the parkways connected the city (still served mainly by mass transit) to lower densities and to the amenities of the countryside - at least for the prosperous middle-class.  After World War II, the mass-production of suburban houses pioneered at Levittown on Long Island and at Lakewood in Los Angeles realized the possibilities of a new way of life for more and more people - one increasingly dependent on the car.


Cold-War Commitment: the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956

Automobile industrialists such as Carl Fisher had been pushing for national routes like the Packard-sponsored Lincoln Highway since before World War I.  The Bureau of Public Roads under 'Chief' Tom MacDonald assembled the coalition needed to drive a public-roads agenda.  Federal-aid highway acts, beginning as early as 1916, gave the federal government a role in promoting the creation of state highway departments and in providing matching funding for a coordinated system of national roads.


The New York Regional Plan of 1929 had proposed a comprehensive motorway system connecting 22 counties across three states.  An auto-centric vision of the future was unveiled in the General Motors pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair, portraying an urban region of separated uses with unparalleled mobility, made possible by sweeping, infinite arterials of freely flowing traffic.  Frank Lloyd Wright contributed his Utopian vision in Broadacre City.


With the Depression and War, pressure on road space eased even as thousands of new miles were constructed.  In the 1930s, planning was already underway for freeways, styled after the German autobahn system and pioneered in California along the Arroyo Seco, connecting Pasadena and Downtown L.A.  But the money needed for such vast visions was insufficient.


As Allied military leader in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower had seen the German autobahn network first-hand (contrasting it, no doubt, with what he seen on his cross-continent expedition of 1919).  In 1956, as President, he signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, unleashing billions of dollars through the Highway Trust Fund to build the interstate freeway system: the largest public works project in human history. 


The Interstates are the single biggest engineering projects of any town or city they go through.  They changed the economy and culture of America.  The system - over 40,000 miles criss-crossing a continent - was largely built out in two decades.  Towns and cities hardly knew what hit them. 


Unlike the German autobahn system, the Interstates go to and through the centres of urban regions, built to the same standards as those that pass through open country.  This required vast amounts of land and the expropriation and destruction of any pre-existing urban fabric in the way. 


Freeways were thrust into downtown cores in an attempt to give easy access to and from the burgeoning suburbs.  In the end, those same central areas were weakened or destroyed by the roads on which the middle-class fled.  Retail services, businesses and jobs withdrew to the new main streets of suburbia - the belt freeways.


At the time, mostly good things seemed to happen.  Suburbia was the fulfillment of an American (and Canadian) Dream built on insured mortgages, technically magnificent infrastructure for water and roads, cheap land and even cheaper energy.  The lifestyle made possible was broadly shared, optimistic, ebullient. 


And Government was now ahead of its obligation to build sufficient road capacity to meet a rapidly expanding need. 


The Free Way

If good roads were good for business, it seemed reasonable that more roads would mean more prosperity, thereby justifying a no-charge philosophy for the pathway. (11) Before the 1950s, bridges and freeways weren’t necessarily free: users paid tolls.  But thanks to an aggressive lobby by truckers and road builders, Government created a continent-spanning system of highways that would, with the exception of older roads and bridges in the east, seem to the casual driver to be unlimited and free. 


Just as in the United States, Canadians also undertook to build massive new and 'free' infrastructure.  Indeed, Canada was ahead of the Americans in authorizing federal funding for the Trans-Canada Highway in 1949.


Vancouver, the country's most modern city, hired consultants direct from Los Angeles, who like Bartholomew suggested that Vancouver should build something rather like the Los Angeles system.  What they proposed for Vancouver would have laid concrete on elevated decks, in tunnels and trenches over and through much of the lands now sprouting residential towers.   


The Partnership Broken

In an historic turning point, Vancouver refused to build any freeways at all.  It was the most important thing that never happened.  The City had broken the agreement: no more roads, no matter how many more cars.


By the early 1970s, in almost every major city, citizens and councils rejected freeways that meant the destruction of the city's fabric.  But it was the lack of sufficient financial resources that effectively ended the freeway era.  Instead, vehicle growth would have to be absorbed on existing streets, the heritage of the street improvements of the 1920s.


However, by not building more road space, Government was violating an essential condition of the partnership.  Since car buyers couldn't individually purchase the space on which to run the cars they bought, there wouldn't be as much room for each new car on the road.  Driving conditions would noticeably worsen.  So too would the cost of insurance, accidents and the quality of life.  The dream of the car - flowing freely along beautifully engineered roads - ran into the reality of congestion, faster even than in the 1920s.


As it turned out, it wouldn't have mattered even if Vancouver had built the freeways.  As people consumed the road space at ever-faster rates (a consequence of an urban form dependent on cars and a distribution system dependent on trucks), the freeways filled up.  Cities with good rapid-transit systems faced road congestion; cities with great freeway networks faced congestion; cities with neither faced congestion.


Congestion, it turns out, is an inevitable consequence when the private sector produces an unlimited number of vehicles and expects the public sector to spend limited resources to build an unlimited amount of space for them to run on.  Alternative transportation options may help accommodate growth beyond congestion, but they cannot prevent congestion.


So what, then, do we do?



Don't Spend Money

This is tough to say.  There's little gain in spending money just to solve congestion problems by building more road space.  Going into debt and raising taxes won't help much in the long run.


Building more roads has had virtually no impact on the growth of traffic congestion in major urban areas in the U.S. in the last 15 years.  Data from the Texas Transportation Institute revealed that urban areas which added more lanes spent roughly $30.8 billion more than those that didn't.  Yet the average of TTI’s Roadway Congestion Index for the two groups is almost identical, at .93 and .92.  As the saying goes, widening roads to ease traffic congestion is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt. 


For thirty years now the City of Vancouver has built little new capacity for the car.

Yet the result of limited capacity and expensive parking has been by general agreement one of the most livable cities on the continent.  This is not a coincidence.  


Congestion is Our Friend

Since congestion is inevitable, given the current circumstances, we might as well figure out how it can help us. 


If the car and truck are to move freely on a road system with limited capacity, somewhere there has to be a constraint on the number of vehicles that can be accommodated.  It makes more sense to decide where congestion is best located, rather than allowing unlimited demand to erode the integrity of the entire network.


Example: Lions Gate Bridge.  The bridge reached its design capacity sometime in the late 1950s, and the cars have been backing up ever since. This grand-daddy of all choke points in the Lower Mainland is now a North Shore tradition.  (The politeness of the zipper, where several lanes of cars merge together, is actually a source of community pride.) 


The bridge and causeway through Stanley Park have provided excellent storage, allowing vehicles to be filtered onto the downtown peninsula in manageable quantities by the signal system.  Otherwise, cars would congest where the damage would be maximized - on the complex grid of downtown streets.  The decision to maintain the bridge to its existing three-lane capacity was a key transportation decision in the 1990s.  In return, the experience for the driver has been improved with the widening of the lanes. 


Some would give no ground to the car; others would take no ground away.  The challenge is to find a limit on capacity that ultimately benefits the users of the transportation system and the communities affected, without gratuitously punishing those who accept the limits.


[And what about the argument that free-flowing traffic is better because it reduces pollution; hence widening roads to reduce congestion is justified because it's good for the environment?  Simply put, it isn't true.  In fact, the higher speeds that vehicles drive at on freeways is generating pollution at higher rates than previously assumed, and traffic calming results in lower emissions that conventional wisdom has assumed. (12)]


Maximum Desirable Capacity

Once it's accepted that capacity will be limited, the question immediately arises: how much is enough?  What level of traffic do we want to achieve? 


Engineers can determine the level of service for any particular road: Level of service 'A', for example, is where the volume of traffic is so low that the design of the highway actually dictates the maximum safe speed for the vehicles.  Level of service 'F' is capacity failure: a very long parking lot with only occasional movement.  The assumption, of course, is that in an ideal world the 'F's should be 'A's, even if in reality things are heading the other way.


It would be more helpful to know what the 'desirable' capacity should be, given the need for freely moving traffic with the least negative effects, controlled by 'metering' points that allow the rest of the system to function.  Metering is already used at many freeway on-ramps to prevent saturation of the roadway.  Bridges, likewise, provide points where flows can be regulated.  Traffic should be stopped or slowed at certain places so the system as a whole can function, with feedback mechanisms that both explain and reassure the driver that short-term delay will provide eventual benefit.     


Once we decide what we want and why we want it (which is a political decision, not a technical one), we can then ask engineers and planners, in co-operation with the communities affected, to design a system which has a reasonable chance of providing it.  We have to accept that this is a subjective process, art as much as science.  These are issues of quality, not quantity.  We may wish, in some instances, slower moving traffic because it's quieter and safer.  Hence the "desirable" in MDC.


We also need to know what the most desirable combination of vehicles is: how many buses, trucks, cars and bikes generate the best results, given the stated desires of the community.  Those will vary, of course, and so should the nature of the traffic.


Intelligent Transportation Systems

Even if MDC can be agreed on, can it be achieved?  Perhaps not - but at least we should know when we've passed it.  Tomorrow, perhaps, the goal can be met, given the new tools that technology will provide us.  Intelligent Transportation Systems can be used to manage the system within the limits we've agreed to, and to provide better information on the alternatives.


Intelligent Transportation Systems take the latest communications technologies and apply them to the transportation network (highways, bridges, transit systems and intermodal points), including the cars, buses, trucks and trains on them, to achieve better management through integration and information.


Examples: traffic-signal synchronization, real-time transit scheduling, electronic toll collection and fare payment, faster emergency responses, and extensive traveler information delivery.  Freeway management systems, primarily through ramp metering, have reduced crashes by a quarter to a half.  Electronic fare payment for transit systems have resulted in increased revenues up to a third.  ITS has huge implications for commercial vehicles, providing opportunities for electronic clearance at borders and ports, as well as automated roadside safety inspections. 


Too often, unfortunately, ITS is sold as a way to raise capacities, shoving more vehicles more efficiently onto the road.  It's the same old illusion.  (13)


What's Good for Goods Movement

Truckers can measure the cost of congestion quite specifically, and they aggressively lobby for more road space to reduce congestion.  But they don't want to pay directly for the additional benefit.  Historically, they've been the strongest advocates for the free road.  Car drivers have gone along, even though they've disproportionately paid, because they get the free road too - leading to the congestion that frustrates the trucker.


The more difficult but more effective solution is to charge appropriately for special-purpose facilities where justified - say, to port facilities and intermodal exchanges.   The price of the road space could (and in fact should) be appropriately included in the cost of the goods delivered.  Since we pay one way or the other, the fairer way is user pay.


Pricing for Benefits

Here's one recipe:  Free up existing space by charging for priority use.  If trucks and car pools are caught in congestion, allocate a HOT lane - a High Occupancy Toll lane - for their use.  Then use the money for alternatives, such as transit. 


Again, technology will help.  Intelligent Transportation Systems provide us with the opportunity to both increase the utility of the road and to charge for the value received without having to stop traffic or impose highly visible and resented tolls.  (14)


Environmental concerns, particularly climate change, will help justify action.  When the majority of greenhouse gases come out of the tailpipe, and every push of the accelerator may be moving us more quickly towards the vagaries of climate change and the disruption of our environment, is not some individual sacrifice worth the price? 


And shouldn't vehicle users be paying directly for the pollution they generate?  Industry does.  Why not cars?


Pricing the road and freeing up existing space for those who really need the room is a far better way to grow for everyone.  It has a better chance of succeeding than the pretense that we will build our way out of congestion without having to pay for it or trying to apply general-purposes taxes. (15)


But, remember, public opinion may well be hostile because the price is very visible and the 'commons' is less equitably shared.  There must be a demonstrable benefit for those who are charged, and it must be visible.


Charging for Parking

In the Central Area of Vancouver, we have traffic-calmed neighbourhoods and eliminated vast amounts of free parking.  (In the West End, 85 percent of street and lane parking is assigned to residents, for which they pay a yearly fee.)  Meter parking runs to 8 pm, even on Sundays. Parking must be paid for in parks.


Charging for parking is perhaps the only 'TDM' (Transportation Demand Management) measure that has really worked. (16) One result: the number of vehicles flowing in and out of the core has levelled off and is actually beginning to drop, even as the residential population doubles and tourism significantly increases.


People have a huge incentive to stay in cars when they get free parking.  But to get the benefit of "free parking" they have to spend over $7,000 a year on paying for and operating their vehicles (according to the Canadian Automobile Association). (17) By getting that parking benefit as cash on their paycheque, they'd be free to choose other means, potentially saving $7,000 and still collecting the $150 per month for transportation costs that 'free' parking actually costs.


The challenge is to market that concept to employers who need to see the savings on their bottom line.   Since a single space of structured parking can easily cost $15,000, a reduction in need has enormous impacts on the cost of building and subsequent lease rates. 


However, unless parking is universally costed, those who offer it for 'free' have a competitive advantage over those who charge.  They also escape, so far, the scrutiny of Revenue Canada.  Though a transit pass provided by an employer is considered a taxable benefit, free parking is not, so long as it unassigned. 



In order to avoid the difficult choices, community leaders and politicians champion increased public transit.  And since such systems are massively expensive, they are sold with the promise that they will reduce congestion on the roadways.


Such promises load transit with unrealistic expectations.  There are few cities in the world with excellent mass transit systems that don't also have traffic congestion.  The presence of the former does not guarantee the absence of the latter, so long as more vehicles continue to be sold than for road space available.  Transit may help handle additional growth when road capacity is limited, but given 'free' use of the roadway drivers won't likely see any fewer cars in front of them.


Transit investments are still justified, particularly to handle transportation demand in a more efficient and environmentally benign way - but, to repeat, it won't solve the congestion problem if growth in vehicles saturates the capacity available.  Transit is best at helping to shape the city, directing growth to places that can be designed to be less car dependent, and to accommodate growth in transportation demand once congestion has limited the road space. 


Most people, in truth, have wanted the kind of city best served by car: low-density, single-family, single-use.  Ironically, in order for that city to function without debilitating congestion, it needs a good transit system, one appropriately scaled to the kind of city where the automobile retains a significant role.  The car cannot function efficiently without transportation alternatives, and transit must be integrated into a transportation system where the car is still considered essential. (18)


Latent Demand / Latent Supply

The good news: there is a huge latent supply.  There are a lot of unneeded trips in cars.  If we get even some of those trips off the road, we will have solved a good portion (not all) of the problem - at a very low price. 


People have considerable discretion - more than they believe.  For people to give up the occasional car trip and find a substitute can be surprisingly easy to do when people so desire, and the pay-off is big. 


Often the impediment to using other options is that people no longer are conversant or comfortable with them.  They don't know how to use a bus - what it costs, how to transfer, what time to allocate - and they are not comfortable with the social implications.  Increasingly, they have never had a 'learning' experience.


The most significant rite of passage in a young person's life is the day they get a driver's licence.  By the time they've reached 16, they must already be familiar and comfortable with a broad range of transportation choices so that automobile is not seen as the only option for every trip.  Such programs as 'Way To Go,' which encourages children to walk and cycle to school, are critical to future success. (19)


City Building

It has taken almost a century of building for the car to get us to our current dilemma.  It will take some considerable time to achieve long-term solutions.  Ultimately, they can only be found in the way we build our cities.  We will have to establish virtuous cycles to offset the vicious ones, where success leads to more success.  Fortunately, we can see places where it's beginning to happen.


Take, for instance, Vancouver - or at least its Central Area, where growth is concentrated. The megaprojects that now dominate the skyline occupy those lands once slated for freeways.  Instead of paying for the capital costs of a freeway system, on which we would now be spending millions to maintain, Vancouver is using its capital dollars to build alternative ways of moving about the city - on transit, bike and foot.  As these alternatives are developed, we are noticing a stabilization of vehicles coming in and out of the core.  


In fact, throughout the City of Vancouver people are creating new mental maps. The bikeway and greenway system - our legacy to future generations - is a hub-and-spoke system, too, only it gives people who have only perceived urban space through their windshields, timed out in kilometres per hour, a whole new experience.  As they navigate the bikeway and greenway system, they learn anew how their neighbourhoods feel and how they in turn connect with other communities in new and pleasurable ways.  And the system itself is cost-effective, mixed in use, flexible, beautiful and safe.


Given enough choice, people adapt and the city reflects the changes.  Here's a small but indicative one.  At Sunset Beach at the entrance to False Creek, parking is no longer free.  Since the number of stalls needed is less, the freed-up space was barricaded off for roller hockey and blade training.  It's a win-win-win: Parks Board gets revenues, skaters get play space, drivers get sufficient parking.



There is no single solution.  Top-down planning can never be comprehensive enough or flexible enough.  Give people enough transportation options and they can by and large work out their own solutions.  That in turn is dependent on the design and integration of land-use and transportation choices.


Ideally, people should have at least five choices - feet, bike, transit, taxi and vehicle - and the ability to mix and match them appropriate to the kind of trip and the circumstances faced.  The combinations and the mix make it all work.


The trip is only a few blocks?  Walking is best.  It's raining?  Grab a taxi.  The trip is around five kilometres?  Cycling may be the faster alternative.  Going to a town centre in the suburbs?  Try transit.  Heading to Whistler?  Train, perhaps - or car.  Yes, the car is perfectly appropriate for many trips, but not all.  Once the car is used less frequently, needs may be met more affordably by a car co-op or the occasional rental, with considerable savings.


Of course, the provision of alternatives assumes a city designed around more than the car - and a citizenry comfortable with the choices.  In the end, the answers are found in the plans we have to implement.  Concentrate growth.  Build complete communities.  Provide transportation choice. 


But to do so, we will first have to be aware of the impediments to success, rooted in the unrealistic beliefs and assumptions we have associated with the success of the car. (20)



Notes and Articles


(1) Warning: Media and Opinion

When it comes to the car, always remember that much of the media make substantial revenues from automobile advertising. 


Unapologetic promotion is most apparent in the auto sections of newspapers, but assumptions of the auto-centric society can be found in the editorial content as well.  Often, it is a case of what is not discussed as what is.  [For instance, when AirCare charges were recently raised (the fee required to cover the costs of emissions testing), the media generally positioned the story as another tax grab by government.  Air quality in some reports was never even mentioned.]


In the case of opinion shapers, particularly AM radio open-line shows, remember that much of their audience is in cars, and that talk radio's economic viability and influence would be in serious doubt without this market.  Any suggestion of tolls or road pricing - indeed, any marginal cost applied to that which is currently seen to be free - will be met with hostility.  There will not necessarily be a nuanced discussions of options or alternatives.


The greatest danger, when a story is initially covered, is if the car-driving public perceives that someone is trying to take their cars away.  Or trying to make them feel guilty for doing something for which there is little or no choice.  Or punishing them unfairly when others are not paying their way.  Any dialogue will end quickly if it starts with these assumptions.





Pete McMartin

The Vancouver Sun


On Tuesday, I wrote a column complaining about TransLink's plan to have every car owner pay, on average, $75 a year for transit improvements.


Today, my suggestions to TransLink's politicians and planners in lieu of implementing the transit levy:


1. Do nothing.


Spend no more money. Extract no more tax dollars from voters.


Give taxpayers some wriggle room.


Taxed to the limit, they have no more money for savings, retirement, their vacations and, least of all, your vision of the future.


Maybe you don't believe this. Maybe you'd like to look at my line of credit.


2. Live with the traffic jams -- minor by major urban North American standards, anyway -- and come to grips with the reality that we live in an imperfect world that cannot be massaged into a Utopia immediately, or over a five-year period, no matter how much money you apply.


Take griping about traffic for what it is: the mutterings of an aggrieved, overworked citizenry distracted by the pace of modern life.


3. Pay less heed, for a change, to the preachings of well-intentioned, but ultimately privileged and out-of-touch ideologues who espouse the joys of bicycling to work and the health dangers of car exhaust (with which no sane person would argue), and come and live for a while with people who drive minivans -- people who drive minivans not because they want to, or enjoy doing so, but because both parents work to pay for an obscenely large mortgage and their kids' education, and they must leave home at 8 a.m. and don't get home until 6 p.m. (if they are lucky). And they have to get home as quickly as possible because dinner has to be made and their kids have come home to an empty house.


Maybe things shouldn't be that way, but they are.


So they drive because a car shaves minutes off their fully booked days, and every minute they can spend with their kids or working in their gardens or sitting in front of the tube with a glass of wine is precious to them.


They drive because they are driven by lives that are too hectic, too burdened with debt, too jammed with obligations that require they be in three places at once, and two of those three places aren't serviced by bus routes.


4. Give your constituents more credit. Do not talk down to them.


Do not tell suburbanites they have "chosen" to live in the suburbs (thus characterizing them as a secondary species who must pay for their mistake) when they would gladly live closer to the city centre if only they had the means to do so.


Do not lecture them on the evils of the internal combustion engine, of which they are well aware, and do not brand car commuters (who make up 90 per cent of commuting traffic, and a big whack of the electorate) as the agents of a hydra-headed monster whose heads must be lopped off for the good of mankind.


Do not ask them to cut their own throats.


Recognize, for once, that the automobile is integral -- nay, central -- to modern society. Nothing will change this, and besides, the usual cant about its evils is just so tiresome.


Also this: For those politicians and urban engineers who publicly espouse increased taxes for improvements in public transit, make the use of public transit compulsory for them.


If they complain that their busy schedules make the use of public transit impossible, well, duh!


5. Do not brand car commuters as freeloaders on your roads.


They were always under the impression that they were driving on their roads.


Why else were they paying exorbitant federal and provincial taxes on gas, tires, batteries, AirCare inspections? Where has that money been going, or not going?


6. Stop the new SkyTrain expansion now. We cannot afford it.


Wait until we can. No more shiny baubles.


7. Lobby the federal government -- the real culprit in this -- for a greater return of our gas- and auto-related tax dollars on transit improvement.


8. Take on, tame, or discipline the transit union, which too often acts as if it

were running transit.


9. Give us a government we can elect.


10. Give us a government which -- intent on railroading us -- we can drive -- pun intended -- out of office.


(3) Congestion in America

Every year, the Texas Transportation Institute publishes its traffic-congestion index.  Every year, the report is bleak: "Ten year study shows most cities losing the battle with gridlock" – http://tti.tamu.edu/researcher/v34n1/congestion.stm 


Here is an analysis from Policy.comhttp://policy.com/news/dbrief/dbriefarc404.asp 




by April Pedersen


Nov. 17, 1999 -- Los Angeles drivers spend the most time on the road, totaling about 82 hours a year -- two full weeks of work -- the Texas Transportation Institute says in its annual report on traffic congestion around the country. In some areas, traffic congestion has become a daily topic as officials and citizens seek ways out of the jams.


The institute examined traffic in 68 urban areas in a study sponsored by nine state transportation departments. The study reports that congestion levels continued to increase in almost all of the 68 cities for which they reported data, with Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., rating the highest.


Tim Lomax, co-author of the report, maintains that the economy is one of the chief reasons for the increase in traffic. The California cities and many of the other areas where traffic did not get substantially worse went through recessions in the early to mid-1990s while most of the increasingly tangled cities posted economic gains. "In a booming economy, the transportation system is always going to be a lagging factor," Lomax insists.


There are also environmental costs associated with increased traffic.  Overall, the study maintains that the average driver in the 35 most-congested areas wasted four extra tanks of gasoline a year sitting in traffic. That conclusion was reached by comparing the time spent on certain roads at rush hour with the time it takes to drive those routes at highway speed. In all, drivers wasted an estimated 6.6 billion gallons of fuel in 1997, more than twice the amount wasted 15 years earlier.


Traffic congestion, already costing the nation an estimated $168 billion annually in lost productivity, is expected to triple in coming years, wasting more productivity and fuel and worsening air quality, says the Department of Energy's Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development. 


According to a National Center for Policy Analysis brief, if nothing is done about congestion on the nation's highways, Americans will spend seven billion hours in traffic jams in 2005 -- more than quintuple the time wasted in 1985.


Using the new data from the Texas Transportation Institute, the companion analysis by the Surface Transportation Policy Project finds that neither population growth nor too few roads are to blame for the rise in traffic jams. Their analysis finds that traffic congestion is getting worse in major American metropolitan areas because of sprawl and its impact on driving habits.


Some communities have found a promising new course for handling growth and their transportation problems. Planners refer to these ideas as "livable" or "sustainable" communities. "Creating sustainable transport systems that meet people’s needs equitably and foster a healthy environment requires putting the automobile back into its useful place as a servant," Marcia Lowe says in a Worldwatch paper, "Alternatives to the Automobile." "With a shift in priorities, cars can be part of a broad, balanced system in which public transport, cycling and walking are all viable options."


Planners are starting to apply what they call "economic rationality" to traffic management. Congestion pricing is being used or is under consideration in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities.  Congestion pricing is a highway user fee that varies by the time-of-day, location and direction of travel. The fee is collected electronically through transponders placed on the vehicles. Congestion pricing allocates a scarce commodity -- road space -- according to consumer demand. A fluctuating highway user fee gives users an incentive to carpool, use transit, vary work hours or make some other behavioral change.


Traffic experts have yet to suggest a single plausible solution to untangle the mess on the nation's highways. For now, municipal, state and federal officials will have to decide what mix of road building, mass transit, carpooling, ramp metering and other strategies to use.


However, Roy Kienitz, executive director of the Surface Transportation Policy Project maintains in a press release, "It turns out that the most common response to congestion, road building, is just making things worse. We don’t need more of the same; we need new solutions that give people a way to avoid traffic jams."




A freeway interchange expert says the relief brought by a just-completed valley project probably won't last long.


By Joelle Babula

Sunday, May 07, 2000

Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal


      The Spaghetti Bowl has eased congestion and offers safer traveling than in years past, but according to an interchange expert, the structure already may be on its way to premature failure.


      Joe Hummer, a professor of civil engineering at North Carolina State University whose specialty is interchange design, said project managers might have missed the mark when estimating the valley's future traffic growth at the interchange.


      "It doesn't mean immediate failure on the day it opens, it just means it will fail quicker," said Hummer, who was asked to analyze the design plans for the Review-Journal.


      After more than a decade of planning and 500,000 hours of labor, some ramps on the $95 million project are already carrying close to the number of motorists that were predicted for 2015.


      "They built an interchange that will satisfy the forecast, but the concern is that the forecast has already been exceeded," Hummer said. "Some of these ramps have already hit the forecast 17 years early."


       "This is a little alarming, but it's not uncommon," Hummer said. "Nationwide, we just can't build roads fast enough. When the planning process goes back 10 years, it's difficult to know what's coming up. These guys took their best educated guess and built that interchange to fit that educated guess. If Las Vegas keeps growing at its phenomenal rate, the new interchange will fill up well before 2015. But if traffic levels off, the interchange will keep working for many more years."


Congestion in Britain




By Barrie Clement, Transport Editor


19 November 1999


Congestion on the busiest parts of Britain's motorways will more than double within a decade, even if ministers' policies on tolls are applied to their fullest extent, according to a government-appointed think tank yesterday.


The Commission for Integrated Transport calculated that the amount of time lost by motorists trapped in jams in such areas would increase by 127 per cent.  But it warned that if local authorities refuse to take up any of the powers given to them under the Transport Bill congestion would increase by 268 per cent.  Nationally, delays would rise by around two-thirds over 1996 levels in the next 10 years, the commission said.


Professor David Begg, chair of the commission, said the amount of traffic would grow by 35 per cent if the Bill's provisions were ignored, but would still rise by 20 per cent even if the plans were applied with vigour.


The commission said the provisions of the Bill, confirmed in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday, had attracted the backing of the motor industry.


Nick Reilly, chairman and managing director of Vauxhall, said there was a clear need for the kind of action envisaged by the Government.  He said the proposals for charges on motorists entering city centres and extra fees for people who park at work "may well be the best way forward".


Sir Trevor Chinn, of the motor industry company Lex Services and vice-chairman of the commission, said the measures were not "anti-car" and most people in the industry realised that.


Professor Begg said the commission's report was the most extensive study of congestion conducted in Britain and it showed that some areas, particularly London, could see a "dramatic" fall in congestion if the policies were adopted.  Congestion in the capital could fall by as much as 42 per cent, with other cities and towns benefiting from a 19 per cent decline.


He said such improvements depended on a combination of measures such as increased investment in rail, partnerships between bus operators and local authorities, and widespread use of "congestion charging".


Professor Begg added "Without an integrated transport programme parts of our cities and motorways already suffering from congestion would simply grind to a halt."


(4) Vehicle Growth in the GVRD


The 60 percent increase in vehicles that was referenced in the background document refers to the Transport 2021 estimate which showed that AM Peak hour car driver trips would increase from 220,000 to 350,000 between 1991 and 2021 under the Plan (approx. 60% increase).  Without the Plan, car driver trips would increase to 410,000 (approx. 85% increase). 


As we are now in 1999, the increase by 2021 may not be as much as 60 percent; however, some of the latest research we have been doing shows that people are not as sensitive to pricing as we had assumed when we were preparing Transport 2021.  If this is the case, vehicle travel will likely increase more rapidly then we estimated and the 60 percent growth over the next 20 years may not be far off. 


Note these estimates are based on computer simulations using the EMME/2 model.  They have also been compared with other forecasts and appear to be reasonable if our assumptions hold (e.g., pop/emp growth, urban form, pricing measures in place soon, significant transit expansion).  Also note that without significant pricing, vehicle use will increase at a faster rate. 


The pricing measures assumed in T2021 resulted in approximately a 55 percent increase in vehicle operating costs (fuel, parking, tolls) relative to today.  The average annual operating costs for a vehicle driven 20,000 km is approx. $1,800; therefore, we would have to add $1,000 to the vehicle operating costs to achieve the Transport 2021 demand shift.


We have also done projections of vehicle ownership in the region (GVRD).  Based on low (1.3%), medium (1.6%) and high (2.0%) growth rates, by 2021, vehicle ownership is likely to be between 1.5 and 1.75 million.  This represents a 35-55 percent increase over today (1.1 million vehicles).


Provided by  Karoly_Krajczar@translink.bc.ca




People were upset about the recent B.C. helicopter crash for the wrong reason

Anne Kingston

National Post (July 3, 2000)


When a helicopter crashed into a glacier in remote British Columbia 10 days ago, instantly killing all four men on board, there was outrage, but for the wrong reason. Much fuss was made over two of Canada's Labrador search-and-rescue helicopters breaking down before they could get to the site and a U.S. crew having to be dispatched as backup. Once there, the crew realized that the helicopter was wedged in a crevasse and that the bodies could not be evacuated safely. One MP, worked up into a righteous lather, called the situation "a pathetic embarrassment."

Yes, it was. But what was pathetic wasn't substandard Canadian equipment; it was how senseless these deaths were. The four men in the helicopter, all of them under 50, died attempting to film a close-up of a Nissan SUV perched on the dramatic Llewellyn glacial icefield. They died filming a television commercial, one that would perpetuate the ridiculous myth that underlies much of car advertising: that automobiles are at one with bucolic, untouched nature; that a car offers a shortcut to serenity.

That message, of course, is fraudulent. Never do you see a car presented in its natural habitat -- on a congested highway or searching for a parking spot in a smelly underground garage. No, the imagery of car advertising tends to fall into one of two extremes: Zen-like portraiture in a rugged, isolated setting or testosterone-fuelled speed demon scenarios that condone aggressive, unsafe driving practices, such as that Pontiac Grand Prix ad in which the car is presented as a tornado coming through town as locals board up their houses to escape its wrath.

SUVs, the majority of which are driven on city roads, are especially subject to the fatuous scenic-view treatment. The latest example can be found in the preview issue of a new magazine titled Organic Style: The Art of Living in Balance. Geared at a consciously eco-friendly audience, the magazine boasts a two-page spread of the new Chevy Tahoe SUV sitting in a lush, pastoral setting in the middle of nowhere, not a road or driver in sight -- just the gleaming, iconic, gas-guzzling machine.

But whether they employ agrarian imagery or promote performance (read speed), car commercials are under increasing pressure to deliver awe-inspiring special effects, such as that one in which a Chevrolet is perilously perched atop a mountain in Monument Valley. It's an onerous challenge these days to captivate jaded viewer attention for even a few seconds, given the sensational big-budget optics so readily available in films such as Mission: Impossible 2 and Gladiator.

Tom Adair, the executive vice-president of the British Columbia Council of Film Unions, is all too familiar with the need to push the envelope and the inherent risks that go with it. "When people are well-paid and have adventurous spirits," he says, "they want to challenge preconceptions. You try to diminish the risk, but you never know." As he points out, the pilot of the helicopter that crashed filming the Nissan ad was experienced, one of the best. He also points out that the four-man crew died doing what they loved. "They were having one hell of a time until that last second," he says.

When I suggest that no television ad is worth dying for, Adair is quick to agree. But a lot of ego and hubris, and even more money, go into the production of car commercials. And, as a result, reason can get distorted. "It's a question of who has the most toys wins," Adair says. "Filming one of those ads is a fantasy. You take the car to a glacier. You hire a helicopter. But, in the end, it's real people and it's real death."

The point, sadly, is not simply selling the image of a car on a glacier. It's subtler than that. What ads like the ill-fated Nissan spot attempt to do is to sell the complex technical virtuosity that goes into their production, which in turn is transferred to the product. It's pure illusion. And ironically that's what made the Llewellyn Glacier such a desirable setting for the American producer of the Nissan commercial. There are no roads to it. It cannot even be scaled by foot. It's the ultimate challenge, the ultimate dare. The summit of advertising's desire.


(6)  Betrayed



By Frank Ahrens (Washington Post Staff Writer)

Thursday, August 26, 1999; Page C01


It is a plague, a contagion and a poison. A hundred thousand tiny needles stab the pores and  inject a toxic cocktail. The evil ingredients assault  each sense--the endless sightline of brake lights, the shriek of horns, the stink of exhaust, the tremble of overheated engines, the sour-milk taste of despair.


It is traffic. It is Northern Virginia, a hopeless, sprawling Love Canal of steel, rubber, asphalt and carbon monoxide. Impossible to clean up, impossible to navigate, impossible to escape. Each year, more people wade into it. Soon, like those before them, they corrode emotionally.


Everyone listens to the traffic reports. Everyone knows which exit ramp will be closed and for how long. Everyone has commuting strategies that shave off a minute here, a quarter-hour there, precious bits of life to be savored like trophies won in battle.


Drivers are better girded for battle, to be sure, but the information does little to assuage the anger, the helplessness, the sheer emotional desperation of having to be somewhere in 15 damned minutes and I can't beLIEVE this traffic what are all you people DOING out here don't you have JOBS?!?


Take a moment. Breathe. Gather.




Still stuck in traffic. Haven't moved a foot.




Anger fades to resignation. Slight movement! Adrenaline bump! Stopped again. Yellow arrow? That wasn't there yesterday! Back to anger. Endless futility interrupted by spasms of fury, as the autos inchworm along. Can't be a healthy way to live.


Yet, in Northern Virginia, most people live this way There are 6 million vehicle trips per day in the region. Everyone, it seems, is angry. Traffic is the hottest political issue in the region. Gov. James Gilmore III has been ganged up on by area legislators, whose constituents seem prepared to take up the flaming torches and wooden pitchforks. The top state transportation official was sacked. It might cost more than $1 billion to fix the mess. Drivers plow on because they must.


Elizabeth Kluger Cooper is one of them. In some places on Earth, people build houses on stilts to avoid floodwaters. Cooper, like many Northern Virginians, has also adapted to her environ- ment.  She has bent her life around traffic. The difference is, it wasn't supposed to be this way.


Automobiles were supposed to improve life, not worsen it. Over the decades, automakers sold amenable Americans a laundry list of promises about the car It will make you feel Young, Powerful, Successful. Romantically, the auto let you hit the road and leave troubled times behind like a pair of skid marks.


But a bad thing happened in places like Cooper's Northern Virginia "Cars" have become "traffic." Motion has become immobility. Individuals have become one of many. And the promises of the automobile have turned into a pack of lies....


Growth and Development


Cooper is in time for her 8 a.m. meeting at Staubach's Tysons Corner office.   She and two other execs are searching for a new office site for a large client. Traffic, of course, is an issue.


Traffic is also an issue--even something of a morbid hobby--for the man sitting next to Cooper, James Underhill, chief operating officer for Staubach at Tysons. He has been driving from Maryland to this building since 1987.  He has seen traffic go from merely bad to nearly immobile. But now, allow him to perform the terrible calculus of the future.


There are 2 million square feet of new office space under construction within sight of his building.


Now, follow some rules of thumb for traffic


Typically, Underhill says, there are 3.5 cars for every 1,000 square feet of office space. That equals about 7,000 more cars in Tysons after the new office space is finished and occupied.  If a standard car is about 18 feet long, that's a total of 126,000 linear feet of new cars. Another way to put it one lane of traffic, 22 miles long. That's what's in store for Tysons Twenty-two more miles of frustration. Twenty-two more miles of anger. Twenty-two more miles of lies.


Underhill even has a name for what's happened to traffic in Northern Virginia "I call it a 3-D Evolutionary Nightmare."


He expounds:  "One, the area has stretched," Underhill begins. "You have to go farther to conduct your business. Two, there are more cars, more pressure points in the region. And three is speed. Speed is everything. If you were five minutes late to a meeting, you used to apologize. Now, the people you're meeting with have maybe 20 or 30 minutes for you, total."


To no one in particular, Cooper sighs and says "God forbid I'm late."


What one notices about Underhill is his strange calm, the calm of a police negotiator trying to talk a jumper down from a ledge. He wasn't always like this. Up until a few years ago, traffic made him furious. He had to make a conscious effort to be calm. To gather. To maintain.


So he is calm when stuck in traffic. But is he Free? Individual? Powerful?  After all, he drives a BMW 740--a symbol of success and power.


"Impotent," he answers.


"An impotent slave," Cooper adds.


Shifting Values


In Dearborn, Mich., there is a shrine to the automobile--the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village. This sprawling exhibit is as American as Gettysburg and the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Levittown, Harlem and Hollywood. Gottlieb Daimler may have invented the internal combustion engine in Germany, but Americans created the automobile, and it created what they have become. It is memorialized in Dearborn. There are Jetsons-style cars of the future, re-created diners, beautiful silver Airstream trailers.


Came the Interstates. Came drive-throughs. Came the family vacation in the Vista Cruiser. Stuckey's with blue peaked roofs. Maps that were impossible to refold.


Then came the '70s, when lots of things went bad. Oil crises. Gas lines. Now, cars no longer felt like fun; they began to feel more like an anchor.  The sheer pleasure of happy motoring seeped away with every ding! of the gas pump. The Japanese sent over small, affordable, reliable gas-sippers.  Detroit countered with . . . the Vega and the Chevette.


A decade later, the gas crisis was over. Horsepower reigned again. Chrysler turbocharged everything but the minivan. The newly rich snatched up muscle-bound Porches. Outamyway, scum!


But one thing was unchanged over all that time Car sales--and population--continued a steady climb. More and more cars crowded onto roads that didn't expand fast enough. Traffic, once the concern of far-off, smoggy L.A., was now choking Denver, Miami, Dallas, Cleveland and Washington. Also, Orange County, Calif.; Fort Worth, Tex.; Tysons Corner, Va.


At the Ford museum in Michigan is an exhibit called "The Car as Symbol."  In a perfect world--or in a museum--there is no traffic. Only splendid, shiny cars, each one envisioned as the only one on the road.


"Almost from the beginning," the exhibit reads, "the car has served as a powerful symbol of personal and social values in America." The display sets out several "values" and matches them to cars. If one runs down these values, they sound pretty good. But if one is stuck in traffic, steaming hot, irritated, late, hopeless, the values associated with the automobile begin to seem like something else. They begin to feel like "lies." Consider


Freedom "The automobile allowed us to escape the confines of geography," the exhibit reads. If you're sitting in traffic in NoVa, you feel as free as a death row prisoner who has exhausted the appeals system.


Power "An automobile gives its driver the power to conquer time and space." The owner of a Ford Mustang may have 220 horsepower straining to escape from his bulging hood, but if he's sitting through a half-dozen traffic light changes on Greensboro Road in Tysons, he feels anything put powerful.


Individuality "The car can express the owner's identity." Thanks to aerodynamics, just about every car since 1985 has been designed to resemble a throat lozenge. Try to tell a Honda Accord from a Toyota Avalon from a Ford Taurus from an Audi A6 without looking at the grill symbol.


Success "Automobiles such as Cadillacs or Lincolns are well known for their image of wealth." Gridlock is the great leveler. When you're stopped on I-66 in your Mercedes, you are exactly as successful at forward motion as the guy sitting next to you in the '75 Monza held together with duct tape and Bondo.


Youth "The car has always captivated the young and the 'young at heart.' "  This may be the biggest lie of all and the crux of Traffic Rage. The car dealer persuaded you that the BMW Z3 convertible would make you feel young again. Now, you're at a dead standstill in traffic. Not only will you be late to pick up your teen, you can feel the moments of your life ticking away.  You didn't think about dying when you were 25. Now, you're 55 and it's amazing how often it crosses your mind. Tick tick tick. You're no longer strapped into a transmutational time machine. You're trapped inside a leather-and-vinyl coffin on wheels. With fake burled wood, if you've paid enough for the luxury trim package.


For years, automakers have marketed these values to Americans, manifested in Lincoln Town Cars and Pontiac Trans Ams and even Ford Edsels. These values became implicit promises Buy this car and get these values. Now, traffic takes them all away. The promises turn into lies. And when people are lied to, they feel




The Great Equalizer


Cooper motors westward along an uncharacteristically smoothly flowing Georgetown Pike at 545 p.m., the end of her day.


Home. Husband Don Cooper is waiting. He is president of Donohoe Cos. construction. Builds big things. Believes in symbolism. Show him the list Freedom. Power. Individuality. Success. Youth.


"All of them," he says, not missing a beat. "Absolutely."


Here's a story He got a white Buick Roadmaster as a company car. Big as a blimp, smooth as a cloud. He liked driving it until he looked around and saw who else was driving Roadmasters.


"They were are 65, 70 years old," he says. "I felt self-conscious." The car as symbol. When he stepped inside the Buick, he lost 30 years off his life. 


He looks at the list again.


"I think all those values, you feel them when you're moving," he says. "But when you're stopped in traffic, you're just a hot, sweaty person like everyone around you."


Stopped. Late. Fuming. Dying.




(7)  Figures of Futility


Here are some figures and perspectives with respect to new road capacity in the United States, as prepared by Barbara McCann of the Surface Transportation Policy Project:


The Road Information Program, a lobbying arm of the highway construction industry, is fond of comparing the growth in driving to the much slower growth in the miles of roadway available. While their estimates of the growth in road capacity over the past several decades varies from one to five percent, the growth in driving is indisputable. Vehicle miles traveled have been growing 3% to 5.5% per year since the 1950s. What TRIP is implying is that growth in road building should keep pace with increases in driving. What would this mean?


In 1996, the amount Americans drive every day grew at the relatively modest rate of 3%. If road space were to keep pace with that increase in driving, we would have had to build 45,335 additional miles of roadway in just one year (that's 184,664 lane miles more than were actually built), consuming about 560 square miles of land. The cost for these roads would exceed $171 billion.


Right now, under the largest such spending bill ever passed, the federal government has allocated about $36 billion annually for all transportation projects. Ten years of road-building at this pace would require expenditures in the trillions of dollars, and would pour enough asphalt to cover the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area, more than two layers deep.


This example may seem a bit ridiculous, but it does illustrate the bind that many regions find themselves in the money and the land are simply not available to try to keep pace with the phenomenal growth in driving. Few transportation officials even claim that they can solve congestion with road building.


As acknowledged recently by Gordon Proctor, the head of the Ohio Department of Transportation, a major $300 million building program in that state is resulting in only a 1/3 of 1% increase in road capacity, and won't come close to solving congestion.


In the San Francisco Bay Area, a recent draft long-range transportation plan called for spending billions on roads in the next 20 years, and also projected an increase in traffic congestion during that period by 249%....


Road construction itself causes even more traffic delays.  In fact, a recent study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project found that motorists can lose more time in road construction delays than they will save in years of driving on the newly "improved" road.


In addition, both anecdotal evidence and empirical research shows that trying to solve traffic congestion only by adding more roads proves futile, because new roads induce more driving. These new miles of roadway bring only short-term relief, at very great expense.


For example, the state of Maryland spent $200 million to widen a dozen miles of Interstate 270 in the 1980s. Less than eight years after the project was completed, the road is again completely jammed, exceeding traffic levels projected for the year 2010.


These cases are backed up by academic research that shows that new roads truly generate new traffic. A study of 30 California counties by UC Berkeley researchers Mark Hansen and Yuanlin Huang found that in metropolitan areas, every 1% increase in new lane miles generated a 0.9% increase in traffic within five years. That is, 90 percent of the new capacity is filled with traffic within five years.


This is because more roads encourage more driving, and open up new areas to development, which creates even more car trips. As a result, roads fill up much more quickly than projected, and transportation planners find themselves facing the same problems once again.


The Federal Highway Administration uses a more conservative figure, but still finds that every 10% increase in travel speeds results in a 5% increase in traffic. This phenomenon is widely recognized by transportation planners.


In addition, cities that have embarked on extensive road-building programs have been no more successful in the long term in lowering congestion levels than cities that have built fewer lane miles of roadway.  Clearly, road building is not the lone answer to our ever-growing traffic problems.


(8) $UVs


Ford has one SUV plant in Wayne, Michigan that produces more after-tax profit than the combined budgets of every municipality in British Columbia.




Saturday 18 December 1999


By Rachel Sylvester

From the London Telegraph


THE [British] Government has conceded defeat in its battle to break Britain's "car culture" by admitting that vehicle ownership will increase and that it is unrealistic to try to force drivers off the roads.


In an interview with The Telegraph, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, the transport minister, said that the Government was no longer determined to cut traffic levels across Britain because it did not believe that this was the best way to reduce pollution.


Creating cleaner engines was a more efficient and realistic way of improving the environment than simply reducing the number of cars on the roads, he said. Vehicles should also be made affordable to people in all sections of society even if that meant an increase in drivers. He said "You can either try to reduce traffic overall or you can say that it's more rational to try to reduce the damaging output of traffic - pollution and congestion. We think that is more realistic."


The minister's comments, less than a week after he was put in day-to-day charge of the transport portfolio, mark a radical shift in the Government's approach to drivers. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who insisted that traffic should be reduced, was accused by the Conservatives of "waging war" on motorists.


The new approach will almost certainly lead to more money being invested in road-building programmes. Lord Macdonald has already approved a million package of 18 local road schemes and commissioned the Highways Agency to identify 100 traffic "hotspots" for future investment.


The transport minister said the Government was now prepared for an increase in car ownership. He said "One third of people don't have cars and if cars become more affordable more people will want to own them. That in itself should not be the primary problem." He argued that there were "issues of social exclusion" about trying to reduce the number of cars on the road.  He said "A lot of the people in most need of a car - living in rural areas or disadvantaged people on housing estates, single parents trying to juggle complicated lives - they're the people who at the moment can't afford one.


We would hope that our policies might make owning a car more affordable." He said technology was a better tool than traffic targets for reducing pollution. "Technology is our great ally. It can already reduce pollution by 50 to 75 per cent."


Lord Macdonald said the Government agreed with a report by the Commission for Integrated Transport which said that national traffic reduction targets were not "the best tool" to tackle pollution or congestion. He said "We cannot see that there are courses of action to reduce the number of people owning cars or driving their cars except for investment in public transport."


Bernard Jenkin, shadow transport spokesman, said the Government was "blowing in the wind" on the issue. He said "This shows that the first two and a half years of the Government's so-called integrated transport policy has been based on a complete fallacy - that it is not necessary to invest in road improvements."


Tony Juniper, policy director of Friends of the Earth, accused the Government of performing a "U-turn". He said "Before the election, the Government promised road traffic reduction. Now we are being promised more congestion and a bigger contribution to climate change."




By Tom Redburn - New York Times (January 2, 2000)


Before we bury the 20th century, let us praise its essential icon.  For despite the environmental ills that cars have brought in their exhaust trail, nothing else so represents the empowerment of ordinary people. 


Mr. Ford knew exactly what he was after.  "I will build a motor car for the great multitude," he said, "constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise."  It would be, he added, "so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessings of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."


Well, maybe he miscalculated a bit on the open spaces.  Our bottomless demand to own and drive automobiles has transformed the landscape almost beyond recognition, inexorably producing the highways we crowd onto and the suburbs where most of us in America now choose to live.


For all the attention devoted to computers and the Internet, the auto industry still defies comparison.  Roughly 7.5 million people, about 6 percent of the American work force, are involved in building, selling or repairing cars and light trucks, almost four times as many as are employed by all electronics and computer makers.  Three of the four largest companies in the nation by sales - General Motors, Ford and Exxon Mobil - makes cars or fuel them.  In 1999, Americans bought a record 17 million of the vehicles.


The phenomenon is global; there are more than 550 million cars around the world.  Americans own the most - one car for every 1.7 residents - but even in crowded Japan there is one for every 2.1 people, and there is one for every 5.3 Britons.


Do all these automobiles represent too much of a good thing?  Perhaps, but good luck persuading people to stop buying them.  No matter what is done in the form of taxes or regulation to discourage their use, as soon as incomes in any nation reach a certain level - on average, around $6,000 a person - sales of cars invariably skyrocket. 


In the United States, higher gasoline taxes would at least encourage the production of more efficient autos and slightly restrain driving.  New technologies, like electric/internal-combustion hybrids and, eventually, fuel cells, should help further reduce the air pollution they cause.   But don't expect more.


As long as democracy and free markets persist, personal transportation in some form will be ubiquitous. Why?  Because that's they way we want it.


(11) Cars and Progress: Not Necessarily


Conventional wisdom has it that being car-bound is an irresistible force - an inevitable by-product of growing wealth.  You get rich, you buy cars.  Get a pay raise and you drive even more. 


Is car ownership and use a measure of progress? 


In a report to the World Bank, researchers from the Institute for Science and Technology Policy in Perth, Australia, showed that there are "dis-economies" associated with car use.  Auto dependence can drain an economy of its wealth.  Among cities in the developed world, regional wealth (as measured by per capita gross regional product - or GRP) actually goes down as car use go up.  For example, New York averages 40 percent less car ownership and 35 percent less driving than Detroit.  But New York is 27 percent wealthier.


The global comparison is even more illuminating.  Cities such as Zurich, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Tokyo and Paris all have a much higher use of public transport than any American, Canadian or Australian city.  Yet they build fewer roads and own fewer cars.  They have much higher bike use.  They have roughly half the transportation deaths.  They spend less on getting to work.  They emit a fraction of the CO2.


And they're all richer.


[Taken from 'Cars and Progress' by Tamim Raad. Also see Todd Litman and Felix Laube, Automobile Dependency and Economic Development, VTPI  (www.vtpi.org), 1999.




Dr. John Holtzclaw



Many freeway widenings or extensions are sold as measures to relieve traffic congestion, thereby reducing emissions, at least as projected by planners' old emissions models. Sometimes the builders promise that the new lanes will be HOV (high occupancy vehicles, probably for a few hours of the day, the rest as mixed-flow; with the very real threat of conversion to full-time mixed-flow). What light do these new assessments shine on that argument?

Widened Freeway

Let's start with a garden-variety freeway -- 2 lanes in each direction, and congested during rush-hour in at least one direction. So our helpful state DoT adds a lane in either direction. The immediate changes are: - traffic speeds up a bit in all lanes as traffic shifts to the new lane, with less traffic shifting if the new lane is HOV. - additional, induced, traffic eats up much of this new capacity as motorists perceive congestion relief and (1) opt to take a trip they otherwise wouldn't have, (2) take a longer trip, (3) change to this road from another, (4) change mode (drive rather than carpool, transit, bike or walk), or (5) move farther from work (adding to sprawl?), or choose a job farther from home.

Noland ("Relationships Between Highway Capacity and Induced Vehicle Travel," Transportation Research A, forthcoming) found that 20 to 50% of such new road capacity is immediately filled. Hansen and Huang ("Road Supply and Traffic in California Urban Areas," Transportation Research A, 31:205-218) found that 90% of the new road capacity was used up with new traffic within 4 years. Subsequent studies have confirmed these impacts.

So what happens when the new freeway lane is opened? Traffic quickly rises to fill 20 to 50% of the new lane capacity, giving a 10 to 25% increase in total traffic. If the new lane is mixed-flow, the increase in total traffic will reduce traffic per lane 25 to 30%, increasing speed AND emissions per vehicle slightly (Barth, Scora and Younglove, "Estimating Emissions and Fuel Consumption for Different Levels of Freeway Congestion," TRB Meeting, Jan. 1999). Which, when added to the emissions from the additional traffic, increases total emissions by more than the 10 to 25%.

HOV Construction

Even if the new lane is designated HOV and enforced, so it attracts fewer vehicles and has free-flowing traffic, emissions from this high-speed traffic would skyrocket (Barth, Scora and Younglove). Again, total emissions would increase by more than 10 to 25%. Even without the induced traffic, the emissions tests show a clear pattern of level, or slightly rising, emissions per vehicle as speed increases until the average speed reaches 50 to 60 mph, above which emissions skyrocket due to accelerations, even short accelerations, under high engine loads.

Over four years of so, traffic rises in each of these lanes almost to where it was before the road was widened, with a net increase in emissions of almost 50% from before the road expansion.

New Freeway

What happens when a new freeway opens? Anticipation of it probably would have encouraged many moving decisions even before it opens, driving up sprawl and longer trips. On opening, expect the 20 to 50% additional traffic. If some lanes are free-flowing, emissions from these cars will skyrocket. Total emissions would be up more than the 20 to 50% new traffic, and over the next four years traffic and emissions would be up more than 90% from before opening.

What about the other ozone precurser, NOx? The tests show that it follows a very similar pattern of emissions with speed as HC. So the above conclusions also hold for NOx.

Final results indicate that highway expansions to relieve traffic congestion increase motor vehicle emissions, whether they free up traffic or not (this conclusion does not apply to transit-only lanes, which have the potential to reduce auto traffic).

Traffic Calming

Traffic calming consists of engineering treatments and traffic enforcement to slow traffic in neighborhoods. These include narrowing roadways and lanes, center landscaping, shorter blocks, widening sidewalks into the roadway at cross-walks and intersections, tighter turns at intersections, occasional necking-down of the roadway, and other improvements to reduce maximum speeds and lower accelerations and decelerations (Burden, "Street Design Guidelines for Healthy Neighborhoods,"  ).

Conventional wisdom predicts that this slow, stop and go traffic will vastly drive up emissions, choking the neighbors. But conventional wisdom is ignorant of traffic calming, confusing it with fast starts and stops on conventional collector and arterial streets, and on congested freeways where motorists are jockeying for position. And, as it turns out, conventional wisdom is ignorant of emissions in those situations too.

Conventional wisdom¹s high estimate of emissions from stopping and starting is a bum rap since the old emissions factors "at lower speeds generally overpredict emissions" (Barth, Scora and Younglove, p12). Where does this misconception come from? Perhaps because cold starts, which normally occur at a very low speed (parked), have high emissions. Or perhaps because old diesel trucks and buses emit a very visible particulate cloud when accelerating. Cold starts occur at the beginning of every trip, fast or slow, whenever the vehicle has been allowed to cool down. Diesels are, fortunately, a small fraction of the vehicle fleet, although a noisy stinky one.

Professor Randall Guensler of Georgia Tech suggests that this misconception comes " from our historic use of the nonlinear relationship in MOBILE and EMFAC first. Every government public information publication contains this curve. Plus, since we tend to think of emissions in grams/mile, most people can conceive that if traffic is standing still the emissions per mile skyrocket. With respect to cold starts and diesel, I would further emphasize that the perception arises from our sitting in congested traffic. 1) we don't like to do this, 2) we are actually impacted by higher concentrations of emissions and the public generally associates this with higher emissions rates rather than reduced mixing and cumulative emissions, and 3) we can see the visible emissions associated with diesel acceleration, cold starts, and high emitters."

However, the new assays show that accelerations at low speed increase emissions of either HC or NOx much less than at high speed because the engine is under much lower loading. Still, smoothing flow with traffic calming will reduce emissions even farther. Obviously, these conclusions are not meant to cover cars sitting idling all day without moving; they will have infinite gms/mi emissions (division by 0).

Traffic calming has been shown in practice to reduce emissions. Traffic calming in German residential areas reduced idle times by 15%, gear changing by 12%,braking by 14% andfuel use by 12% (Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy. Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence. Island press: Washington DC, 1999. p150.). And they report that other German tests showed a 10% reduction of HC and 32% reduction of NOx emissions when aggressive drivers average speed is reduced from 31 to 19 mph, and 22% and 48%, respectively, when calm drivers average speeds are reduced.

These new emission studies indicate that engineering treatments and traffic enforcement to slow traffic in neighborhoods -- traffic calming, calms emissions. Dust off those traffic calming schemes, bicycle lanes, stop signs and transit-only lanes. They reduce emissions and traffic hazards for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and even motorists.


(13) Khazzoom-Brookes: Offset Savings


According to the Khazzoom-Brookes theory, even more efficient use of an existing resource will not help resolve the problem of pollution (or in this case, congestion) since consumers will expand their use to offset any savings or additional capacity achieved through technology.  The Khazzoom-Brookes theory was referenced in the following article from the New Scientist addressing the problem of energy efficiency but applies as well to road capacity.




By Patricia Reaney


LONDON - Conserving energy, far from solving global warming, could spark a fall in energy prices and contribute to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, a British energy analyst said on Wednesday.


Environmentalists and government policy makers may have it all wrong, according to Horace Herring of Britain's Open University.  In a paper entitled "Does Energy Efficiency Save Energy?" he argues that the accepted international policy to combat global warming will not work.


"The blanket statement...that a policy of improving national energy efficiency will lead to a lower national energy consumption is too simplistic and likely to prove false," he said in the paper.


Herring, who spent 10 years researching the subject, says many economists believe that improving energy efficiency by technological means could result in increased, not decreased, energy use. 


His argument is based on the Khazzoom-Brookes theory named after the American and British economists J. Daniel Khazzoom and Len Brookes who devised it. Their theory, says Herring, is based on evidence from historic analysis of energy use in economies.   "It's a fundamental theory that if you increase the efficiency of any resource it results in increased resource use, rather than decrease resource use," he said in a telephone interview.


'Smart highways' flunk the basics



            A REVOLVING CAMERA now surveys motorists struggling to break free from the bottleneck at Okeechobee Boulevard and Florida's Turnpike. They call it a "smart lens." More smart lenses are on the way, destined for other tough intersections. Their job is to help get traffic moving through increasingly congested Palm Beach County. They are the sentries for what traffic engineers call a "smart highway" system.

            How smart is the smart lens? Well, it's earned a Ph.D. in the science of chaos observation. Without its ability to see up to five miles away, engineers could not adjust traffic lights to move things along. They could not post warnings of gridlock ahead on "smart" signs along the roads.

            When it comes to solving the underlying cause of traffic tie-ups, however, the smart lens flunked the basics. It will take more than clever cameras to cure what ails the stop-and-go agony plaguing this and other growing regions of the country. One might call it a faith-based approach to traffic control.

            Highway building simply cannot keep up with the demand. Newly plowed roadbeds line packed highways. Pillars for future overpasses stand ready to withstand the onslaught. Nowadays, few miles along Route 95 in Palm Beach County seem unsullied by some construction site. Meanwhile , the signs on every vacant lot in the boom areas speak of more people and vehicles to come. A new shopping strip here, a new golf retirement community there.

            Not all that long ago, most of Congress Avenue still seemed out in the sticks. Now it's almost all filled. The march of build-up is claiming the next inland thoroughfare, Military Trail. What the smart highway system does, really, is herd the traffic from a near-stall on very congested roadways to a molasses crawl on other thoroughfares.

            Fiber-optic wire connects the camera with a traffic-management center. The managers will use their bird's eye view of the mess to calibrate traffic lights. They can also use this information to put advisories on roadside message signs. The signs may warn of an accident ahead and suggest another route. That data can also be sent to a driver's personal pager or cell phone. The intelligent transportation system should also help traffic engineers oversee a hurricane evacuation along Florida's turnpike.

            I'd like to put an emphasis on the "we'll see." Given the anarchy that accompanies a run-of-the-mill rush hour, I wouldn't want to try an emergency evacuation. One imagines the smart system would do little more than let traffic managers view the scene with horrified fascination.

            Thing is, traffic hates a vacuum. Any relatively free-flowing piece of road attracts more businesses and folks. Setting the needs of vehicles aside, there's the issue of human needs. Most of those youngish retirees swinging golf clubs are eventually going to lose the keys to their cars. When that happens, their condos will become prisons. More attention should be paid to the notion that development might be directed in a way that reduces dependence on driving. Such planning would be a brilliant alternative to more road building. I

            t's not like no one around here is trying to put some thinking into urban planning. For example, West Palm recently opened an intelligent village-style shopping and residential complex. Sitting on 77 acres near the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and Route 95, the development is called CityPlace. It looks just like a Tuscan village the Medicis would have put up if they had the money. The Mediterranean-flavored community tries to integrate itself into the street grid of old downtown West Palm Beach. CityPlace is not a stand-alone development. It is not behind gates or accessible only by car. It is built along the lines of a 19th Century (that is, pre-automobile-age) town. It has the makings of a one-stop community, where people can live, work, shop, eat out and barhop without getting into a car.

            No one seriously argues that Floridians should or would give up their wheels. However, it would be nice to be able to mail a letter or fill a prescription without firing up an internal-combustion engine. The same number of people driving fewer miles adds up to less demand for road space. Now that's a smart idea.

Froma Harrop is a Journal editorial writer and syndicated columnist.


(14)  Business in Vancouver, Issue 589 (February, 2001)




By Gordon Price


                Years ago, auto companies used to brag that the average car had more onboard computer memory than the Apollo spacecraft that landed on the moon.  Today, the chip that prevents a car's CD player from skipping has more memory than the Apollo spacecraft.  So says Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford Jr. 


                The CEO of Ford's company, Jacques Nasser, believes automobiles are "the next mobile portal," and hopes in four years to fill virtually all of Ford's cars and trucks with a new generation of computer technologies and services known as telematics.  


                Ford calls its telematic service Wingcast; GM calls it OnStar.  Both use wireless satellite technology that can track stolen vehicles, summon roadside assistance, unlock car doors, offer navigation assistance, warn about traffic tie-ups and connect you to the internet, your e-mail and your telephone.  At least that's what they're promising - for a fee -once they've figured out the architecture.


                This is not prophesy.  The flow of information to cars on the road (and the flow of money back) is already happening.  OnStar has 700,000 subscribers in the U.S., available in 32 of 54 GM models and it comes free for the first year.  After that: $199 (U.S.) annually for a safety and security package, or $399 for premium services. 


                There are, as you'd expect from technology enthusiasts, optimistic estimates on the anticipated demand - perhaps 11 million users in the States in four years, generating $8 billion by mid-decade, maybe $50 billion by the end.  One can be sceptical about the claims of anything with a dot and a com, but let's face it, the world's biggest industries are behind this, and they have a little more staying power than your local internet startup.


                While telematics has its whizz-bang appeal, what if, as part of your monthly fee, you also got something more valuable than information?  What if you got priority on the road?  What if you, the OnStar or WingCast subscriber, could bypass congested traffic and go to the head of the line, along with access to a private highway and reserved parking?


                Such an attractive package might be a possibility if the money generated through telematics was sufficient to pay for the road infrastructure that no government can easily afford, at least at a scale that taxpayers are willing to finance.  Just as some willingly pay thousands more for business class on the airlines, possibly the same distinction could be applied to the highway, where the companies that sell you the car and provide the telematic service also build and sell access to the asphalt.


                Take it one step further: would government be willing to sell rights to existing rights-of-way to the highest bidder if that was the easiest way to avoid another tax (like a nasty vehicle levy) while painlessly raising the revenues needed for maintenance of the transportation system?


                At the very least, it's tempting - but it's not without pain.  Pricing the road is a touchy political problem.  The freeway is our commons; at the moment, no matter who you are, you have the same right to the road.  Rich or poor, powerful or weak, drivers are equal, especially when they're all caught in the same congestion.  To economists, congestion is a consequence of scarcity that has not been properly priced.  But to charge for the road in a way that gives special status means people would no longer feel equal - and it's not called the 'free way' for nothing. 


                Both the rich and poor feel they have a stake in the free roadway and the cheap car.  To maintain the auto as a low-cost form of transportation means the poorer folks meet the wealthy on common ground, while the de-facto subsidy for the affluent remains disproportionately large.  The left defends the free road so the poor can drive farther for cheaper housing and needed work.  The right opposes the tax grab that road pricing would entail.  The politician has little ground on which to stand.


                But what if the telematics industry solves that problem for the politician?  The industry that provides the vehicles will provide the road.  They will manufacture the computer-packed cars, pay for the roads, and sell information and exclusivity.  The Big Brother problem is also avoided.  Those who object to government placing cameras on the road seem willing to tolerate a private-sector company knowing vastly more about their movements, so long as it provides a service they desire and willingly pay for.


                Imagine, say, AOL/Time-Warner/GM.  Who could resist?


(15) Business in Vancouver, Issue 522 (October 26, 1999)



By Gordon Price


Who says politicians can't act quickly?


One day a few weeks ago federal Environment Minister David Anderson threw out the prospect of a carbon tax on gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles.  At least that's how the media played it.  Next day the proposal was roadkill. 


Who says some things aren't sacred?


David Anderson is the Minister responsible for the Kyoto Agreement, charged with reducing the nation's greenhouse-gas emissions.  David Anderson's apprehension is understandable.  Consider the following reports that came out within days of each other.


The first, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reported that the booming sales in trucks and SUVs has dropped the average fuel efficiency of 1999 model cars to only 23.8 miles per gallon - the lowest since 1980.   That's a lot more carbon dioxide than was expected.  On the other hand, a new poll indicated that 40 percent of Canadians would expect to pay more for "greener" vehicles, and a large number (42 percent) would also be "willing" to pay $2,000 more for this type of vehicle.


But apparently not to David Anderson.  Punitive taxes find little forgiveness with the public these days.  People won't accept a specific tax unless it meets the 3-D test - Dedicated, Demonstrable and Deliverable.


Dedicated taxes can't go into the Big Pot of general government.  The money must be dedicated for a stated purpose, carefully detailed, with results that are .... demonstrable.


Everyone knows the signs that say "Your Tax Dollar At Work" whenever there's a highway or sewer project.  They are there to make the connection between what you pay and what you get.  Pay more money on a gas tax, for instance, and people think it should go to build more roads or provide more transit. 


From the federal government's point of view, however, the piece of the gas tax that goes to Ottawa is really a kind of sales tax.  It pays for many things, and if it was reallocated, the government would have to find new revenues, realize efficiencies or cut services.  Paul Martin's Finance Department argues strongly to keep revenues undedicated and general, and in that way avoids the problem.


But David Anderson can't talk about an SUV tax unless he guarantees that it will be spent in some way which benefits the SUV owner. 


Ultimately, the third D counts the most.  People have to believe that what is promised is ... deliverable.  There has to be enough (but not an excessive) amount of money to do the promised job, to do it efficiently, with beneficial results that meet the goals that justified the tax in the first place.


Now how the hell can that be done to deal with global warming? 


So far, the government hasn't done much.  To put off action, it consults.  Minister Anderson is currently waiting for the report of the 'Transportation Table' - a part of the multi-million-dollar Climate Change Initiative the feds have funded to get advice on how to meet the Kyoto requirements.  The Table has around it the best lobbyists in the transportation, automobile and energy industries.  My advice to the Minister is not to get his hopes up; there won't be very much in the report that will fundamentally change the status quo, or make enough of a difference.


It's a curious dilemma.  Evidence of climate change is coming in by the week.  The burden of proof is shifting from those who argued that global warming was real, to those who must now argue that the phenomena we are seeing - the intensity of hurricanes, the dying coral, the melting glaciers, the increasing average temperatures - are nota manifestation of climate change.  All they can do is cast doubt.


Still, a sufficient amount of doubt seems to justify a certain amount of denial.  Media coverage of global warming remains largely disconnected from real events.  Yes, we seem to be saying, the earth is a nice planet and all that, but can we really afford it if restraining production and consumption means less economic growth?  So we briskly consume the resources of the planet, using the distilled wealth to develop more sophisticated technology, realizing immense productivity gains, creating more wealth, encouraging more consumption, resulting in a seductively comfortable way of life.  Climate change in this world is merely a dark cloud on the horizon.


But complacency is not likely to last as the consequences of global warming get progressively more severe.  People clearly are attuned to environmental threats, and they are willing to make some sacrifice or lifestyle change to respond, as the poll above suggested.  Sacrifice or change must also be 3-D: dedicated (to a specific and do-able action, like blue-box recycling), demonstrable (here's your blue box) and deliverable (thanks to recycling,  we've cut landfill waste by half). 


If Minister Anderson is looking for some possibilities, may I recommend TransLink's plans: we think we could meet the 3-D test with our proposals for sustainable transportation in the region.  But another punitive tax, without a demonstrable result and a likely chance of delivering what it says it will do, won't last much more than a day.


(16) Parking Lids


Portland, Oregon, is well known for its "parking lid" - an upper limit on the number of spaces allocated for the downtown.  According to planner G.B. Arrington: "In Portland, 'the parking lid,' as it was called, is gone. But the tight parking ratios that went along with the lid are still in place.  In the core of Portland you get one parking space for every four employees. That is still true today. In getting rid of the lid the city expanded the geographic area where parking is "pinched" to use the term the city uses. Parking controls now extend to then entire central city, not just the downtown.


"New parking structures have been added to the core of Portland with the change of regulations - the process to get one however is very complex. Parking management has always been a part of the planning regime in Portland  - and also part of the clean air strategy.


"The newer variation is the application of parking restrictions on a region wide basis as part of the Region 2040 Growth Management Plan managed by the regional government Metro. Local governments are now required to change their codes to provide for minimums and maximums for parking consistent with regional standards tied to the availability of transit service.


"Along Portland's Westside LRT line there are also maximums on parking within 1/2 mile of the station areas.


"The result of all this is that parking has been one of the key tools the Portland region has used in its palette to paint a more livable future."


(17) Canadians Spending More On Cars Than Food


OTTAWA --A new report from Statistics Canada confirms what many Canadians already know: cars are sucking more money out of our wallets than any other expense.


The report says that Canadian consumers spent more on their cars last year (1999) than they did on food, clothes and shoes put together. Of every $100 in retail spending, $37.50 went to motor vehicles, parts and services $19.50 went to food and non-alcoholic beverages $9.70 went to clothing and footwear and $7.60 went to home furnishings and electronics.


And the item that registered the largest yearly sales increase? Gas. Sales in gas and oil were up 12.3 per cent last year, StatsCan reports, pushed up by rising energy prices.


(18)  Growth in Transit Use in Canada


Urban transit 1999 (preliminary)


Revenues for urban transit authorities across Canada grew at three times the pace of ridership between 1995 and 1999, according to a new study. Annual revenues grew 4.5 % per year, whereas the number of passengers carried rose by 1.4% per year.


Transit authorities' total operating revenues reached more than $1.9 billion in 1999, up 18.7% from 1995. However, during the same period the number of passengers increased only 5% to just over 1.4 billion, according to Factors affecting urban transit ridership, released today.


Between 1970 and 1990, urban transit ridership rose steadily, reaching a peak of 1.5 billion passengers carried in 1990. Since that time, however, ridership has fallen. In 1998, 1.4 billion passengers used urban transit systems.


In urban areas, 80% of people travelling to work rode in their own vehicles, 10% used urban transit, 7% walked to work, and the remainder used bicycles and other means of transportation to travel to their place of work.


One reason put forward for the ridership decline is the economic downturn of the early 1990s, since fewer jobs means fewer people taking the bus; however, a similar downturn in the 1980s did not have the same impact on ridership. Others have asserted that the decline in urban transit subsidies has hurt ridership. On a national basis, however, subsidies paid to urban transit providers rose from $2.0 billion in 1990 to $2.4 billion in 1998.


Another hypothesis is that ridership is lower because fares have increased. However, in real terms, the price of the average fare has fallen. Other reasons for the decline may include increasing suburbanization, automobiles' lowered perceived costs and greater convenience, businesses moving to outlying urban areas and the work-at-home phenomenon.


Factors affecting urban transit ridership examines ridership trends between 1992 and 1998, and offers analysis of the reasons for the change in ridership levels. The study found that, on a national basis, the most significant factors were the change in average fare and the level of service provided by urban transit authorities. The level of service was defined as a revenue service hour, that is, the number of hours that urban transit vehicles are providing service.


Between 1992 and 1998, in about 80 cities, the average fare rose in current dollars from 93 cents to $1.14 (but did not keep pace with inflation), revenue rose from $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion, service hours decreased from 24.6 million to 23.2 million and the number of passengers remained constant at 1.43 billion.


Nevertheless, the results of service and fare changes in eight cities that carry about 75% of all urban transit riders differ from the national average. In one city, for example, fare decreases coupled with service increases helped push up ridership and revenue more than 20%. For most of the other seven cities, service hours were reduced and fares were increased. Generally, ridership fell but revenues rose. These results are not surprising, given the inelastic demand characteristics of urban transit.


In 1992, according to population figures based on areas served by urban transit providers, ridership was 92 trips per capita. In 1998, this had fallen to 84 trips. Cities such as Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal have per-capita ridership rates that exceed the national average.


Growth in Transit Use in U.S.

Last year, (1999) Americans took more than 9 billion trips on public transportation, the highest ridership in nearly four decades. This record ridership represents the highest level since the advent of the federal transit program.


Public transportation usage continues to outpace growth in other modes of transportation such as airlines and highways. Last year, public transportation ridership increased by 4.5 percent over 1998, outpacing growth in other travel modes. Airline travel grew by 3 percent increase over the same time period while motor vehicle travel grew by 2 percent. The current level of public transportation usage marks the fourth straight year of ridership increases and amounts to an increase of over 15 percent increase since 1995.


"The equivalent of more than a million new trips on public transportation were added each day in 1999. An investment in public transportation infrastructure by the federal government has worked to create high quality services and the expansion of existing services for more choice in meeting America’s mobility needs," said William W. Millar, President of the American Public Transportation Association. "From Bowling Green, Ky., which increased ridership by 31 percent, to MTA New York City Transit’s subway, which increased ridership by 7 percent, more people riding public transportation means less congestion and a better quality of life in the 21st century."


All major modes of public transportation have more riders. Gains in ridership were led by heavy rail transit systems with a 6.4 percent increase, demand response or paratransit services, 4.7 percent, bus systems, 3.8 percent, and commuter rail systems, 3.7 percent.


Seen throughout America, the growth trend cuts across small towns, suburban regions and large cities. Bus systems serving areas from 50,000 to 100,000 increased 7.3 percent in 1999 over 1998, and systems serving populations below 50,000 went up 6 percent. The nation’s largest bus systems -- those in urbanized areas of more than 1 million in population such as Detroit, (10 percent), Washington D.C., (4 percent), Orange County in the Los Angeles suburbs (3 percent), and New York City Transit buses (6.6 percent) – also accounted for substantial gains in ridership.


(19)  Unsafe roads lead parents to drive children


BBC News Online: "School run estimated to account for 20% of journeys"


Saturday, 8 April, 2000


 UK Education Secretary David Blunkett has called for more children to get  on their bike after revealing that the "school run" was responsible for almost a third of traffic pollution.


 He called for an end to "the vicious cycle in which unsafe roads lead parents to prefer driving their children to school", saying 24,000  people were now estimated to die prematurely each year because of air pollution.


 And he said children should be encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport.


 Education had a critical role to play in ensuring that youngsters learned to protect and respect the world in which they were growing up, Mr Blunkett told a conference in London organised by the Labour Environment Campaign.


 "Education can do more than anything to move us away from the image of environmental protection as a fringe, liberal issue to being a core concern across society," he said.


(20)  Business in Vancouver, Issue 538 (February, 2000)


By Gordon Price


What is the right place for the car?  How much space do we give it?  What's the right proportion of vehicles in the transportation mix?  They're tough questions to answer, possibly because they're hardly ever asked.


Positions get pushed to extremes: Give no ground to the car, demands one camp, while those at the other end of the spectrum want no ground taken away - that is, no effective limits on our freedom to drive. 


Ever since the 1920s, we've been trying to provide enough space for our cars.  We've rarely kept up.  Congestion, it turns out, is inevitable when car companies can produce (and we buy) an unlimited number of vehicles and then expect our governments to provide an unlimited amount of road space for them to run on.  There just isn't the money, room or political will to lay enough asphalt wide enough or fast enough.


But we can't just give up, given the critical role cars and trucks play in our lives and the economy.  So how much space is enough? And more importantly, once we've decided on both the quantity of vehicles and the quality of the road system we want, how do we manage the system to achieve and maintain it, and not get caught in the endless demand for more and more?


In a phrase, what is the maximum desirable capacity for our road system and its components.  More than ever, we need to know, because the time has come to strike a new deal between ourselves and our cars.  That deal requires, on one hand, that there be limits and requirements placed on the car in return for a transportation network on which the car works well.  And the same is true for transit, and even (gasp!) for cycling.


Cities everywhere are trying to figure out this new deal, regardless of their character.  Take, for instance, one of the most car-indulgent cities in North America: Phoenix, Arizona.


They build beautiful freeways in Phoenix, and they're opening more miles of them by the month.  Since transit carries something under two percent of all trips (buses don't even run on Sundays), everyone is reliant on the freeways and the grid of six-lane arterials that criss-cross the valley.  This desert city is both proud and frustrated with its road system.


They're frustrated because even after the current system is completed, it won't work to solve their problems - and they know it.  Planners figure the freeway system can effectively handle just under a third of all vehicle movements in the region (about the same percentage of transit trips that SkyTrain carries).  And, since there is no limit to growth, whether of subdivisions or SUVs, it will surely begin to fail as it tries to carry more.


The problem with single-purpose systems, whether freeways or subways, is that they work great, until they don't.  Once they pass the point of desirable capacity, the consequences are increasingly severe: epic congestion, economic dislocations and an unsafe, unpleasant user experience.


So guess what they're talking about in Phoenix.  The city's leadership believes it's time they built some serious transit in the Valley of the Sun, and that they should seriously tax themselves to do it.   Even in the city of ultimate sprawl (an acre an hour), in a region built around freeways and wide, wide roads, they know they have to have transit in the mix.


The option to just keep widening and extending the freeways is running out.  At least that's the argument of the Mayor of Tempe (a university town that actually has a main street worth walking along) as he fights off a proposal to widen the Superstition Freeway from six to twelve lanes.  When they're seriously talking about taxes for transit and limits to freeways in Phoenix, you know there's been some kind of revolution. 


It's futile to plan for the future unless both the presence of the car is accepted and its domination isn't.  There's also no point in building big-buck single-purpose transportation systems (whether freeways or rail transit) unless they're part of an integrated system.  One won't work without the other, and that's an argument even fiscal conservatives are using in Phoenix to convince a rabidly anti-tax population to bite the transit bullet.


Congestion doesn't necessarily go away (it may even be designed in at certain points), but the more workable and successful the constraints on vehicles, the better quality experience there must eventually be for the driver on the rest of the system. There is no point in punishing drivers with unsafe, unpleasant road experiences, particularly ones  designed purely to make them feel guilty, if we expect a complex network of transportation options to be heavily funded by car drivers.  They have to be part of the coalition of users who benefit. 


The TransLink strategic plan currently out for public review assumes that the most significant amount of new money for transportation will come from a vehicle tax.  But two-thirds of the capital outlays will go to transit.  There will be a direct benefit to the driver that comes with a good transit system.  But strategic improvements in road capacity are defensible as well, and better management is a must, which in turn requires a system of constraints and alternatives.  That's the deal.


Phoenix committed itself to the car, and now is trying to find the proper place for transit.  Vancouver, the city without freeways, committed itself to transit, cycling and pedestrian improvements, and now must find the proper place for the car.