April 18, 2004

More Traffic Sewers!

That's apparently what we need to keep the traffic flowing, according to an article in the Sunday MetroWest Daily News, "Small Roads Can't Handle Large Traffic As Main Arteries Clog."

"Keeping cars moving along 'feeder roads' such as routes 9, 135, 85 and 20, to name just a few, is as critical as controlling traffic on major highways," the article concludes.

Why is no one in that piece pointing out the obvious: As long as you keep creating more development that forces more and more cars on the same few roads because everyone has to use the same few roads for everything, you will never get ahead of the problem. What you will assuredly do, however, is make an unpleasant environment along those feeder roads and discourage anyone from using them to walk, even if they're only traveling half a mile.

"Why have suburban areas, with their height limits and low density of population, proved to be such a traffic nightmare?" ask the authors of Suburban Nation. In large part because of this inefficient traffic patern.

Even worse: By widening roads, you encourage people to drive a lot more than they did before, quickly filling new asphalt back up to capacity.

It's not only that everyone has to drive everywhere for everything. "Every single trip from one component to another, no matter how short, must enter the collector [road]. Thus, the traffic of an entire commmunity may rely on a single road, which, as a result, is generally congested during much of the day." More traditional neighborhoods have "all the same components as the suburban model, but they are organized as a web, a densely interconnected system that reduces demand on the collector road. ... [I]ts gridded network is superior at handling automobile traffic, providing multiple routes between destinations...

"The efficiency of the traditional grid explains why Charleston, South Carolina, at 2,500 acres, handles an annual tourist load of 5.5 million people with little congestions, while Hilton Head Island, ten times larger, experiences severe backups at 1.5 million visitors. Hilton Head, for years the suburban planners' exemplar, focuses all its traffic on a single collector road."

Rte. 6 on Cape Cod anyone?

Yes, we need to upgrade some critical roadways, but not at the expense of making it even less likely that people can choose to walk between retail destinations less than half a mile away from each other (most people will take their cars from Speen Street or Rte. 9 hotels to restaurants just 2 blocks away because the pedestrian environment is so hostile). But even more important is to change the pattern of new development so it doesn't keep escalating the problem.

"The simple truth is that building more highways and widening existing roads, almost always motivated by concern over traffic, does nothing to reduce traffic. In the long run, it actually increases traffic. This revelation is so counterintuitive that it bears repeating: adding lanes makes traffic worse," Suburban Nation notes. "The phenomenon has been well documented ... increased traffic capacity causes people to drive more -- a lot more."

In one University of California at Berkeley study of 30 counties between 1973 and 1990, "for every 10% increase in roadway capacity, traffic increased 9 percent within four years' time."

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