Expanding highways and building more roads actually makes traffic worse

Author Patrick Sisson

It’s a great time to be a road builder in the United States, and a terrible time to be a road user. If it feels like you’re perennially stuck in traffic due to road construction, you’re not wrong, and you’re not alone, according to a new report by Transportation for America.

The nation’s largest 100 urban areas added 30,511 new lane-miles of roads between 1993 and 2017, according to the report, a 42 percent increase (and a trend that shows no signs of slowing down). For perspective, that’s higher than population growth, which was 32 percent in those metros over the same time period. That’s not all that grew: traffic congestion, as measured in annual hours of delay, actually rose during those 24 years, by a staggering 144 percent.

The report, called The Congestion Con, explores the recent history of road-building in the United States, and argues that if anyone hopes this kind of massive infrastructure investments will help solve city congestion and traffic woes, this is far from being the case.

The report breaks down exactly why expanding roadways has been such a bad deal for the country. There’s the expense, for one. Each lane-mile of road costs between $4.2 and $15.4 million to build and an $24,000 a year to maintain. States alone spent $500 billion to expand roads between 1993 and 2017.

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How driving ruins local flavor

Author Joe Cortright

Yesterday, we used data compiled by Yelp on chain and independent restaurants to compute the market share of chains in the nation’s largest metro areas. Overall, about a quarter of all restaurants are part of a chain, but that fraction varies widely across metro areas. We think that a high market share of independent restaurants is likely a good indicator of a thriving and diverse food scene, and is a strong amenity for many metro areas.

We also noted that there’s a strong correlation between places that have more restaurants per capita and places that have a larger market share of independent restaurants. Consumers in metros with a higher share of independent restaurants have both more varied dining choices and more total dining choices, on average, that consumers living in metros with a higher share of chain restaurants.

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A car-free Market Street: so far, it’s working

Cities should be designed for people, not cars.  Now tourists and everyone else can stroll down Market Street in San Francisco and enjoy the experience, ride an historic street car or cable car or take in the history at the United Nations Plaza.

Last week, San Francisco made countless headlines when private vehicles were officially – and permanently – removed from Market Street.

For us at Walk San Francisco, this was an incredible step forward for the 500,000 people who walk on Market Street each day.

We are so proud to have been part of this historic victory, which countless people and nonprofit partners pushed for (and some for a very long time!).

At Walk SF, we see this as a turning point for San Francisco prioritizing safety and people on our streets. Already the conversation has turned to which San Francisco streets should be made car-free next.

But back to Market Street. The morning after Market went car-free, we gathered with almost 100 Walk SF members to experience the entire car-free stretch from Van Ness Avenue to the Ferry Building on foot. Here’s more about what we saw – and felt.

Calmer, quieter, and a lot safer

As we headed east on Market Street from Van Ness, it was easy to get a baseline for what a Market Street with cars feels like: eastbound traffic isn’t fully diverted until 10th Street.

After we crossed 10th Street, it was noticeable how much calmer and quieter Market Street quickly felt. With less traffic, the street space seemed to open up so you could better take in the people, streetcars, and buildings. Instead of the unpredictable chaos of cars on a city street, buses and bikes cruised by.

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Vision Zero, Meet VMT Reductions

Slow Turn Box

Many jurisdictions have vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction targets, intended to reduce congestion and pollution. They can also provide large but often overlooked traffic safety benefits.

Author Todd Litman

Many jurisdictions are officially committed to Vision Zero, an ambitious goal to eliminate all traffic deaths and severe injuries. Although some cities are making progress, most jurisdictions are failing. U.S. traffic death rates declined during the last half of the the 20th century, reaching a low of 32,479 in 2014, but subsequently increased, averaging about 37,000 annual deaths during each of the last three years. New strategies are needed to achieve ambitious safety goals.

Several new strategies exist, and are overall very cost effective, considering their total benefits, but are generally overlooked in conventional traffic safety planning. Conventional traffic safety programs tend to assume that motor vehicle travel is overall safe, and so favor targeted strategies that reduce higher-risk driving, such as graduated licenses, senior driver tests, and anti-impaired driving campaigns. However, such programs generally fail because it is not feasible to reduce high-risk driving alone. It is infeasible for most teenagers, seniors and drinkers to significantly reduce their driving in sprawled, automobile-dependent areas that lack non-auto travel options. Every time we tell somebody to reduce their high-risk driving, we have an obligation to create more accessible and multi-modal communities so they have viable alternatives.

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Sonoma-Marin commuter rail sees 26% ridership rise in January after new ferry link, more frequent trains


SMART is uploading reports at the end of each month on various metrics from the previous month.

Train ridership between Sonoma and Marin counties appears to have received a sizable January boost, which the transit agency attributed to a number of service upgrades in the past two months such as a new San Francisco ferry link and shorter times between trains.

And the initial figures may point to SMART as not just a north-south commute option.

SMART trains last month had 26% more riders than a year before, according to spokeswoman Julia Gonzalez. The report of preliminary numbers was presented at the Wednesday board meeting for Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit. Final January numbers will be released at the end of this month, after reconciling figures for physical counts and usage of Clipper cards and app ticket sales.

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