The Freeway Myth

There is a conviction among transportation planners and Chambers of Commerce that additional lanes on freeways and highways reduce congestion and are good for business.  This is a myth.

Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that adding a lane decreases congestion only temporarily.  The new lane stimulates sprawl development with comes with additional cars and trucks.  In one or two years the lane is filled, congestion returns to the freeway or highway but now there are more cars to dump onto city streets and interchanges.  The ultimate results are predictable:  loss of open space, more congestion, more accidents, more pollution, more noise pollution, more climate change and horrendous amounts of money squandered on a non-solution.  It is a principle of ecology: if you create more habitat the species will come.

The real solution is better transit, especially rail transit.  Addition of more rail transit is less expensive, can carry far more people, is safer, can reduce pollution, uses far less open space, stimulates transit-centered development and housing.  With sufficient investment, rail travel can be made more convenient and lest costly to the traveler than driving.

Transit-centered development places housing and commercial businesses within already developed city infrastructure lowering the cost to the cities of installation and maintenance.  It allows citizens to access local businesses without a car.

And it is better for tourism.  Western Marin and Sonoma Counties are heavily impacted by tourist traffic, especially in the summer months.  Climate change caused by autos and trucks (about one half of carbon dioxide emissions in California come from cars and trucks), will disrupt everything that tourists come to experience in Marin and Sonoma Counties:  the ocean’s fisheries will deplete due to sea acidification, beaches will flood due to seal level rise, agriculture will suffer due to erratic and extreme weather, forests and cities will burn due to wildfires driven by ferocious winds, and salmon spawning will be diminished by increased flooding.

Yet our political leaders do not seem to have received the message yet.   For example, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority/Regional Climate Protection Authority just approved just approved plans that include additional lanes for Highway 101.  This is a $6,000,000 quick fix with very dangerous consequences.   The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s new Bay Area Plan 2040 includes money for additional lanes on other Bay Area freeways.  Our elected leaders need to hear for their constituents, “More trains, no more lanes!”