Nice timing. I awoke this morning to Leslie Peacock’s fine report on the forward-thinking government in Dallas, looking for options besides more concrete in transportation planning and also taking the urban community into account.
And then I picked up the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where Chelsea Boozer reports that west Little Rock City Director and Vice Mayor Lance Hines is all for the layering on of tons more concrete and Mayor Mark Stodola is reluctant to join City Director Kathy Webb’s resolution asking the Highway Department to consider alternatives. Stodola is sure the freeway builders have some more good window dressing coming and thinks a resolution is premature. It is premature to consider alternatives? It’s way past too late.
But particularly note Hines:
The resolution says, “favoring one mode of travel at the expense of all others tends to make communities less competitive, less resilient, and more dependent on larger future government subsidies, while degrading quality of life, and limiting citizens’ choice.”
Vice Mayor and City Director Lance Hines said he won’t be voting in favor of the document.
“This seems like a very one-sided resolution to me. I think the Highway Department could come in and refute every one of these points with facts and figures,” Hines said.
Hines thinks without looking at, among other facts and figures, the report by Metroplan on the multi-billion-dollar impact on other roadways of cramming more traffic faster through Little Rock’s downtown. It will create bottlenecks elsewhere. He also thinks without giving consideration to the studies around the country about the futility of widening freeways as a perceived end to congestion. He ascribes no cost to the decay a freeway corridor brings to the city or the neighborhood division it fosters, even in the face of clear evidence in his own city along Interstate 630.
Just this morning, a reader sent this story about the California Department of Transportation. If anybody can build freeways, those boys and girls can.
Whenever a road project gets announced, the first thing officials talk about is how it’s going to reduce traffic. Just last month, for instance, the Connecticut DOT reported that it would be widening Interstates 95 and 84, a project that would result in major economic benefits from “easing congestion”:
The analysis found that adding a lane in each direction border-to-border will save I-95 travelers well over 14 million hours of delays by the year 2040. Likewise, the widening of I-84 will save travelers over 4.7 million hours of delays during the same period.
Never mind that it’s unclear whether major highway projects actually provide an economic boost (many of the supposed new benefits are simply a relocation of existing business activity). Congestion relief itself is a dubious claim when it comes to road expansions. Transportation experts have repeatedly found that building new roads inevitably encourages more people to drive, which in turn negates any congestion savings—a phenomenon known as “induced demand.”Advertisement
So it’s refreshing—and rare—to see the California DOT (aka Caltrans) link to a policy brief outlining key research findings from years of study into induced demand. The brief, titled “Increasing Highway Capacity Unlikely to Relieve Traffic Congestion,” was compiled by UC-Davis scholar Susan Handy. Here are the highlights:
* There’s high-quality evidence for induced demand. All the studies reviewed by Handy used time-series data, “sophisticated econometric techniques,” and controlled for outside variables such as population growth and transit service.
* More roads means more traffic in both the short- and long-term. Adding 10 percent more road capacity leads to 3-6 percent more vehicle miles in the near term and 6-10 percent more over many years.
* Much of the traffic is brand new. Some of the cars on a new highway lane have simply relocated from a slower alternative route. But many are entirely new. They reflect leisure trips that often go unmade in bad traffic, or drivers who once used transit or carpooled, or shifting development patterns, and so on.Advertisement
I’m sure the Arkansas Highway Department can refute all this. Lance Hines says they can.. And Mayor Stodola says no need to hurry. The Arkansas freeway builders will be along soon with some great improvements, just like on the Broadway Bridge project. They’re going to paint up real party the posts on the vast urban wasteland to be created underneath the 10-lane expanse of concrete dividing downtown, for example.
Stodola continues to hop to the tune of the freeway builders at the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. They want freeways so people from Cabot and Conway and Benton can get in and out of this hellhole as fast as possible. Who could blame them? Remember that the chamber is part of a regional gang of economic developers, taxpayer-subsidized until a lawsuit came along, that is primarily a corporate political lobby for low taxes, low wages, low worker benefits and big taxpayer-subsidized salaries for the development officials.
PS: Leslie Peacock’s cover story on the I-30 project is now on-line. Also for thoughtful leadership, see the Quapaw Quarter Association.
PPS: Here’s the resolution filed by Director Webb to which Lance Hines has already objected because he’s sure the HIghway Department knows better
A RESOLUTION TO SEEK ANALYSIS BY THE ARKANSAS STATE HIGHWAY AND TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION OF ISSUES FOR THE PROPOSED 30 CROSSING PROJECT; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
WHEREAS, good transportation systems support local economies by increasing freedom, opportunity, and choice for residents and businesses alike;
WHEREAS, favoring one mode of travel at the expense of all others tends to make communities less competitive, less resilient, and more dependent on larger future government subsidies, while degrading quality of life and limiting citizens’ choice;
WHEREAS, expanding road capacity as a response to congestion tends to increase congestion and shift it elsewhere in the system;
WHEREAS, rapidly approaching advancements in autonomous vehicle technology carry the potential to drastically disrupt today’s commuter patterns in the very near future;
WHEREAS, many communities across the country have found that thoughtfully replacing urban freeways with more responsive infrastructure is far more advantageous than freeway expansion;
WHEREAS, the decisions regarding safety improvements of the I-30 bridge and corridor will have a great impact on future generations
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE CITY OF LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS:
Section 1. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department should perform thorough analyses of additional possible Connecting Arkansas Program improvements within the 30 Crossing Project corridor, including, but not limited to:
(a) consideration of Metroplan’s Imagine Central Arkansas Plan,
(b) capital expenditures on public transportation options within the corridor such
as bus rapid transit, light rail, and streetcars,
(c) additional options currently in use and being considered by other cities
Section 2. The analyses mentioned above should consider impacts on economic competitiveness, air quality, health, reducing the Central Arkansas economy’s nearly exclusive reliance on cars, mobility for people who do not drive cars, the benefits of more people having the choice to replace car trips with other modes of travel, the development potential resulting from reducing the area of the right-of-way and reducing the amount of land currently devoted to car storage, the potential for improved safety resulting from slower traffic speeds, aesthetics, increases in the average number of occupants per vehicle in the corridor, and the benefits accruing to businesses as a result of the work force having greater choice in travel mode when commuting.
Section 3. The Mayor and City Clerk are requested to forward a copy of this Resolution to the Commission and Executive Director of the Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Commission.