Monday, May 12, 2008

The Road More Traveled

I just finished Balaker and Staley's The Road More Traveled.
1. Congestion costs us more than we think, in money, time, rearranging our lives, people dying in ambulances, lack of dates, and irritation.
2. We're worried that it's inevitable, so we don't do anything much about it.
3. The solutions that get the most attention are of little or no help.
A: That would be light rail and
B: Getting people to drive less.
4. No, really, those are terrible solutions. A: Railroads cost billions, but only start becoming effective at densities of 5,000 people per square mile. Basically, they work in Manhattan. We see all those people in railroad cars and think how great it is that they're not on the road. We forget that a train is essentially a one-lane highway with intermittent large packets of people. They are a disaster for most disabled people. They only attract people within a quarter-mile of a station - on both ends. Everyone else has to drive and change over. B: People don't want to drive less. They want other people to drive less. Because when you're on the highway, all those other people seem to be going to useless and annoying things that aren't as important as what you're doing.
5. We are told that you can't build your way out of congestion, but yeah, you can. It's been done, but you have to keep up with growth. We would rather that other solutions worked instead, solutions like A: light rail and B: other people driving less.
6. There are also technological solutions for managing traffic, like actual software that co-ordinates stoplights, and quick-response teams to get rid of breakdowns and accidents, and better designed feeder roads, and HOT lanes, which we are just starting to find interesting. Once we get these light rail and rideshare programs through the legislature. Mixed used zoning and telecommuting also work.
7. Some of our most important metropolitan traffic congestion managers think congestion is a good thing, because it encourages people to like A: and B:
8. Private toll roads, especially variably-priced toll roads, irritate people who think only rich people use them. But everyone uses them once in a while, and they work great at reducing congestion. So get over your class resentment.


Wyman said...

"lack of dates?"

TomG said...

my guess: having to constantly reschedule missed appointments by one party or other. I made the mistake of taking the Lincoln Tunnel instead of the Tappan Zee yesterday afternoon - right into Manhattan, and stuck in wall to wall traffic for the next 45 mins. until I could squeeze my way onto the access tunnel into Queens. It was admittedly cool to drive past the Empire State Building etc. - it is the most amazing set of buildings anywhere, and the floods of people too! But taxis weave back 'n forth, missing me several times by an inch best. So I don't know what they'd do if they reduced the public transportation systems by even 5% - already being at the absolute maximum threshold of tolerance for any mobility at all.

Michael said...

Of course, with the commute we have, this tends to be mostly theoretical. Because of that, we get terribly annoyed when something slows traffic in Concord. Yesterday Ellie got caught in paving by Concord Hospital. it turned a 20 minute commute into a 1 hour ordeal. That would be expected in more urban areas. And I don't think we are going to see light rail from Goffstown to Concord anytime soon for the reasons you stated.

bs king said...

I mostly get mad at traffic and/or aggressive drivers when I go in to work....but that's because at 11:30 at night, I'm heading in to the hospital to work and quite possibly AM doing something more important than most other people on the road.

Anyway, you should read the Robert Moses biography The Power Broker. That makes a lot of interesting commentary on how we got where we are with driving, at least in some of the big cities. It's a hefty book, but well worth it.

Another comment would be that in Boston right now they have driven the public transportation in to such massive debt (in part by deciding to redo all the stations at once) that it is actually not all that much more expensive to take your car. I would actually spend more getting to work via train in time and money (double the time, a dollar more per day) than I do in my car. Not to mention the safety concerns of walking half a mile by myself late at night, every night. That's all really colored my perspective on the to drive/not to drive debate.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yeah, lack of dates. The set of available females in the Houston area is in theory, enormous. But the amount of time one would spend driving to pursue a long shot is an effective deterrent. You might make an effort for someone you knew was a possible relationship. But after a long work day, the willingness to travel into the city for someone who "is pretty/smart/charming, but..." is much lower.

I wonder if those old rural dances on Saturday night weren't a better solution. You knew this was your best shot for the week, so you hitched up the buckboard for the long ride.

Bethany, you echoed an entire chapter quite nicely.

Anonymous said...

Should "mixed used zoning" be "mixed-use zoning?"

Jonathan said...

I'm hoping it's "mixed-use zoning." Mixed used zoning sounds like zoning that was previously used for something gross, and now you can have the leftovers.

Anonymous said...

The answer is in front of us - we have to make the workday around the worker, not the office. Once we can telecommute, highway commutes go away.

Assistant Village Idiot said...