Despite efforts to facilitate the shift towards sustainable transport, the issue of traffic congestion is frequently the topic of discussion in discussions about mobility. The demand for cars worldwide increased dramatically in the 1990s, and sales remained steady at approximately eight million in 2017. In the face of the influx of vehicles, governments have been trying to improve the mobility of their citizens. Some actions focus on widening roads already in use and creating new ones. In contrast, others promote a shift to alternative modes of transportation such as cycling, public transport, and walking.
What lessons can we learn from the experiences of cities as they attempt to tackle congestion on the roads?
The expansion of road space does it solve the issue?
In simpler terms, congestion occurs when the demand for space on roads exceeds the supply.
Therefore creating additional roads or adding roads to existing ones is the obvious solution. It is logical when cities are growing more extensive, and roads that serve them follow the same pattern. Drivers will have more space to move about if they have more spacious or newly constructed roads that ease congestion and helps cars move faster. Officials from the government often use this argument to justify the importance of the new and often expensive infrastructure projects.
However, it is not always been this way in the real world, and the reason for that may be discovered in the longer-term consequences of the caused demand. The phrase “induced demand” refers to the scenario in which more of the product is consumed as the supply of goods grows. This means that the construction of new roads creates additional traffic, which creates congestion and over again.
Why is this happening? When a new highway is built or an existing one is widened first, there is less traffic congestion, and the journey becomes more efficient. However, these improvements alter people’s behavior. Drivers who previously resisted this route due to congestion now see it as the most appealing option. Other people who had previously relied on public transport, bicycles, or other means of transport could shift to automobiles. Certain people may alter their travel time – instead of traveling at off-peak hours to be more efficient, they are now traveling during peak times, causing congestion. Therefore, as more and more people use the highway, the initial benefits of time-saving are diminished and disappear.
Katy Freeway in Houston, Texas, illustrates this issue. The highway has 26 lanes and is thought to be the most significant roadway in North America. The expansion was completed in the year 2011 and cost US$2.8 billion. After a while, however, congestion increased. A 2014 study by the City Observatory found that when compared to 2011, morning commute times grew by 30%, whereas afternoon commute times grew by 55%. So much to ease congestion.
Reducing and shifting the amount of road space
If you look at the top ten cities with the most time lost to congestion in the year 2018, eight are European. One of the main factors contributing to the congestion of Paris, London, Rome, Milan or Barcelona is their old age. Some roads are older than the introduction of automobiles, increasing road projects difficulty. In reality, the car-centric infrastructure interferes with old street designs such as public transportation, walking, and development patterns.
However, European cities tend to be the most innovative in reducing and relocating roads to make space for other forms of transport. Zurich is an example. Zurich intentionally slows the pace of traffic to reduce its popularity. Paris has expanded the space available to bicycles, buses, or pedestrians while decreasing the space once dedicated to automobiles.
Let us take a look at the solutions to London more in-depth…
Combat to address London congestion continues.
In 2003, the city of London introduced a congestion fee to discourage motorists from driving to alternative ways of transportation. It works on a basic basis: cars that enter into the Congestion Charging Zone within central London between 7 am and 6 p.m. on days that are not working are being charged a fixed daily cost of 11.50 dollars (13 euro). Alongside other measures that were taken, a number of important benefits were made.
The volume of traffic within the charging zone in 2017 was 22% lower compared to 10 years ago. The number of private cars that entered the city’s inner-city London decreased by 39 percent between 2002 and. In parallel, a steady shift to public transport is apparent. In 2017 45 percent of journey-related stages in London were due to travel by bus, tram, subway, and rail, an increase of 10.5 percent compared to the early 2000s. Furthermore, cycling witnessed an increase in popularity in 2016, with 727,000 journeys made each day in the year 2016, an increase of 9 percent compared to 2015.
However, London’s congestion fee is showing signs of aging. Speeds of traffic are slowing and travel times are more lengthy. The city lost 227 hours of lost time per driver in 2018; London ranked as the sixth largest city worldwide for the time spent in traffic.
Many factors have contributed. Online shopping has increased delivery trucks that travel through London’s streets. In 2012, they drove 3.8 billion kilometers, and in 2017, 4.8 billion, an increase of 26%. Additionally, private-hire companies like Uber have seen a surge in registrations in the last few years – up 75% between 2013 and 2017. Another area for improvement is the decrease in the road surface. The capacity of roads for motorists has been diminished because of temporary construction works in certain zones and the relocation of road spaces to make it easier for pedestrians, cyclists, and taxis.
While Londoners are optimistic regarding the possibilities of creating alternatives to driving, improving the driving experience is challenging with a fundamental rethinking of the charging system.
Two changes have been made that are expected to provide some relief. Private-hire cars will no longer be exempt from the congestion fee in zones during peak times. Additionally, the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was created within the same Zone in the congestion charging Zone to improve the air quality. The vehicles allowed to enter the Zone that do not meet the standards for exhaust emissions are charged an extra 12.50 pounds (14.10 euros). However, as more electric vehicles are spotted on the roads, the positive impact of ULEZ will likely diminish in time…
Inspiration from Singapore
In the past, the urban density in the city-state of Singapore grew exponentially by 8,000 residents per square kilometer two in 2017. This is a 75% increase compared to 1990. However, Singapore continues to see less congestion in the traffic and more efficient speeds of travel compared with its closest neighbors. Singapore authorities took an inventive approach to controlling the traffic flow and have implemented aggressive traffic-control measures.
Control of car ownership via the quota system was introduced in the 1990s. Buyers of cars bid on the Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which is the right to own a car and use roads. The cost of COE is determined by the supply and demand for cars, which means that in high demand, COE could become more costly than the automobile itself. However, this measurement showed certain limitations. Many felt that since they pay an amount that is so high for their car, they must use it as often as possible. Hence, the congestion on the roads increased.
The electronic road Pricing (ERP) System introduced in 1998 was an innovation. It operates by a “pay as you use” principle to control the demand for traffic. ERP platforms equipped with cameras and sensors are placed in entry points to specific city areas. Each vehicle is equipped with an inside machine with cash cards. While passing across the platforms, drivers are charged at different rates based on the hour of the day and traffic congestion on the roads. This causes them to think about their travel time and route or mode of transportation.
Furthermore, a 190-kilometre mass-rail transit (MRT) discounted fares system has been created. Trains are comfortable, clean, and frequently used stations have air conditioning. New housing was constructed near MRT stations. MRT stations, making the commute much more convenient.
In the future, Singapore will continue exploring “smart solutions” to improve the commute and get more comfortable rides. The anticipated projects include driverless on-demand shuttles, hands-free gates for fare accounts-based ticketing, pedestrian crossings with LED strips, and innovative MTR lines.
Additionally, satellite-based road pricing is expected to be in place by 2020 and will update the current ERP system. Advancements in technology allow for more advanced traffic monitoring. For instance, a range of mobile and fixed enforcement cameras will be utilized to collect data on traffic congestion, optimize traffic management (for instance, the timing of traffic lights), and provide more services for motorists. The upgrade will not be inexpensive – it will require an investment of three92 million US dollars.
New York introduces congestion charge.
In line with the model of London and London, in 2021, New York will become the first US city to introduce congestion pricing for certain zones of Manhattan. The idea has been debated and debated, and various ideas have been floated and rebuffed over the last decade. Why? Congestion charges can be politically difficult to implement.
In New York, congestion charging is designed to tackle a variety of alarming indicators. Since 2018, the average speed for cars has dropped to 4.7 miles per hour, faster than walking.
The administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the money derived from the congestion fee would be an affordable source in the amount of $15 billion US dollars over the course of five years, which is desperately required to upgrade and modernize the subway system in New York. The system’s time-to-time performance is being reported as being 13% lower than in 2012 due to delays in maintenance and outdated infrastructure.
In the future…
Experiences of different cities show that addressing the challenge of traffic congestion requires an integrated transportation-policy approach, which takes into account a number of factors and individual circumstances they face.
It is evident that the development of appealing, affordable, safe, and comfortable alternatives to driving is essential. In addition, continuous changes and revisions to guidelines are necessary since the effects of these policies tend to diminish over time, so a more the need dynamic approach is essential. Developing new technology and “smart” solutions will lead in the right direction, but they will require a substantial investment that many governments cannot manage.
While at it, individuals have to get up and move to work. The issue is how they do it and how much time they waste.