You can’t solve traffic jams by widening roads – invest in public transportation instead – Streetsblog Chicago


Monday the Chicago Tribune examined the plight of local drivers stuck in some of the worst commuter traffic in the country, according to the latest congestion study by transportation analysis firm Inrix.

Streetsblog USA has already noted that these annual Inrix traffic reports were marred by multiple flaws. The problems have included an unrealistic definition of congestion which implies that roads do not work properly unless it is easy for motorists to drive at illegal speeds; exaggerated estimates of the “cost” of congestion to travelers; and an unfavorable bias against compact cities with short average travel distances.

But there is no doubt that Chicagoland has nightmarish traffic, and choosing to drive to work here when you don’t have to is a masochistic endeavor. Local drivers lost more than four days sitting in shuttle traffic in 2021, the highest number of any other major metropolitan area in the United States, according to the new Inrix report. Assuming this statistic is nearly accurate, all that time wasted in a person’s limited life is indeed a depressing thought.

The study found that some of the worst corridors in the area during the morning rush hour are the Dan Ryan Freeway northbound to the Jane Byrne Interchange and Irving Park Road eastbound from Kennedy Freeway to Ashland Avenue . During the afternoon drive, the worst places are the Stevenson Freeway exiting between Ryan and Cicero Avenues and the Eisenhower Freeway heading east to Harlem Avenue.

The Tribune article said the “potential solution to reducing traffic” includes the Illinois Department of Transportation’s plan to spend $ 2.7 billion on rebuild and expand the Ike between Racine Avenue in Chicago and Wolf Road in the western suburb of Hillside. IDOT also plans to add two lanes to Stevenson from the Tri-State Tollway in downtown Chicago. Illinois money of $ 17 billion in federal infrastructure bill funds would be used for these projects.

But history tells us that adding lanes to freeways has no impact on traffic congestion because it encourages extra driving. “Road widenings are known to induce more kilometers traveled by vehicles, which will have negative impacts on the climate,” Audrey Wennink, director of transport at the Metropolitan Planning Council, recently told Streetsblog. MPC has created a induced demand calculator to demonstrate this principle.

And completely absent from the Tribune’s discussion of “solutions” to the congestion problem, there was no mention of proven strategies to facilitate access to work, while reducing accidents and greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse. That is, investing in fast, frequent and reliable public transport and other sustainable modes, so that far fewer people need to drive.

We were not the only ones to notice this absurd omission. Here is a sample of Twitter comments:

  • “Take the train. Live close to work, cycle. The widening of freeways never has and will never solve the problem.”
  • “What’s wrong with IDOT? Why is the construction of more Metra or CTA rail services not being considered? We are not going to solve the traffic jams of the 2020s era with solutions of the 1950s era. ”
  • “Toll freeways and charge congestion fees to vehicles to enter crowded areas. Use the revenue to fund public transit and bike paths. Build a town for 15 minutes.
  • “Here is a problem caused by too many cars, which can only be solved by adding more cars.”

Maybe influenced by all this ridiculousness, today the Tribune published editorial calling for ‘big new ideas’ to combat congestion, including public transport initiatives. While I enjoy the paper finally acknowledging transit does exist, this op-ed is still a bit silly overall.

To their credit, the editorial writers ask judiciously, “Why don’t the reconstruction plans for DuSable Lake Shore Drive include light rail or some other form of mass transit, despite the obvious need for such a line on the north sides.” and south? There are also a few good points about the need for better suburban-to-suburban transit; more frequent Metra off-peak hours; and smoother Metra-CTA transfers. The article also questions the wisdom of the state paying $ 6.5 billion to subsidize a dubious “transit hub” in the One Central development project.

But among the many inane statements in the new Tribune article is the suggestion that reserving lanes on the Eisenhower for bus riders and carpoolers would do nothing to reduce congestion, when in reality it might help. to remove cars from the road. (However, according to IDOT spokesperson Maria Castaneda, the department also offered to let lone drivers who pay a toll use these lanes, which would likely save significant time savings for public transport users and carpoolers.)

The Tribune article also implies that “people who want to make things better for drivers” and “activists who want to motivate people to get out of their cars and use public transport or a bicycle” have equally valid POVs. . In reality, only the latter approach will get us where we need to go in terms of reducing congestion, accidents and emissions. The editorial also complains that building protected cycle lanes “costs the lanes of traffic”, when they really are an example of reallocating part of the roadway from a traffic mode to a space-saving mode.

The article then calls for spending a lot of money to build a redundant train to O’Hare for the elites (hasn’t Chicago already decided it was a crazy idea?) 1970s. Also complained about, uh, articulated buses. Pretty silly stuff overall.

But the Tribune certainly hasn’t cornered the market on silly transportation claims this week. Here’s Governor JB Pritzker (who, in all fairness, generally has a decent record in this department) bragging on Twitter that “Illinois is a leader in the fight for a green planet,” then continues a few hours later to celebrate. the expansion of a highway by 50 percent, which will induce more driving and worsen the weather situation.

Fortunately, others have made more rational statements this week about what Chicago needs to do to deal with the traffic jams. “Expanding freeways has been shown time and time again not to alleviate congestion in the long term,” said Active Transportation Alliance spokesperson Kyle Whitehead. “It just leads to more emissions that harm the neighborhood climate and air quality while further isolating people who cannot afford or are not physically able to drive.”

“Increased investment in fast and reliable public transport is clearly a more efficient, sustainable and equitable solution,” added Whitehead. “Congestion pricing, such as imposing a toll on drivers to enter the central business district during rush hour, should also be considered if officials are truly interested in long-term sustainable solutions. “


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