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390 at 15A Looking EastThe Democrat and Chronicle and USA Today think we have a traffic problem and the solution is more roads and more lanes. In a piece called “America is stuck in traffic,” USA Today wrote, and the D&C adapted for its own paper:

If you struggled in Thanksgiving destination traffic, consider the following: American vehicles currently spend 6.9 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, according to American Society of Civil Engineers.

(snip)

A good bit of that is needed just to fix facilities that have fallen into disrepair. And significant investments in new capacity are needed to keep the U.S. economy from falling behind. These would include expanding roads and constructing highways as well as mass-transit systems.

Here’s what’s wrong with this editorial:

  1. The American Society of Civil Engineers is a special interest group. Engineers only make money if we’re building more roads. Of course, they want us to keep adding highways and lanes.
  2. Choosing the busiest travel weekend of the year to say we need more roads is like choosing Black Friday to say we need more parking at the mall.
  3. No one argues with fixing broken infrastructure. But adding capacity doesn’t reduce congestion. The theory of induced demand says it does the opposite. Drivers who took alternate routes fill in the extra lanes. People who were not driving at all are incentivized to start.
  4. Many Americans are driving less, so there’s no need for more capacity. (Though there are signs driving is again on the upswing.) In Monroe County, the number of licensed drivers dropped by 1 percent between 2007 and 2014, according to the DMV.
  5. Monroe County does not have a traffic problem. Our commutes average 20 minutes, according to the 2015 American Community Survey. The survey also found the percentage of commuters who drive alone in a vehicle dropped from 86 percent in 2005 to 81 percent in 2015. More people are carpooling, walking and biking.
  6. Any transportation plan should make more than a passing reference to mass transit. Calling for more capacity for cars hurts the environment and the poor.
  7. Adding lanes is detrimental to safety. That’s why many roads in Rochester have gone on a “diet.” Two lanes roads are far safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
  8. For many people — not all — being stuck in traffic is a lifestyle choice. I’m not saying people shouldn’t live in car-dependent suburbs. But if they do, they should expect to spend more time in their vehicles. I have been a city dweller my whole life. Even when I worked in Henrietta, I put only 6,000 miles a year on my car.

In summary, building more roads and lanes is the wrong solution to a nonexistent problem. It’s disturbing to see a newspaper that harps on poverty and social justice so entrenched in a car-first mentality. The conclusion is not only wrong, it’s harmful to taxpayers, the climate and the poor.

Update: Original post said D&C wrote editorial. It was adapted from USA Today and republished in D&C.

Links of the Day:

Broad, Casted Update:

Thank you to everyone who has read Broad, Casted! It’s getting some great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

 

City of Rochester, Communications Bureau

City of Rochester, Communications Bureau

A special interest group came to town last week to decry the state of our roads and bridges and horrible traffic.

TRIP, a Washington lobbying firm, says it is funded by insurance companies, labor unions, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, and businesses involved in highway and transit engineering. Despite talk of making driving more efficient, TRIP is funded by organizations and companies dedicated to making us drive more – so they can make money selling us cars, insurance, traffic studies and road repairs.

I think we can all agree that repairing aging road infrastructure is important, especially when it comes to bridge safety. But TRIP makes some curious claims about congestion and safety. It also suggests improvements that many experts call into question.

The following is based on the report TRIP issued to get more road funding.

On Congestion (in Rochester?!):

TRIP points to a Texas Transportation Institute Study saying Rochesterians spend 28 hours a year stuck in traffic. What they don’t say is Rochester does very well compared to the rest of the country. We also have one of the shortest commute times in the country – 20 minutes. If you have a long commute by car, that’s likely a lifestyle choice. If you don’t want a 40-minute commute, you don’t have to live in Wayne County. If you live close to a bus line, you don’t have to drive at all. (TRIP, which is so concerned about wear and tear on our roads, doesn’t talk about improving public transit.)

Are we really driving more?

TRIP claims between 1990 and 2012, vehicle miles traveled in New York State increased 20 percent and are expected to increase another 15 percent by 2030. TRIP bases this on “population and lifestyle trends.” But there’s data to suggest we have been driving less. U.S. PIRG found a found a 7.5 percent decline in vehicle miles driven by Rochesterians between 2006 and 2011. There was a 1 percent decline in the number of people who got to work by car. There was a three percent drop in households with two or more cars. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of licensed drivers in Monroe County dropped by 10,000.

There are experts around the country predicting a continued overall downward trend in driving, for a number of reasons.

There are good reasons to discourage driving, such as the cost to the environment, consumers and taxpayers. But TRIP doesn’t want you to drive less.

About Adding Road Capacity…

TRIP suggests widening roads from two to four lanes to “reduce traffic fatalities and crashes while improving traffic flow to help relieve congestion.” 

Safety experts suggest doing the exact opposite. Wide roads encourage speeding. That’s why you’re seeing the city put roads on “diets” to slow cars down, reduce crashes, install bike lanes, and make life easier for pedestrians. (The city killed the Lake Avenue road diet. Sunday, Lake Avenue was called out as one of the more dangerous roads in Rochester in a Democrat and Chronicle report.)

As for congestion, there’s a well-studied phenomenon called “induced demand.” The extra road capacity will be quickly filled up by people who had been going alternate routes or were not driving at all. Congestion itself is a great way to reduce driving and stress on roads. But remember, TRIP doesn’t want to relieve the road stress it complains costs taxpayers and drivers money. TRIP wants us all driving more, more, more so the driving industry can continue to profit.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Another local CEO thinks he knows how to run city schools. But even Dutch Summers would have to admit that successful CEOs need followers. If virtually all of your principals don’t like you, shouldn’t you look inward?

– Rochester is paying storage fees for fast ferry liquor it says it doesn’t even own.

– This is why the state banned retail tax breaks. Onondaga County’s sales tax receipts came in about average, despite the tax breaks heaped onto Destiny USA. (Destiny was awarded these breaks before the state ban, but IDAs have been approving them anyway citing exceptions such as tourism.)

– Let’s say a company locates in one of New York’s tax-free zones, where employees pay no state income taxes for 10 years. But the company also has a plant out of the tax-free zone. Could it pay the tax-free workers less to be equitable? The mere suggestion shows this program plays favorites.

– Fascinating story of the Mormon Church reevaluating the role of women.

– “What’ll Become of Me?” Finding the real Patsey of “12 Years a Slave.”

The Best Picture Nominees shot on Kodak film.

– When the gays come to townso does the money.