Despite efforts to promote an increase in sustainable transportation, the issue of traffic congestion is frequently the subject of debates about mobility. The demand for cars in the world increased substantially in the 1990s, and sales have remained steady at approximately the 80-million mark from 2017. With the increasing number of vehicles, for decades, governments have been trying to improve mobility for citizens. Some initiatives focus on widening existing roads or construction of new ones, whereas others advocate for a shift to alternatives like bicycles, public transportation, and walking.
What can we learn from the experiences of cities when they try to tackle traffic congestion?
Expanding road space – can it solve the issue?
In simple terms, congestion occurs when the demand for road space exceeds the supply.
Therefore, constructing the roads from scratch or adding lanes to existing ones may appear as obvious options. This is certainly logical when cities are growing larger, and routes that serve them are following the same pattern. Drivers should have more room to move around if they have new or wider roads that ease congestion and help cars move faster. Officials from the government often use this argument to explain the significance of the latest and frequently expensive infrastructure projects.
But it hasn’t always been this way in reality. The reasons for this may be found in the longer-term effects of the inducing demand. The phrase “induced demand” refers to the circumstance in which, as the supply of an item grows, more of that product is consumed. This means that the construction of new roads creates additional traffic, which makes them congested and over and over.
What causes this? When a new highway is constructed, or an existing road is widening at first, there is less traffic congestion, and journeys are made faster. However, these improvements alter people’s behavior. Drivers who were previously hesitant to take this route due to congestion now see it as an appealing option. Other people who had previously relied on bicycles, public transportation, 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 increasing numbers of people begin using the highway, the initial benefits of time savings diminish and then disappear.
Katy Freeway in Houston, Texas, illustrates this issue. The highway has 26 lanes; it’s thought to be the largest roadway in North America. The expansion was completed in the year 2011 and cost US$2.8 billion. After a while, however, the congestion got worse. A 2014 study from City Observatory found that when compared to 2011, morning commute times increased by 30 percent, and 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 of them are European. The most common cause of traffic congestion in Paris, London, Rome, Milan or Barcelona is old age. Some roads are older than the introduction of automobiles, which increases the difficulty of road projects. In reality, infrastructure that is primarily based on cars is interfering with old street designs such as public transit, walking, and patterns of development.
However, European cities tend to be the most forward-thinking in cutting down and shifting roads to make space for other forms of transport. Zurich is an example. Zurich intentionally slows the speed of its traffic in order to make it less popular, as Paris has followed a plan of extending the area dedicated to bicycles, buses, and pedestrians. All the while also reducing the amount of space that was once devoted to automobiles.
Let’s examine solutions for London in more depth…
Combat to address London congestion continues.
In 2003, the city of London introduced the introduction of a congestion fee in an effort to discourage motorists from driving to alternative ways for travel. It operates on a straightforward basis: vehicles that enter the Congestion Charging Zone in central London between 7 am and 6 pm on days that are not working are subject to a daily flat 11.50 dollar fee (13 euros). In addition, significant contributions were made.
The traffic volume within the zone of charging in 2017 remains at 22% less than ten years ago. The number of private vehicles entering the city’s inner-city London decreased by 39 percent between 2002 and 2014. In parallel, a steady shift to public transport is apparent. In 2017, 45 percent of the journeys in London were due to travel by bus, tram, underground, tram, and rail, a rise of 10.5 percent compared to the early 2000s. In addition, cycling saw an increase in popularity in 2016, with 727,000 rides per day in the year 2016 – a rise of 9 percent compared to 2015.