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7 Myths about Highway Congestion

THE ROAD MORE TRAVELED: a summary of the book


Seven Myths about Congestion on our Highways

From "The Road More Traveled." Why the Congestion Crisis matters more than you think, and what you can do about it. Ted Balaker & Sam Staley, Rowman and Littlefield 2006. $24.95. Available at amazon.com and the Madison Public Library


NOTE: We have contacted the authors and they have given us permission to summarize and quote them freely with proper attribution. If anyone does quote from their book, please do the same.

Seven (of Ten) Myths about Car-Crazy Suburbia

p.43-75 "The Road More Traveled"

Myth 1: Americans are addicted to driving. Not Addicted, just smart. The car is a better tool than public transportation. Office workers avoid typewriters for computers. Reasons: to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently. In NYC Met. Area it takes twice as long to get to work on transit than driving. (http://www.demographia.com/db-msajtwtime2000pdf)(US census bureau)

80% of poor households own at least one car. Even those w/o cars are twice as likely to travel by car as by transit by borrowing a car or riding with someone.

Related Myth 1: Europeans ride the rails.  Nope. America = 88% of travel is by car, Europe 78% and driving is increasing twice as fast as America... with Gas over $5/gallon there and rail transit well established.

Related Myth 2: Key factors in choosing to drive are population density, transit availability, gas taxes or attitudes about commuting. Wrong! Key factor is Wealth. Wealthier people around the world choose the convenience, comfort, efficiency, flexibility, freedom, privacy, safety and the advanced technology and advantages of driving themselves. More wealth means people will drive and drive more often. Anti-Car policies merely make driving experience more miserable, make cities less vital, exacerbate all the ill effects of congestion, reduce mobility and lower the standard and quality of living.

Myth 2: Public transit can reduce congestion. False. Both Dane CTY. Exec. Katherine Falk and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz made this statement at the June 07 press conference announcing their "agreement" to move ahead with the RTA, Madison area Commuter Rail and Trolleys for Madison. Both forms will increase congestion with the sudden increase in stop and wait-for-the-train-or-trolley traffic jams.


Use of Public transit has been decreasing, not increasing. True. 1960-2000 added 63 million workers. Total using transit declined by 2 million. Percentage of workers using transit has fallen 63% since 1960 and now is at 5%* 5% is inflated due to NY numbers being included. Nationwide transit ridership is closer to 1.5%. 25% of NYC workers use transit, 11% in Chicago, no other city breaks 10%.

The reason people use transit is they do not have access to cars. Telecommuters outnumber transit commuters in 27 of 50 of the most populous Met. areas.

Transit ridership has dropped wherever wealth has increased. True. From 80-1995 ridership fell 14% in London, 24% in Paris, 19% in Stockholm, 60% in Frankfurt

52% of American Commuters do not go straight to or from work. Drop kids, dry cleaning, grocery shopping, errands is incompatible with transit.

Locally, adding 6-13 full crossing stops per hour to auto traffic in both directions from commuter train crossings and stops to all major highways and feeder roads will paralyze auto traffic, not relieve congestion.

Myth 3: We can only cut air pollution if we stop driving. False.

April 2004. EPA Admin Mike Levitt. Air standards are getting tougher to and are higher than they were. "This isn't about the air getting dirtier. The air is getting cleaner" Since 1970 driving has increased 155% and the aggregate emissions of the six principal pollutants gave been cut 48%. Ozone levels are lower now than in 1980 and expected to continue to drop.

Driving increased about 1-3 % /year but average vehicle emissions are dropping about 7-9% a year, REASON: Better cars. Today's cars are 98% cleaner than in 1960's. 50% of on road carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons comes from 5% of cars. Remove the bad 5% using infrared beams. Clean running new cars driven by wealthier commuters are not the problem, the old jalopies are. Target the polluting vehicles, not ALL vehicles.

Myth Four: We are paving over America! (A Whopper! 95% of U.S.is open space)

There are as many trees in America now as there was 100 years ago. We plant more trees than we cut by a wide margin. Trees take up 1/3rd of America's space. ... six times as much as development.

HOMES: Lot sizes between 1970-2000 shrunk from 14,000 SQ ft to 10,000 Sq.ft (nearly 30% reduction) even though house size increased dramatically (1500 to 2260 Sq. ft. between 1970-2000) If we gave our population into 4 person households each with one acre, we could all fit into area one half the size of Texas. (By 2050, we would need two thirds of Texas)

Myth 5:  We are running out of Oil! Not yet.(The OPEC countries started with 412 Billion barrels produced 307 Billion and now has about 819 billion left.)

1874 John Newbury predicted world oil supply would soon run out. 1979Pres. Carter, "the oil wells are drying up all over the world" M.I.T. economist M.A. Adelman, "The doomsday predictions have all proved false" reason: Ignorance and Ingenuity. Not knowing how much was left and using new technologies to find new reserves-off shore, 10,000 feet deep.

When asked when we will run out of oil Adelman answered, "Never". Coal was predicted to run out, wood never ran out, we have never exhausted a major source of energy.

Gas prices adjusted for inflation are cheaper today than in 70's we spend 6% of income gassing up now and 8 or 9% in the 80's. An increase from $2.50 to 3.00 a gallon = 300 dollars a year more cost. When prices get too high, new energy sources will replace gas. Let the Free Market do its magic.

We are supporting terrorist in the Middle East by burning their oil. A little. Only 13% of our oil comes from the Middle East. The majority is from Canada and Mexico. If we lifted restrictions on Alaska and off shore drilling off American coasts we could greatly increase the oil supply domestically.

Myth Six: We cannot build our way out of congestion. False. Of the ten largest urban areas, L.A. has the least amount of pavement per person. Dallas has twice as much pavement per person and half the congestion.

EXAMPLES of Building out of congestion: Interstate Highways. South Beltline, Interstates were Completed in 1980 and congestion not severe as it is today. In the last 20 years driving doubled but roadways increased by only 4%. Urban travel (vehicle miles traveled) increased by 168% while urban highways increased by 51%.

Portland built transit, Phoenix built roads. Portland has four times as much congestion as Phoenix, even though Phoenix has had a much larger population growth.

Related Myth: A new Road - if you build it, they will come... So don't build it. TRUE, but poor reasoning. Triple convergence happens when a road is built. People change their commuting behavior. 1-time of travel, 2-route, 3-mode. Local example: South Beltline. 20 years late in being built but today carries massive local and through traffic. Those cities that build ahead of usage control congestion-those that ignore congestion increase congestion all around local, City County, State and U.S. highways.

An empty bus or empty train car is evidence of the lack of usage - same for a highway. Unlike transit, nearly all highways are used day in, day out, year after year. The congestion in rush hour illustrates the need for more capacity, more roads.

If you build a new school and it fills up, few concede we should not have built the school. If gets overcrowded, we build another school, we do not say, "what a waste of money". Same with highways. Build them and they will be used. Compare that to commuter rail usuage.

Myth Seven: We cannot deal with Global Warming unless we stop driving. False.

If you build more highways and have less congestion, you will have less pollution as cars burn less fuel when they are free flowing and not in stop and start congested conditions.

Are there problems that are more important, more urgent than global warming? Yes. Terrorism, the aids epidemic, (2.5-3.5 million killed)           

Deal with the increase in problems a slight warming will cause. Clean water world wide to drink, using air conditioners more, improved building codes, more public health training programs, more effective surveillance and emergency response systems. 





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