By Noel T. Braymer
Public transit in general and rail passenger service in particular are often the butt of politics as being wasteful and expensive. In many places with low population density and affluent home owners there are often calls to build more roads or widen existing roads and freeways in an effort to “reduce traffic congestion”. At the same time these same people fight construction of high density housing with complaints that would make traffic even worse. The following are excerpts from “America is Spending Billions to Make Traffic Worse” posted on Streersblog USA on March 11, 2020. “The 100 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. added a whopping 30,511 miles of new freeway lanes between 1993 and 2017, according to the group (Transportation for America). In case you’re wondering, that means our road network is growing at a faster rate than our actual human population.
And here’s the kicker: traffic actually got worse over those 24 years (which, how should we put this, kinda defeats the purpose of why taxpayers spent that money in the first place)…
So, to recap: Americans spent a whole lot of money just to make car traffic worse, and the receipts are still coming in for the last three years that probably aren’t much better.
But how much money are we talking about, exactly?
We’re talking $500 billion. And that’s just what the states paid — local transportation agencies kicked so much into these pointless projects that T4A wasn’t able to accurately account for their losses.”
The blacktop image is for expanded roads. The middle image represents population growth and the cars represent traffic growth.
We have seen this in California a few years back when a HOV lane was added to the 405 freeway over the Sepulveda Pass between Westwood and the San Fernando Valley. Before long after years of increased congestion over the Sepulveda Pass during construction, traffic congestion was as bad or worse than it was before this new lane was added “to reduce traffic congestion”.This is typical when ever roads are widened, its just attracts people to drive more.
Another major issue with road vehicles is that they emit a large percentage of the greenhouse gases that end up in the air in California. This has been an issue for several years here in San Diego County. The planning agency “SANDAG” for San Diego County had for years ignored the State’s mandate to reduce greenhouse emissions and planned instead for major increase in freeway miles and assumed increased emissions , not reductions. SANDAG was finally sued and lost the court case to continue ignoring increased greenhouse gas emission. There has been a change in SANDAG management in the last year or 2 which is prioritizing greatly improved public transportation and greater housing density. But many of the politicians representing the more suburban areas of San Diego County are still opposing efforts to downplay priority of highway projects even in the face that SANDAG funding is less than what was originally budgeted. One thing I will point out is the roads in much of San Diego County are in terrible shape with potholes and crumbling asphalt. The biggest road project in San Diego County now is construction of additional HOV lanes on the 5 freeway between Del Mar and southern Oceanside. As far as greenhouse gas emissions go in San Diego County and the rest of California from road travel, they are still too high. Recent story from Mass Transit wrote “Cities throughout the San Diego region are struggling to rein in tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks — throwing into question whether elected leaders will make good on long-term pledges to dramatically cut greenhouse gases.
That’s according to a report released Tuesday by the local advocacy group Climate Action Campaign. The nonprofit’s fourth annual Climate Action Plan Report Card analyzes efforts by the region’s 18 cities and the county of San Diego to limit climate pollution within their jurisdictions.”
So what is the solution? In most major urban areas around the world people often live near to public transportation and high density housing. Other countries often have good roads. But don’t have the land to waste for parking and low density housing which is common in this country. How will we find the money to build the urban infrastructure to build new housing and decent,economical transportation?
This takes us to another recent post on Streetsblog USA.
Every City Should Try This Innovative Way To Fund Transit
“When the city builds a train line or a bus route, adjacent property values skyrocket. Why shouldn’t the public benefit more from that phenomenon?”
“To help pay for big transit expansions, many cities around the world turn to an innovative financing approach called value capture. The name sounds wonky, but the idea is simple: As commute times and job access improve with a new transit station, the value of nearby real estate rises. A value capture program aims to capture that future windfall to fund construction today.
The idea of public investment benefiting private real estate raises concerns, particularly amid an urban affordability crisis. That may be one reason why value capture hasn’t caught on in the U.S. But if designed well (more on that later), value capture can ensure that private development supports public objectives — creating a vast source of funding for transit expansions that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and that benefit the broader city.”
This is nothing new. Whenever new roads are built on open land, development usually follows. As a child in Southern California in the 50’s and 60’s I saw new freeways being built all the time. Not long after that shopping centers and new tract housing were built not far from the freeway on and off ramps. We are seeing much the same thing happening now in California with improved rail service. With improvements at train stations and construction of new train stations not only do we see more trains. But also more housing and businesses. This is true in much of San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles Counties. Downtown San Diego and Los Angeles have seen major booms in construction. Much of this is centered on rail transit stations in these downtowns. Much the same is being seen in San Jose. Many of the skyscrapers built in the last 20 years are near BART Stations along Market Street in San Francisco.
If people in California are to have cleaner air, more affordable housing, decent jobs and good transportation: we need more bus and rail services that connect together that serve jobs, housing, schools, shopping and services. Dependence on cars and congested freeways is not a viable solution.
This is downtown San Diego with the San Diego Trolley tracks in a trench next to the heavy rail tracks to the right. What we see is major new construction, much of it high density housing, with much of it in the last 10 years. And gridlock? Downtown San Diego, in spite of the population density, traffic usually is free flowing. Photo by Noel T. Braymer