Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 16th, 2008

Big Dig pushes bottlenecks outward

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Thanks to Patrick Condon (a native Bostonian) for this link.

For those of you who may not be aware of this project, a huge freeway tunnel has been dug underneath the centre of Boston, Mass. This is an old city by US standards and has had a pretty good transit system for a long time. The freeway was supposed to relieve traffic congestion – which it has, in downtown. Now drivers line up elsewhere, once again proving the aphorism that urban road expansion does not solve congestion, it just moves it someplace else.

A Globe analysis of state highway data documents what many motorists have come to realize since the new Central Artery tunnels were completed: While the Big Dig achieved its goal of freeing up highway traffic downtown, the bottlenecks were only pushed outward, as more drivers jockey for the limited space on the major commuting routes.

Ultimately, many motorists going to and from the suburbs at peak rush hours are spending more time stuck in traffic, not less. The phenomenon is a result of a surge in drivers crowding onto highways – an ironic byproduct of the Big Dig’s success in clearing away downtown traffic jams.

The worst increase has been along I-93 northbound during the evening commute. In 1994, before the tunnels were dug, it took, on average, 12 minutes at peak evening rush hour to go the 11 miles from the Zakim Bridge to the Route 128 interchange in Woburn.

Now it takes 25 minutes, double the time.

Which is the other aphorism. Traffic expands to fill the space available. More people are now trying to drive and it is taking them longer. It is known in the business as “induced traffic”. Not that the population has grown. All that has happened is that more trips are being made by car now. The same population drives more often and longer distances. The vehicle miles travelled have increased. That always happenms when you build more roads in urban areas or introduce traffic management schemes to improve vehicle flow. Indeed, cities like Toronto that had streetcars but replaced them with subways – thus freeing up more surface area for cars – saw traffic congestion worsen. Many European cities have abandoned what they called “pre metro” i.e. undergrounding of streetcar routes.

As Patrick remarks “of interest to all except Minister Falcon”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 16, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Local Election results

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cbc.ca is probably the easiest way to find out what happened where you live in BC – or where you are interested in if you don’t.

Vancouver has seen a dramatic change. Vision and COPE together took nearly all the seats on Council plus of course the mayor’s seat and only one NPA Councillor survived (Suzanne Anton). That being said people like Michael Geller did garner a lot of votes and the list of those getting not quite enough votes has some very prominent names. The turnout was dreadful (30.39%). Robertson now says that dealing with homelessness is his first priority, and that is a Good Thing. Charlie Smith on his Georgia Straight blog has some interesting thoughts about where the NPA goes next.

Richmond sees no change at all. Nearly half the voters only seemed to want to vote only for the Mayor, which I think is very odd. Neither of the two challengers had anything useful to say – and there really was no progressive choice to make here – so I left that line undrawn on my ballot. We now have three Councillors called Halsey-Brand. Name recognition is obviously more important than party allegiance here. Kiichi Kumagai tried to make a comeback and didn’t and the only incumbent to lose her seat was Cynthia Chen. Michael Wolfe got a respectable 8000+ votes but not enough to get elected. Turnout in Richmond was only 22.38%. Which is disgraceful. I am pleased to see my old friends Grace Tsang and Debbie Tablotney back on School Board: commiserations to Mike Starchuk.

Elsewhere Lois Jackson stays on in Delta but I think Krista Engeland would have made a nice change. But Jackson polled more than all four of her oponents so she is safer there than her performance warrants.   Paul Hillsdon also did well in Surrey but did not get elected. Neither did Alvin Epp out in Abbotsford, or Sonya Paterson in Langley who came close but 400 votes short. But not as heartbreaking as the loss of the Green Party’s Ben West in Electoral Area A where hardly anyone voted and he came out 10 votes short (209 to the winner Maria Harris at 219). And I am sorry to say Bernadette “No Trucking Freeway” Keenan got very little support in Surrey.

So it seems that Vancouver is more progressive now than it was but elsewhere not much different. Personalities not politics I think – but I will be reading the local papers with interest. What I thought was really odd was that two people I “follow” on Twitter asked there what had happened rather than going to a news site!

Written by Stephen Rees

November 16, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Posted in politics