Thursday, March 5, 2009

The cure for congestion is not good news

The good news: congestion is down in the Twin Cities.

The bad news: it's due to the economy. Read more about it here:
Lost jobs add up to speedier commute

More good news: One day, the economy will rebound

More Bad news: without any other adjustment, the congestion problem will return. This is simply supply and demand going on here. If the supply of transportation facilities remains constant, when jobs return, the demand for space on the freeways, buses and trains will return too.

Further analysis below the fold:

It's been common knowledge among the transportation folks I run with that one of the best ways to solve traffic congestion in an urban area is to kill the economy, and the current recession is proving it.

Now, while I am not an expert in job creation and/or economic development, I know enough history to know that sooner or later, the economy will turn around, and, consequently, so will travel demand. Further, without any change in the current system, and the incentives it provides, the demand will return largely in the form of single occupant vehicle trips.

However, a number of changes are going on to that system, which could lead to a much different travel picture when the economy comes back. Here are some of my favorites:

(1) The Urban Partnership Agreement Anyone who last drove I-35W in 2005 will barely recognize it in 2011, with new dedicated bus lanes, the Cedar Avenue BRT line, and priced dynamic shoulder lanes. Further, some folks who find jobs that require a commute in the corridor, won't commute! They'll be home or another favorite alternative workplace, telecommuting, further reducing peak period traffic demand.

(2) New Transit alternatives: Northstar Commuter Rail and Central Corridor LRT. The former will be running by the end of 2009, and the latter scheduled to start operations roughly 5 years later (assuming funding and construction stay on schedule).


(3) Stimulus for State Transport Projects. Remember the old joke about your state being the land of two seasons, "winter and road construction?" That of course resulted from the traffic delays brought about by closing lanes to do highway improvements. Well, what better time to make those improvements than when congestion is down?

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