An old report that shows Americans spend over a week stuck in traffic each year is getting some renewed play this week. The 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, a report published by the Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University and Inrix, an automotive data firm, shows that the average commuter spends 42 hours…a full work week…sitting in traffic. In spite of fifty years of trying to mitigate congestion, the problem has only gotten worse. Maybe we should figure out a better way.
The simple truth is that there’s not enough money or concrete in the world to build our way out of congestion. Caltrans just spent $1.1 billion adding capacity to the iconic 405 freeway that skirts Los Angeles. The verdict? Epic fail. This is not unique. The same thing happened in Houston where massive capacity was added to the Katy Freeway a few years back. Today it remains one of the most congested highways in Texas.
In fact, just about everywhere new capacity is added it quickly becomes as clogged as the old capacity was. If you think about it rationally, it shouldn’t be surprising. New roads encourage new development that brings new people. That, in turn, brings more traffic.
What’s especially maddening about this is that these projects are always sold to taxpayers as a benefit, for our convenience, but the reality is that more often than not the primary reason for building them is to open new land for development. Sprawl, by design, rewards developers and the construction industry, not motorists. Given that backdrop, it all makes a little more sense. It’s working exactly as it is designed to work. It just wasn’t designed to work for you or me.
So what’s a motorist to do? I can’t speak for others, but my solution is to stick it to the man. Forty two hours is a long time to spend doing nothing, especially when you don’t have to do it. I’ve decided not to play along. By choosing to live closer to home where it’s possible to get to where we need to go on foot or a bicycle, my wife and I have found a way to buy back most of those 42 hours.
When we choose to travel by bike or on foot, we’re not wasting time. We’re getting our workouts in. We’re exploring. What were once mundane trips are now adventures. We’re having fun. Sitting in traffic is not fun. And lest you think 42 hours is manageable, next year it’s going to be longer still.
I think this is something we all should consider. Fifty years of empirical data suggests that congestion only gets worse the more we build and yet we demand more of the same. There’s no way out using that model. The way out involves bicycles…lots of bicycles.