Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Report: Freeways cause congestion

Perhaps the German word schlimmbesserung — meaning an improvement that makes things worse — is an apt descriptor for the massive program of new road construction that has marked Melbourne’s ‘solution’ to its transport challenges over the last several decades.
One of the major justifications for most freeway expansion projects in North America is that they will relieve congestion and improve travel times. Reducing travel time is the major economic value used in justifying these projects. In fact if you look at the BC Gateway Program’s justifications from 2004, the major justification was to reduce travel time.

A new report from Melbourne, Australia calls into question that justification. In Melbourne, they examined the data from the last two decades of traffic and road expansion and found that travel time has not been saved, in fact it is worse than ever. The most interesting fact was that the $1.5 billion City Link freeway project actually caused “the average speeds on Melbourne’s freeways for the entire urban network overall have also dropped in the years following City Link’s full opening.” Before the open, travel time where improving.

This is interesting because Metro Vancouver didn’t have too much freeway expansion for the last 20 years and was the only place that saw a reduction in travel times in Canada. It would seem that the more freeways that get built, the worst congestion becomes.

The report from the University of Melbourne made the following conclusions:
In sum, these results suggest that the core of travel times savings benefits, which is an increase in average travel speeds, has not eventuated in Melbourne’s urban road network during the years under review. Indeed, based on the evidence presented and analysed in this paper, one could be led to the conclusion that investments in Melbourne’s urban road network have resulted in more time being used by Melbourne’s motorists rather than less time. On the basis of the assumptions conventionally used to justify road building , major road infrastructure initiatives have resulted in net economic disbenefits.
Please check out the whole report.

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