Thursday, January 12, 2017

CAA’s Congestion Index measures 20th century legacy mobility. 21st century regions measure accessibility.

Yesterday, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) released a report on congestion in Canadian cities. This report builds on the data from the TomTom Traffic Index, and takes a more nuanced approach to defining congestion and bottlenecks.

Even with the CAA report's updated methodology, it should come as not surprise that the bigger the region, the higher the level of congestion for single-occupancy vehicles. In fact, any economically prosperous region will have congestion.

In Metro Vancouver, the George Massey Tunnel was rated number 20 of 20 on the list of top bottlenecks in the country; barely squeaking its way onto the CAA’s list.

While these reports can provide useful information where traffic congestion frequently occurs, I find these types of reports problematic.

There is an underlying assumption that if a bottleneck exists for single-occupancy vehicles, the solution is to expand capacity. Of course, we know that building more capacity simply leads to even worse congestion and/or a shift of the bottleneck to another area.

In the case of the George Massey/Highway 99 corridor, building an un-tolled, ten-lane bridge would simply shift the bottleneck to local roads, and other upstream bridges such as the Oak and Knight as noted in the provincial government’s own documents. In the same document, it shows that a tolled Massey Bridge will have traffic volumes not seen since the 1980’s with reduced congestion. The traffic volumes are so low that the Massey Tunnel would have reduced congestion; no mega-bridge needed.

The new Port Mann Bridge is another local example of how tolling reduced congestion. In fact, that new bridge still has less traffic on it today than the old Port Mann Bridge did.

Tolling/road pricing/mobility pricing is the only real way to reduce congestion for single-occupancy vehicles in a growing, prosperous region.

Dealing only with reducing congestion —getting people quickly from point a to point b— is the wrong way to provide access to people in a region. We need to stop thinking about vehicle movement exclusively, be it cars, transit, or bicycling. We need to start thinking about people, and how our cities and regions can provide better access to employment, services, and all the things that make life enjoyable.

For example, when it comes to employment and services, our Regional Growth Strategy is focused on placing employment, services, and shopping close to people within walkable urban centres that are connected by high-quality transit.

Metro Vancouver's Urban Centres. Select map into enlarge.

This Christmas, I read the Global Street Design Guide, which is fundamentally about making streets that “make the most of the public space available on streets, enhancing places and fostering economic activity while promoting traffic safety and efficient movement of all modes of transport.”

What Is Possible. Building street for people. From: Global Street Design Guide. Select image to enlarge.

In 2017, looking at streets as traffic conduits, building new freeways, and prioritizing congestion reduction for single-occupancy vehicles just doesn’t make sense anymore. Instead of a Congestion Index, it would be far more useful to have an Accessibility Index to see where in Canadian regions there are successes and challenges with getting people access to employment, services, and other opportunities no matter their age, ability, or mode of travel.

PS: Metro Vancouver, which according to the CAA report has the least amount of highway kilometers of any major Canadian region, also has the most stable round-trip commute times.

The time it takes to get to work and back. Source: Statistics Canada 89-622-XIE and 11-008-X.

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