Tuesday, October 10, 2017

No tolls mean more congestion on Metro Vancouver roads

Artist rendering of proposed Pattullo Bridge. Select image to enlarge.

Most transportation planners know that you cannot build your way out of congestion. More roads simply create more traffic in growing urban areas. The only way to reduce congestion is by using direct user fees, whether through tolling or a more comprehensive mobility pricing program.

Equally important is building communities that are walkable, bikeable, and served by high-quality transit which gives people a way out of congestion.

Last month, tolls were removed from the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges; traffic across those crossings increased significantly. A CBC article proclaimed that “ending tolls snarls traffic on Port Mann, Golden Ears bridges.

While traffic did decrease on some other crossings such as the Alex Fraser and Pattullo, there was a significant overall net gain in traffic. This is called induced demand.

In the Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project update for TransLink’s September 28 open board meeting, there is a section called Traffic Implications of No Tolls which sums this ups.

The elimination of point tolls from Metro Vancouver bridges necessitated a re-analysis of traffic patterns without tolls on the new Pattullo Bridge. Without tolls as a demand management tool, traffic volumes would be higher on the new Pattullo Bridge, and at other key locations in Metro Vancouver. The new four-lane Bridge will represent a capacity increase of approximately 10 percent compared to the existing bridge, but with continued population and employment growth in the region, queues and peak-period congestion can be expected to continue on the new Bridge approaches. Similarly, queues and congestion will continue at many other key locations in the regional road network. The future introduction of mobility pricing and continued expansion of the transit network represent the best opportunity for road congestion relief in the region.

Earlier this year, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation launched an independent commission on mobility pricing. This commission is scheduled to complete its work early next year, and will be recommending “a coordinated approach for regional road usage charging in Metro Vancouver.” Whatever solution is proposed, it would have to be implemented by the provincial government.

The current provincial government appears to be on board with expanding transit in our region. Will the province also move forward with implementing mobility pricing? Implementing such a system will take political courage. In the meantime, congestion will only continue to increase in our region.

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