In the last blog post, Congestion Part 1: Addition by Subtraction, I asked the question “Is congestion really such a bad thing?” You may have read thinking that John is off the deep end on this one. Well perhaps, but what if I am right that congestion is actually healthy? Is solving its problems actually going to hurt the holistic viability of a community?
As you hopefully read in Part 1, the easiest solution to solving congestion is to increase the capacity of the roads. This temporary and expensive solution is generally accomplished by road widening. Another more progressive alternative to this is to increase transit and other modes of transportation. I happen to agree with this philosophy, but the success is directly related to the amount of alternative modes, how they interact, and the ease of the use of the Single-Occupant Vehicle, or SOV.
First, there has to be a cost/benefit life cycle analysis considered for providing alternative modes of transportation. If the alternative modes of transportation are equal or greater to the SOV in terms of cost, convenience, and time, chances of success are low. People with altruistic motivations will use the alternative modes, but the real target audience is the everyday person. This is why I often state that making it easier to use the single-occupant vehicle works in contradiction to decreasing vehicle miles traveled, or VMT.
Second, if the expected users of the alternative transportation systems have quick access to their own SOV, there have to be considerable opposing forces to using it compared to the alternative modes of bicycles, walking car-share programs or transit. Opposing forces could include difficulty in finding a place to park their SOV or costs of parking their SOV. Money is a powerful force in changing personal habits, especially for Americans.
I do not believe that creating the opposing forces is the answer. What I do believe is that when the crossroads appear and the choice needs to be made to spend more money to ease the use of the SOV or to increase other alternatives of transportation, a careful analysis must occur. It is much more financially responsible to add transit, bike lanes, bike sharing programs, or even HOV lanes than to take on a multi-million dollar road widening project. After all, road widening is a temporary solution to a long-term problem.