3 traffic myths that just won’t die

3 traffic myths that just won’t die

Thanks to Smart Cities Council, I can share three traffic myths that just won’t go away, not matter how many times folks read the facts.

1. You can help the problem by building more roads
Just building more roads or running more buses are not traffic solutions by themselves. It’s about supply and demand. When traffic is bad, more people are trying to commute than the infrastructure was designed for. The solution, then, would be to increase the supply, but given limited space and the magnitude of the problem already, if it’s not impossible to do that with roads, it’s close to it.

For example, if people perceive that there’s more room on the road for them, they are more likely to drive. Capacity is certainly a key piece in the overall traffic puzzle, but it’s just a component.  It’s important that cities expand where they can, but it’s equally critical that they also make smarter use of their existing roads and transit systems. Information is also critical. Cities need to use data to determine where their biggest choke points are and concentrate first on removing or reducing those bottlenecks. New technology and creative solutions can also play an important role in getting more mileage out of existing infrastructure.

2. We can’t implement bike lanes because they slow down traffic (and its corollary, wider lanes area safer.)
People think that adding bike lanes to roads slows down the cars, but that’s often a myth. In some cases, adding a bike lane can actually allow cars to travel faster. Case in point: New York made room for bicycle lanes by narrowing some of the lanes for vehicles. There were the same number of lanes for cars; they were just a bit narrower. The result: in some cases, delays for drivers were cut by more than a third.

The project also speaks to a second myth about the safety of wider lanes. It turns out that wider lanes aren’t really safer. They just make drivers feel more comfortable and they try to drive faster.

3. It will take a massive, expensive, time-consuming project to improve traffic
Actually, a small effort can make a big difference. Planners and city managers may reject an idea because it won’t get many cars off the road. Yet you don’t have to change the behavior of many drivers to make an impact.

The relationship between the number of vehicles on the road and the amount of traffic congestion is not linear. It points out that some studies have shown that getting even 1% of the drivers to change their plans can reduce congestion for everyone by as much as 18%.

Amy Ginsburg

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