We’ve written before about how Austin’s growing population means we will have to find ways other than building more roads to deal with our traffic problems. There are a number of ways to do this, from choosing to live near transit or work to committing to using transit or a carpool.
But change is hard, right? It turns out it doesn’t have to be. In his 2012 TED talk, Jonas Eliasson, a traffic planner from Stockholm, Sweden, shared an astonishing statistic. That city introduced a “congestion charge” at its traffic choke points, mostly bridges, on January 3, 2006. Within days of introducing the 1 Euro charge, traffic congestion on those roads went down by 20 percent, and even years later, has stayed down by 20 percent.
Now for the astonishing part: to understand who changed their behavior, and where they’ve gone, researchers surveyed drivers. Those drivers were all convinced that they hadn’t changed their minds or their behaviors. In other words, this simple fix reduced traffic congestion without anyone noticing! By taking just a few cars off the road, congestion decreased rapidly. And it was easy to accomplish. Just think of how much power each one of us has by choosing not to drive to work on congested roads like I-35 or Mopac!
San Diego is using a less dramatic approach than “congestion pricing,” but is still proving people will use change their behavior when conditions are right. Their regional planning and investments focuses on making travel options viable for more commuters. That approach has increased use of travel options by 10 percent and reduced the average travel times for everyone by 3 percent. This gives every person an extra hour back that they had wasted sitting in traffic. They are getting almost 20 percent increase in use of travel options for commuters into downtown.