Rethinking Traffic Solutions

Traffic: everyone in Central Texas loves to complain about it, and you’re not likely to make it through a day without traffic alerts from news outlets around town. Austin routinely ranks among the most congested cities in the U.S. in the biannual Urban Mobility Report, put together by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

austin+trafficSo there are two obvious questions:

What is the solution to all this traffic?

Traffic is a symptom. Traffic is a symptom of success; many people wanting to go to the same places at the same times. Or as Yogi Berra once said “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

The old answer was just let the transportation agencies deal with it by building more roads. Or as one commenter said, “just build six more lanes in I-35 and stop spending money on all these other things.”

As it turns out, the old answer alone isn’t working and hasn’t worked in a while. There isn’t enough money, time, or space/land to build bigger and wider roads. Point in case, I-35. Sections of that highway are closely surrounded by the city, and any new road construction would have to plow through major private or sacrosanct properties like hospitals, cemeteries, and DK Royal Stadium. But here is the shocking point: According to TTI modeling, even if there were all the space in the world and we built everything we have money for – plus spent an additional $1 billion dollars – the time the average traveler spends on I-35 in the morning and evening would increase from an average travel of 45 minutes to 176 minutes each way. So building more lanes is not only unrealistic, it won’t help traffic flow any faster. Bottom line: we can’t build our way out of this.

On top of this, more people are driving more miles, and 110 people come to Central Texas every day and bring with them 76 cars. There you have it…congestion will never be better than it is today if we continue traveling the same ways we’ve become accustomed to.

So what is the solution?  The good news is that it’s in your hands. Traffic happens because people make imperfect decisions with imperfect information. But the math could work. Reducing the number of cars on the road by just 1 percent can reduce traffic congestion by 18 percent.  If 40 percent of people currently driving on I-35 decided to travel earlier or later (even driving alone), or telework, or to carpool, or to use transit, traffic on I-35 would flow freely. Congestion would disappear. And if that 40 percent continued to do something else, congestion would continue to stay away.

That brings us to our next question:

“Why do people voluntarily get stuck in traffic day in and day out?”

We hear a lot of reasons.  “I don’t have another option because of where I live…because I have kids…because I need the flexibility…” or “I don’t feel safe…on the bus…bicycling…walking…riding with other people” and many others.

But for many of you these reasons do not apply equally every day. So here are some helpful tips to help you become part of the solution, instead of part of the traffic.

Try it one day a week

Try something different than driving alone during rush hour.. Try leaving earlier or later. Try working from home. Try transit or carpooling. If you live close enough to your workplace, try biking or walking. You don’t have to use options every day to become part of the solution. Using an option one day each week reduces your contribution to our traffic problem by 20 percent! The Movability Tool Box can help.

Find reasons to change

Whether it’s “I want to save money, spend more time with my family, relax and get work done while traveling, avoid the frustration, be healthier, or feel safer” – write it down and put it on your bathroom mirror to remind you why you want to make a change.

Changing any habit is harder than you think, so you will also need to come up with a plan. It’s OK to do it in small steps, and Movability can help you figure out those steps.

Location, Location, Location

If you’re in the market for a new place to live, choose a home base closer to where you work. For every minute of commuting time you live closer to your work place, that is two minutes saved each day, 10 minutes a week, 8.6 hours a year that you aren’t stuck traveling.  Did you know that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as happy as someone who walks to work?



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