Pokin’ Fun at D.C. Myth Busters

CityLab, a bunch of transportation wonks from Washington D.C., recently published a list of “10 Tired Traffic Myths That Didn’t Get a Rest in 2015.” We found ourselves agreeing with much of their Mythbusting, but grimacing at the geeky way they said it. So we decided to put our own Texas spin to the headlines of Eric Jaffe’s otherwise smart analysis of traffic myths. We hope our tongue in cheek editing gives y’all a chuckle.

  1. You want to diet, just put more food on the table. That makes no sense, right? Well, why do so many people think that will work for transportation?Screen shot 2016-01-20 at 11.06.01 AM

 Myth: More roads mean less traffic!

The most enduring popular traffic myth holds that building more roads always leads to less congestion. This belief is a perfectly logical one: if there are 100 cars packed into one highway lane, then building a second should mean there’s 50 cars in each. The problem, as transportation researchers have found again and again, is that when this new lane gets added the number of cars doesn’t stay the same.

  1. Same as above, just add plenty of pecan pie that some people like and others hate.

Myth: More transit means less traffic

Public officials love to promise that a new public transport system will relieve congested roads. But over the long term (again, if not the short), this belief is just as misguided as the idea that more roads mean less traffic. Some residents will indeed leave their cars at home and take the bus or metro; others will see this new spaScreen shot 2016-01-20 at 11.08.43 AMce on the road and fill it.

  1. Roads are for cars, everything else is a road hazard. Hazards may work well kids video games, but not in adult “real life.” Remove them: including trees, pedestrians, bikes, stoplights, and all the idiots in front of me.

Myth: Bike lanes make traffic worse

Bike lanes are all too often the punching bags of the transport planning world, and in 2015 they once again took all sorts of shots from local residents, retailers, and religious groups alike. One mainstay anti-bike argument holds that converting general road space into a bike lane is bad for traffic. But to respond in rhyme: when good design’s in place, that’s just not the case.

  1. There is nothing like a wide and open expanse to get cowboys and cowgirls singing “home, home on the range” and singing this song is as American as it gets.

Myth: A wider road is a safer roadScreen shot 2016-01-20 at 11.10.05 AM

Speaking of 12-foot lanes versus 10-foot lanes, the common perception holds that the wider option is a safer design, since it gives drivers a bit more room to maneuver. But what some new research published in 2015 showed quite clearly was that wider lanes also invite cars to drive faster—erasing whatever safety benefits might be gained by additional space, and actually leading to more dangerous streets.

  1. Come on…even cows know the grass IS greener on the other side of the fence, especially in Texas.

 Myth: The next lane over is moving faster

On average, drivers change lanes every 1.25 miles. But the routine nature of these moves belies the basic risk involved in making complex decisions about speed and distance involving multiple enormous moving objects. And while it might seem like the next lane over on the highway is always moving faster, the truth is that’s usually not the case.

  1. Surely #3 says it all, but just in case – drivers singing Born to Run loudest are the world’s best drivers… every other driver is the problem.

 Myth: Everyone else’s bad driving is the reason for traffic

The super fun game Error-Prone that came out in 2015 reflects the basic principles behind “shockwave” traffic jams. What this means is that every imperceptibly imprecise move in a car—tapping the brake a bit too hard, or holding the gas a bit too long—sends a ripple effect of congestion back through the rest of the road. As Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt has said: “You’re not driving into a traffic jam. A traffic jam is basically driving into you.”

  1. It’s tempting to issue rocket launchers to all drivers – Mad Max style – but then we remembered summer or state holidays. Traffic is non-existent when a few thousand people are absentee drivers.

 Myth: You need to get lots of cars off the road to reduce traffic.Screen shot 2016-01-20 at 11.18.16 AM

Traffic is “non-linear.” What this mean is that the relationship between the number of cars and amount of delay is not one-to-one. If you remove just 1 percent of commuters off the rush-hour road in especially high-traffic corridors, as some work has shown, you can reduce travel times by 18 percent. So when a few drivers stay home during a holiday, a lot of others benefit.

  1. We call these “freeways” and it is every Texan’s right to have as many freeways as we can buy.

 Myth: Removing an urban highway would be a traffic nightmare

It’s true that not every urban interstate can be torn down without having a major short-term impact on traffic. But drivers adapt extremely quickly to changes to the road network—a phenomenon that experts refer to as “disappearing traffic.” Some people shift their routes, travel times, or modes when an existing road closes; others simply decide not to make a trip at all. As the authors of one study put it, “predictions of traffic problems are often unnecessarily alarmist.”

  1. We Texans care about our poor folk and everyone knows low gas prices help those who already spend so much of their income on transportation costs. How can we really care all that much about the “rich” and the “middle class” who are choice drivers? Let them waste time in traffic, it’s their choice.

 Myth: There’s no downside to cheap gas

Gas prices started 2015 incredibly low and they ended it even lower, with average fuel costs in the U.S. dipping below $2 this month. That’s great for middle-class bank accounts, but it’s bad for all the hidden social costs of driving, which have been estimated at some $3.3 trillion (with a “T”) a year. Of that total, at least $1 trillion represents time lost to congestion both at home and at work.

  1. This is just a ploy to install “toll” roads where only those using it have to pay. It’s every Texan’s God-given right to “trick thy neighbor” into paying for something, especially if they are Yankees.

 Myth: Drivers pay the full cost of road maintenanceScreen shot 2016-01-20 at 11.20.02 AM

The point of the gas tax is to cover the cost of keeping American roads in a state of good repair. In its early days, back in the 1960s, this road user fee did handle the vast majority of maintenance expenses (though not all of them). But since that time its powers have steadily eroded, with Americans now paying some of the lowest gas taxes in the world.


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