Yes, I attended the Mayor’s Summit. Nothing totally earth-shaking. Everyone — including developers — singing the same tune of vibrant street level facades. Even Diane Deans, of Gloucester Ward, emphasizing how much she opposes road widenings (in her ward) (beyond four lanes).
The afternoon speaker, Jeffrey Tumlin, was on transportation. He maintains that transportation planning is urban planning, since one shapes the other, twins locked in an embrace (to the death?).
He explained the futility of road widening to fix congestion. The widened road fixes the problem for a short time, then traffic volumes grow. Some of the growth is because of urban growth, and some of it is induced because it is now easier and most efficient to drive more (externalities aside). Ergo, it is futile to widen roads. So don’t even try.
None of that argument is new to anyone following planning issues. But I did start thinking more about the argument afterwards.
To some considerable degree, there is a lot of circularity in the argument. First, it depends on defining road widening as “solving” road congestion, which it doesn’t, after a period of time elapses. But it did, in fact, solve the congestion problem for the period of time the road supply exceeds the demand. AND, the new congestion level is at a higher volume than previously. So for a motorist, the road widening worked to address congestion for a time, and then continues onwards to handle more traffic than before. So from the motorist point of view, the road widening is definitely worthwhile.
Now recast the argument for transit. Our bus transitway is congested. We will spend $2 billion to convert a portion of it to LRT. And there is a lot more LRT to build after that. When the LRT first opens, there will be faster transit travel, which will
attract induce more transit users. Our system opens in 2017-18, and may reach capacity as early as 2030, ie in just 12 years. At which point we are back to the same congestion we had before, but at a higher volume. So more transit spending is required.
From the motorist point of view, this is the same futility argument as transit proponents/smart growth advocates use to deride road widenings. Spend more >volume grows >congestion returns >need for more expansion. And of course, most motorists that do not use transit feel that everyone drives but a minority use transit, which has to be subsidized (to the extent there is insufficient fare box recovery). So should we even try expanding transit?
This little blog post isn’t designed to discuss all the factors and ramifications of smart growth vs [dumb?] growth, externalities, sustainability, etc etc so please don’t exercise your fingers pointing that out.
The summit was designed to bring people together, to network, and to think. And my little brain fart from the summit is that the futility of expanding road argument, which seems so logical to smart growth proponents, is remarkably similar to what I imagine many motorists think about the futility of expanding transit.