Currently viewing the tag: "Highway Expansion"

Regurgitating some news here-mostly from the Herald- and adding a layer of commentary.

  • Bicycle Advocates, led by the Green Mobility Network are inserting themselves into the planning process in South Miami. Click here to catch up with the effort to make Sunset Drive more amenable to bicyclists. This is a worthy initiative, and one that has some direct spin-off from the work being already accomplished in the City of Miami.  Realtor Lisa Fox is states “We should be doing things like what the mayor of Miami did,” referring to Bike Miami Days as a potential event alternative to widening Sunset for Bicycle Lanes.  Agreed, but South Miamians should not be distracted, this street needs better access for bicyclists with lanes that could transition into shared use lane marking once entering the core of the city’s commercial district.
  • FPL’s attempt to place high voltage lines in South-Dade is  inspiring opposition. Beyond being a real blight on the landscape, and promising potential adverse health impacts, the present plan places the lines along the M-Path/Metrorail corridor. Yes, just what we need after finally getting some funding to fix this long neglected recreation corridor…I can see it now, the M-Path gets fixed only to be torn up by power line construction. Stay tuned and involved on this issue, its bound to be big fight. A “Residents Against FPL Transmission Lines” has been set up on Facebook.
  • It seems a large chunk of Miami-Dade’s stimulus money ($87 million)  is going to be spent on maximizing the size of the Dolphin/Palmetto Interchange. This one really gets under my skin. If you read the story(warning: the before and after images are shocking), the plan is to spend nearly 600 million dollars on fixing an interchange that when first built was ill-designed. While I agree the original design is dysfunctional, I am not a whole lot more confident that this time around the result will be any different. Indeed, years and years of research demonstrate that by adding capacity only induces demand as users who sought alternatives return to the system sensing it will be improved for the long term-a classic problem with conventional traffic engineering thought. Once completed, look for congestion to return within a year of completion. Oh, and the $180 million they spent on right-of-way acquisition likely takes formerly tax positive land uses off the roles. That means the cost is even greater for the taxpayer in the long run. Surely that money could be better spent on projects thatactually increase tax dollar revenue, improve access and mobility, and which do not further promote the unchecked use of fossil fuels. A few underfunded transit projects do come to mind, alas…
  • Finally, news from a city that is getting it right. New York City has officially pedestrianized Times Square. Click here and here for some livable streets porn.

Peter Calthorpe, an urban planner working on the California high speed rail project, wrote a very good piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on the lack of transit funds in the current form of the economic stimulus. Check it out—it sounds like something we would say here. We definitely agree that there is not enough funding for transit in the economic stimulus bill. I would take it a step further and point out that there is not enough infrastructure funding in the stimulus bill, period. Infrastructure investment pays off in the long term, while offering jobs in the short term. Of course, between highways and transit, transit spending creates more jobs in both the short term and the long term, besides further stimulating the economy.

Many different figures have been floated as to how many jobs are created per dollar spent on infrastructure. Depending on which source you look at, you might see that for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure, 18,000 or 28,000 or some other high number of jobs are created. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact number, but the point is it’s high. Yet only about $30 billion of the $900 billion package is being directed at roads, with transit and inter-city rail getting $12 billion. Some of the other money is being directed to places that will do very little to create jobs.

The New York Times points out some of the latest additions to the bill, which include tax credits for home buyers and car buyers. I hate to say it, but this only attempts to feed our way of life for the past 50 or so years. The message it sends is, buy more homes in the suburbs to contribute to suburban sprawl, and buy a new car to drive on all those new lanes that are getting added to our highways. Don’t bother changing commuting habits or moving into the city, there was nothing wrong with our lifestyles that caused the economy to collapse or anything. (Oh, yeah. We bailed out the car industry so now we have to protect our investment. Same goes for the mortgage companies. Bleah.)

That’s totally the wrong message. Our representatives need to take advantage of the opportunity to encourage sustainable development by directing the funds to the places that will make a difference. Among those places are mass transit and high speed rail. If we don’t learn from our mistakes of spending unwisely in the past, we’re doomed to repeat them.

Image: John Darkow, The Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri

With gas tax revenue falling fast the federal government fears that it may not be able to meet its commitment to states for road projects currently under way. So what does Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters suggest? Simply “borrow” money from the mass transit fund. According to the New York Times article, such a measure would “balance the accounts as highway travel declines and mass transit increases.”

However, such a transfer of money would require Congress’ approval.

American Public Transportation Association president, William W. Millar added this:

The administration proposal is shortsighted and would mean that the mass transit account would be reduced to the point where there would not be enough money to fund the federal transit program in 2010, even at the current level.

If this doesn’t illustrate how broken our federal transportation funding system is, I don’t know what does. Despite runaway gas prices, climate change, and the prospect of funding petro-dictators, the Bush administration is still desperate to fund highways at a significantly greater clip than transit. The sad thing is that the Bush admin wants to borrow from what is already a scant fund. The transit fund is but a tiny fraction of the highway fund.

Traffic on 826

There are several reasons why widening highways is usually a futile strategy to combat traffic congestion. For one, highway widening projects are costly and time consuming. It has also been well documented that adding new capacity to highways creates induced demand, which essentially means it will generate more traffic on the road. Consequently, over time the widened highway gradually fills up with additional traffic until it reaches a threshold, and is congested again. Of course, just the principle of widening highways is flawed because it encourages driving, it’s unsustainable, and it raids funds for other major transportation projects that are much more sustainable, such as transit. However, research from the Sightline Institute points out that widening highways also leads to substantial increases in GHG emissions in the mid-to-long term.

Conventional dogma preached by road-widening enthusiasts claims that additional capacity will decrease GHG emissions by easing traffic congestion. According to Sightline, this limited benefit only holds true in the short term, if at all. In the medium-to-long term, however, adding one mile of new highway lane will result in an increase in CO2 emission by more then 100,000 tons over 50 years. To quantify that, at current rates of emissions, 100,000 tons of CO2 equals the 50-year climate footprint of about 100 typical U.S. residents.

Image: Sightline Institute

Ah, the 1950’s, a time when the US economy was rebounding from the stresses of World War II and federal money was freely flowing every which way to rebuild a struggling economy. The most notable “achievement” which evolved from this hasty federal spending was the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (Dwight Eisenhower Interstate System) of 1956.

As this documentary illustrates well, the 1950’s was also a time for extreme naivety, clearly shown through the future independence personal vehicles will bring to our cities. The ideas range from absurd construction techniques (an atomic reactor which creates tunnels with extreme heat) to far more absurd “new dimensions for the American highway.”

If there is one statement where the show was actually spot on, I’d say it’s this one:

“The shape of our cities will change, as expanded highway transportation decentralizes our population centers into vast urban areas. With the advent of wider, faster expressways the commuter’s radius will be extended many miles”

You can say that again…

The official video description:

An excerpt from the 1958 “Disneyland” TV Show episode entitled “Magic Highway USA”. In this last part of the show, an exploration into possible future Transportation technologies is made. It’s hard to believe how little we’ve accomplished on this front since 1958, and how limited the scope for imagining such future technologies has become. Witness an artifact from a time where the future was greeted with optimism. Note the striking animation style here, achieved with fairly limited animation and spectacular layouts.

Today’s Metro Monday come to us from our loyal reader James Good.

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The conclusion to the three part story on Auckland, New Zealand’s car addiction. This part concentrates on the sustainable and economic benefits of upgrading to alternative transit. They accurately rip apart the notion of cars, highways, and the expanded option of “personal independence” contributing an “economic benefit” to society…

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toll-stoppaytoll, originally uploaded by Robertson Adams.

More tolls to come? What will they fund?

-Via TM reader Robertson

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“It follows that increasing road capacity can actually make overall congestion on the road worse. This occurs when the shift from public transport causes a disinvestment in the mode such that the operator either reduces frequency of service or raises fares to cover costs. This shifts additional passengers into cars. Ultimately the system may be eliminated and congestion on the original (expanded) road is worse than before.

The general conclusion, if the paradox applies, is that expanding a road system as a remedy to congestion is not only ineffective, but often counterproductive. This is also known as Lewis-Mogridge Position and was extensively documented by Martin Mogridge with the case-study of London on his book Travel in towns: jam yesterday, jam today and jam tomorrow?”

We’ll Discuss this more in depth later today…

Sorry about the delay folks. I’ve been trying to catch up on all the news I missed last week, while replying to a week’s worth of e-mails, and recovering from some illness I contracted on the way back from Mexico City’s disaster of an airport. Never again will I fly through Mexico City unless it happens to be my final destination. It’s kind of screwy that with all the direct flights between Miami and Cancun that a 2 1/2 hour additional flight through Mexico City would somehow come out a couple of hundred dollars cheaper. Next time, I’ll splurge and save myself the hassle…

In an unprecedented move which will most likely anger most car-commuting suburbanites across the state, a new law aims to tie tolls prices to the cost of living:

The new law requires that all tolls on highways operated by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise must be linked to the Consumer Price Index. This means that tolls on the turnpike and Sawgrass, plus other toll roads in Central Florida and bridges in the Panhandle, will automatically increase with the cost of living.

The law signed by Governor Christ last month allows for changes to be made automatically every five years or once a year by the state.

It’s about time Floridian motorists started paying reasonable prices for their very unreasonable driving habits. We have to understand that our current growth model (sprawl) and dependence on the automobile simply isn’t part of a sustainable lifestyle. By increasing taxes on motorists, we can further discourage vehicular dependent growth and likewise begin to levy a reasonable fee on the destruction caused by our automobile dependency. We have subsidized this destructive uncanny way of life for far too long, it’s about time motorists began to pay their fair share…

See what the nuts have to say already on the Miami Herald’s Comment section

The new tolls on the 836 will be opening up soon (July 1) along with the new MDX 3 mile west extension of the highway. You can read all about it here. But, once again, the comments section of this article is where we’ll find some of the finest examples of the Miami Mentality:
“Nothing but a scam, to steal your money anyway they can. Things are just going to get worse and the traffic that will be backed up at that toll plaza in the morning will be a nightmare for the commuters. This county and it’s politcians who permitted this to go thru are nothing but a bunch of scoundrels, and thiefs. THIS COUNTY SUCKS !! I will definitely try to find a way around this toll and not pay them a single red cent. MDX = CROOKS” -A Commuter

“What ever happened to the extensions they were going to build down to kendall and homestead? We voted for the 1/2 penny tax, they took our money to build toll plazas in order to take more money from us! This is nothing new in Miami, they’re simple lining their pockets as usual.
Anyone that does not vote for the property tax cut in January will only continue feeding money to these crooks!” -Mike

“Your 1/2 penny tax is going to a stupid “Move it Yes you can!” public awareness campaign. How about giving us some toll relief instead? Or building the FIU metrorail route? We need to repeal that 1/2 penny tax now!” -Ollie

“What about the taxes we all pay hidden in every gal. of gas? Do the people know the goberment is selling every bridge, roads to China, Chavez and Arabes countries to any one with money. That’s why we have to pay tolls. e” -Pedro

It’s amazing to see how many people blatantly do not understand where the money from the 1/2 penny sales tax goes. MDX is a separate entity from MDT (which it shouldn’t be) and was operating a system of toll roads where only 28% of users were paying for 100% of the tolls. There were some comments calling for the expansion of metrorail, but with representatives like Zapata leading the Sweetwater community against those efforts as well, any reasonable plan to alleviate the problem seems impossible…

I’ve often defined the “Miami Mentality” on this site as the state of mind prevalent in our region which is generally for transit options, so long as other people use them. The Miami New Times quoted my “Miami Mentality” theory today when discussing the new MDT 7-day pass, which sadly means that my theory is becoming more of a commonly accepted belief. To clarify, through personal account and research, I’ve found that the Miami Mentality is generally against density, non-vehicular modes of transit, in favor of traffic relief measures, and in favor of wider highways and parking- plenty of it too. The Mentality also denounces good urban planning principles often by typically stating, or rather declaring: “That would never work in Miami.” Needless to say, it has taken me quite by surprise to see the latest coverage and reactions in the Sun-Sentinel with regards to the proposed managed lanes on I-95. Their news polls, obtained March 29 and April 4, show an overwhelmingly opposite trend to the Miami Mentality:

March 29 Some state legislators want to start charging tolls to use the car-pool (HOV) lanes on I-95 from I-595 in Broward County to State Road 112 in Miami-Dade County. What’s your opinion?

85.4%
Bad idea. These lanes should be available for free to anyone with 2 or more people in a vehicle. (5917 responses)

14.6%
Good idea. It would raise more funds for transportation and ensure the car-pool lanes don’t get too crowded. (1012 responses)
6929 total responses

April 4 State officials say I-595 could be widened much more quickly and less expensively by making it a privately operated road with tolls on its express lanes. Your opinion?

35.1%
Good idea. (1773 responses)

64.9%
Bad idea. (3278 responses)
5051 total responses

Or do they? Perhaps there are some valid reasons behind this shift in the frame of mind or perhaps the Miami Mentality is a little more convoluted than I originally perceived. I’ll choose the latter. Based on the data obtained through the unofficial polls taken by the Sun-Sentinel and in browsing through some of the comments left on the site, it appears that there is a new dimension to the Miami Mentality that I had not previously considered: Money.

“Forgive me for not being able to attend this oh-so important waste of time meeting, but here’s my vote by proxy- NO!!! What a $hitty idea- charge us for what we’ve already paid for? Screw these crooked politicians and their handouts to the contractors- enough is enough!”
-Count me Out, Hialeah, Fl

“The article is at least truthful. The public is invited to discuss the issue. The decision has already been made based soley upon financial reasons. Luxury car lanes have been discussed for years, now they will be a reality. Only in Florida. Guess the Republicans will call it no Lexus left behind.”
-Mike Woods, Boynton Beach, Fl

The views presented outline a general displeasure for paying for expanded highway service, it is expected that the government provide endless capacity and expansions to our already crowded highways. This belief stems from the precedent that the government set throughout the past decades, expanding and creating highway infrastructure “as needed.” The distrust in local policies and “leaders” further exacerbates the situation, casting shadows of doubt across any project where higher costs will be waged on motorists. Contrary to the logic behind congestion pricing, the opinions conveyed show that the new local mentality aims to provide highway and parking access to anyone (which falls in line with the reaction to rising gas prices.) (For more on Congestion Pricing, click here.)

I must also note that the subject matter does not pit public transit against highway capacity expansion. Surely, had that been the case, the results would have shown a desire for rail, provided that others use the system and now apparently that money allocated to the project did not come from highway funding sources (it’s ok folks, there are statutes against that anyway.)

Of course some classic Miami Mentality always finds its way into the picture:

“Maximum use of all lanes is the most efficient use of roads. Car pool lanes do not do that. The “Pay Pool” lanes are only a way for the politicians to get more money without representation. Another non-tax tax. On top of all this Interstate roads are supposed to be free. This is not a state road it is a federal road.”
-just say no, Miami, Fl

“Forget the tolls. Eliminate the HOV lane by opening it up to all drivers. That will increse the available road space by 20 - 25 percent. As an added benefit …no more slow downs caused by drivers gawking at the flashing lights while FHP writes tickets (they have better things to do). It’s a win win deal for both tax payers and drivers, costs nothing and can be put into effect at any time.”
-David, Pompano Beach, Fl

I’m so glad David took the time to do the math for us, he neglected to include how many minutes it would take for for traffic to fill up the additional lane and bring traffic back to a grinding halt (Induced Travel.) Miami Mentality obviously fails to take into account general highway planning principles, is shortsighted, does not recognize the limitations of an autocentric infrastructure, and never considers perhaps that the current method of personal travel and lifestyle are the true problems at hand.

Reassuringly, every so often, a voice of reason chimes in:

“the reason for the carpool lane is to encourage drivers to carpool and take cars off the roads. what they should be doing is expanding the number of car pool lanes to 2 or 3 each way and then maybe more people would carpool.”
-John, Santa Maria, Ca

But, then again, let the few voices of reason come from a city clear across the country

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Here at TransitMiami, we often are very critical of Miami’s auto-oriented planning legacy. However, while Miami has recently made strides toward a denser, more sustainable, more pedestrian-oriented city (Streetcar, Miami 21, countywide efforts such as metrorail expansion), the Phoenix-Tempe-Mesa metro area continues its pursuit to be the King of Sprawl. Tempe council members and Mayor Hugh Hallman are pressuring the Arizona Department of Transportation to expedite a proposal to widen a section of I-10 to 24 lanes! The fact that city planners anywhere would take this proposal seriously is unfathomable. Perhaps they attended the University of Wendell Cox, the (un)Reason(able) Foundation, or some other group that advocates for unsustainable, climate-destroying sprawl through pseudo-science and selective data that leads to inaccurate and misleading conclusions.

Countless studies have concluded that widening highways is almost always an exercise in futility. One report uses a creative analogy to illustrate the ineffectiveness of widening highways:

“Consider the role laxatives should play relieving constipation. Laxatives are sometimes appropriate, but it is generally best to address constipation by changing diet (more fiber and liquids) and exercise (take a walk), because laxatives’ effectiveness declines with frequent use, they can hide more severe diseases, and they can exacerbate other medical problems. A physician who prescribes laxatives without investigating why the patient is constipated or considering other solutions is guilty of malpractice.

Similarly, chronic traffic congestion is often a symptom of more fundamental community design problems, such as inadequate mobility options that force people to drive for every trip, and dispersed land use patterns that increase travel distances. Where this is true, expanding roads may reduce short term symptoms but exacerbate long term problems. “

Click here to read the rest of the study.

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