This post on why Chicago doesn’t need more lane-miles got what I consider high praise on SkyscraperCity: _not a normal post._
If widening highways to reduce congestion is like loosening your belt to reduce obesity, then widening highways just to say that “my number on some obscure lane-miles per capita computation is bigger than yours” is like, um, well, I won’t go there. Since when was the amount of pavement per capita indicative of high quality of life?
Point 1: St. Louis has *seven times* more freeway lane-miles per capita than Vancouver: 3’6″ vs. 0’6″ (and declining every day). Which city is the envy of the world?
(Thanks to Patrick Condon for the comparison: http://www.planetizen.com/node/132)
Point 2: Merely pouring money into suburban transit (a nice way to drive air around the suburbs) won’t fix anything. Land use and transportation changes must occur simultaneously. Note that the “nice” and “acceptable” parts of suburbia are those which grew up around rail: back then, before Big Government decided to engineer two cars into every garage, the two mutually reinforced one another. Now, not so much.
Point 3: Prior policy decisions shape today’s attitudes. The “overwhelming preference” for suburban living and/or for driving came about only because of decades of, yes, social engineering. So, what’s a little more in the other direction?
Point 4: Sure, we can rationalize existing road capacity better. Closing more ramps downtown will help, and will provide opportunities for decking over the freeway. A congestion charge might get more passing-through truckers to use the two bypasses, which is what they were built for. The latest trick is the High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lane: reserving express lanes for carpools and toll-payers. We have the infrastructure — segregated express lanes, I-Pass, and a network of enforcement cameras — but not the political will. Think of traffic as a supply and demand problem: if demand exceeds supply, maybe it’s time to raise the price and reduce demand, particularly if the demand is for a good with negative social costs. Rationing road priority based on queue (whoever got there first), just like bread in a Soviet grocery, makes no sense whatsoever.
Point 5: Widening roads DOES materially injure those of us who don’t drive. All those cars need to go somewhere once they exit the freeway: onto the local streets and into parking lots that deaden the city. All those cars also belch toxic fumes, making my bike commute that much more unpleasant and unhealthful, and all of them abrade tires and the road surface, resulting in that nasty 2mm pile of black soot on my windowsills, just weeks after I cleaned them.
Point 6: Why do cagers always choose the most extreme examples for their trips? 24,800 cars a day drive in front of my apartment. Don’t tell me that all 24,800 drivers are taking their pregnant, paraplegic grandmothers to the ER. _Of course_ there are trips where driving makes much more sense than other modes, but for many people the number of such trips is vastly exaggerated.