WSJ on easing traffic congestion, including SafeClearToday I came across an old Wall Street Journal article (subscription only) I saved from April which catalogs the various methods being used around the country to ease traffic congestion without adding physical capacity. I meant to blog on it then, but it got lost in the shuffle. I'm pleased to announce that Houston seems to be pursing almost all of these approaches in one form or another. I'll start with a couple excerpts, including one on Mayor White's Safe Clear program, then switch to bullet points to summarize the remaining items in the article.
Summarizing the article's remaining suggestions:
According to the Texas Transportation Institute's 2005 Urban Mobility Report on 85 urban areas, commuters in 2003 spent an average of 47 hours of extra time in traffic delays -- on top of what their commute would have been at the speed limit -- up from 16 hours in 1982 and 40 hours in 1993.
And, in all the areas studied, regardless of population size, there was more severe congestion lasting a longer period of time and affecting more roads in 2003 than in 1982.
The report predicts that if things continue as they are, with growth in travel outpacing improvement in the transportation system, urban areas will jump to the next congestion-level classification by 2013. This means that midsize regions like Omaha's will have traffic problems that larger areas like Cleveland now have, and larger areas like Cleveland will have the traffic problems that very large areas like Los Angeles or New York have now.
Until recently, expanding highways and roads has been the traditional response to congestion. But in many areas of the world, such expansion isn't feasible anymore because of lack of funding, opposition from residents or simply lack of room.
Rubbing Out Rubbernecking
Accidents and stalled vehicles breed more congestion. They can block parts of roads as well as cause "gaper's block" or "rubbernecking," when people slow down to get a good look at what happened. By some estimates, for every minute an incident is on the road, traffic flow will take four minutes to recover.
But a number of transit agencies are starting to focus on "incident management," or getting crashes and stalled vehicles off roads and shoulders as quickly as possible. In Houston, tow trucks from 11 companies, contracted with the city, roam the freeways 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When they spot an incident, they call the city's traffic-management center, where a police officer locates the wreck or stalled vehicle on a freeway camera and authorizes the tow-truck driver to move it somewhere off the road, like the closest gas station.
The program, "SafeClear," which began as a pilot in 2004 and spread citywide in January 2005, shortens the time it takes to detect a disabled vehicle and clear it from the road, cutting delay times. Before SafeClear's inception, police officers had to be dispatched to the scene of an incident to authorize tows.
According to a one-year progress report released in January, SafeClear has contributed to a reduction of 730,000 hours in travel-time delays and a 10% drop in the number of collisions for 2005 compared with 2003 and 2004.
- "Rubbernecking screens" to hide accidents from passersby and reduce rubbernecking delays (unproven and in early evaluations)
- "Steer It and Clear It" - move accidents without serious injuries to the shoulder
- Adaptive traffic signals that change timing based on real-time conditions (LA: 12% delay time reduction)
- Road<->car wireless communication standards
- Congestion-priced high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes
- Center-city tolls (like London, which reduced delays 30%)
- Employer incentives like the "Best Workplaces for Commuters" program. "To qualify, companies must have 15% of their employees commuting to work by a method other than a single-occupant vehicle. Companies also must offer subsidized transit passes and van-pool vouchers, allow telecommuting, and provide methods for rides home during emergencies (cab vouchers, for instance)."
- Ride-matching services to encourage carpooling
- Real-time traffic information: 511 lines, web sites, camera feeds
- Collecting speed information by measuring cell-phone travel times between towers
- Changeable message signs