Reason on Why Mobility Matters to Personal Life (Part 1 of 2)I really like the new Reason Foundation report by Ted Balaker on "Why Mobility Matters to Personal Life" - a product of The Galvin Project to End Congestion. It makes a great case for investing aggressively in congestion reduction and added capacity, including some backing up our assertions in Opportunity Urbanism. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but I'm going to put my favorite excerpts here over the next couple of posts (and even those are too long - I liked it that much).
He starts with a discussion of opportunity circles, which are pretty much the exact same thing as my opportunity zones from Opportunity Urbanism.
The average person can walk about four miles per hour, but cars can easily travel on arterial streets at 30 miles per hour. It’s a substantial increase in speed, but the impact may be even greater than it seems. A person who walks for an hour has access to 50 square miles, but someone who drives at 30 miles per hour for 60 minutes has access to 2,827 square miles. In other words, the driver’s opportunity circle is more than 56 times as large as the walker’s. And when conditions permit, motorists may drive much faster on highways, thus expanding opportunity circles even more.But what about opportunity circles for transit?
Other factors, from transfers from one bus or train to another to time spent walking to the transit stop, make a slow transit trip even slower. Even though transit commutes typically cover shorter distances, it takes the average American transit user about twice as long to get to work as the average car commuter. This holds true in some unexpected places. For many New Yorkers transit offers the fastest way to get to work, but, on average, transit commutes take much longer than auto commutes even in the New York metro area. Indeed New York’s transit commuters endure the longest commutes in the nation (52 minutes each way vs. 28 minutes for solo driving). Transit commuting takes much longer than driving in many other areas with celebrated transit systems (see table).You can check out the table of about a half-dozen cities yourself on pg.3
Motorists enjoy additional advantages that push many people toward cars and away from transit. Travelers can reach relatively few destinations directly by transit, but motorists can go from (almost) anywhere to (almost) anywhere. Transit service frequency varies according to schedules, but motorists can travel whenever they like. Their travels are not as restrained by fatigue as are walkers and transit users who trek to and from transit stops. Simple conveniences, like trunk-space, make it easier to carry things and additional seating makes it easier to transport small children, the elderly, and handicapped. The enclosed space of a car can also spare travelers from the rain, snow, heat and humidity. And although driving brings its own risks, many people feel safer traveling at night or through unfamiliar areas within the confines of a car.That's probably the best short summary I've ever seen on why people continue to overwhelmingly choose cars despite gigantic investments in transit.
He then documents our growing congestion problem:
The future looks bleaker still. Congestion in Los Angeles is legendary, but if officials continue to respond to the mobility crisis with a shrug, many more areas will succumb to LA-style gridlock. By 2030 11 additional urban areas (Chicago, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Atlanta, Miami, Denver, Seattle, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Baltimore, Portland) will suffer through traffic conditions as bad as or worse than present-day Los Angeles.Thank you H-GAC, CoH, HCTRA, and TxDoT for keeping us off that list.
And the costs of that congestion?
Businesses think it wise to follow all these potential workers to the suburbs, even though a suburban environment is not inherently superior for many of them. Many businesses, families, and singles would love to stay in the city and draw on all the energy offered by agglomeration economies, but they are forced out by a variety of urban headaches, including degraded mobility.It also exacts a cost on our love lives.
Too many elected leaders find comfort in misleading tales of urban renaissance and too many assume that our great cities can thrive even as mobility degrades. But improving mobility is essential to ensuring our urban centers’ long-term survival, and if we ignore the mobility crisis our cities will wither.
Not only are talented and energetic people increasingly choosing suburbia over city life, but sluggish urban life is also draining some of the talent and energy that remain. As travel becomes more difficult, fewer interactions take place. Vibrant competition has traditionally ensured that city dwellers enjoy the best of the best, but when mobility degrades, a city functions less like a grand urban space and more like a collection of isolated communities. Instead of traversing several neighborhoods to patronize the best establishments, denizens are more apt to resign themselves to whatever’s nearby. First-rate establishments find it more difficult to attract customers and second-rate operations realize that, with less competition, they face less pressure to improve. Residents are often stuck with fewer choices, higher prices, and inferior service.
Downtown cultural institutions fret about traffic-weary would-be patrons steering clear of music, dance, and theater events.
Congestion also robs us of opportunities in more subtle ways. For example, it decreases our job opportunities. Instead of landing a more distant, but higher-paying and more fulfilling job, those living in the midst of gridlock are more likely to stick with the jobs they already have.
All across the nation, Cupid’s arrow is getting stuck in traffic. Although Westchester County is geographically close to Manhattan, because travel is such a hassle, New York City singles often tag Westchesterites as “geographically undesirable.” Thousands of Atlanta-area Match.com subscribers will not date anyone who lives more than 10 miles away. Atlanta spans nearly 2,000 square miles, but immobility limits these love seekers to a tiny corner of the metropolitan area.We'll continue with part 2 on Thursday.
Washington, D.C. might be worst of all. According to Match.com, singles there are most likely to care about how far they travel for love. Elizabeth Reed refused to travel more than five miles for a date. “In D.C.,” she says, “five miles is the longest five miles you’ve ever traveled.”
Elizabeth mentally “strikes out certain nights to go into the city” and when asked how it would affect her life if congestion magically vanished, she pauses. It’s a surprisingly hard question because she’s “gotten so used to not doing things.”
Certainly, traffic is no excuse for living a dull life, but it’s clear that congestion does have a dulling effect.