Making urban highways more likeable
Just a quick pass-along this week from transportation expert Bob Poole at Reason, followed by a few comments of mine:
Making Urban Highways More Likeable
Last month I wrote about the Reason Mobility Project’s first major policy study, which makes the case that over the next 25 years, America’s urban areas need to add 104,000 lane-miles of expressway, arterials, and local roads in order to catch up with growth in vehicle miles traveled and eliminate the worst (Level of Service F) congestion. That’s all well and good, some of you responded, but where on earth could we put that new capacity? There’s no more room—and besides, roads are ugly bad neighbors.
Those are very legitimate concerns, and they are the subject of the second major policy paper from the Mobility Project, just now being released. It’s Peter Samuel’s “Innovative Roadway Design: Making Highways More Likeable.” Can we, it asks, figure out ways to make roadways better fit in, adding much-needed capacity without paving over our metro areas with unending concrete? I’m very impressed with what Peter has come up with, and I hope you will be, too.
The paper acknowledges many things that highway boosters don’t always like to admit: making freeways ever-wider can create real operational difficulties; there’s a case for reviving pretty, winding pre-World War II cars-only parkways; and there’s definitely a case for traffic-calming measures to preserve neighborhood streets from invasions of through traffic that threaten neighborhood tranquility and safety. And many of our freeways are just plain ugly, incapable of inspiring admiration like some of our iconic transportation landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge.
Acknowledging all that, what does the paper suggest as innovative design ideas? Much of it deals with limited-access expressways, since that is the most difficult challenge. For these kinds of lane-miles, the paper scours the world for innovative examples, both built and on-paper, of going up, going under, or creatively re-using existing freeway rights of way. Tunnels hold great promise, for example, for filling in much-needed but politically impossible missing links in existing freeway systems (illustrated by examples from Paris and Melbourne). Selected double-decking holds promise, too, with an elegant example being the just-opened elevated tolled express lanes in Tampa that I wrote about last issue.
Two other keys to squeezing in more urban expressway capacity are special-purpose lanes and use of non-traditional rights of way. Cars-only express lanes or truck-only toll lanes can make use of much narrower rights of way than a conventional freeway—and such rights of way exist in the form of abandoned rail lines, power transmission rights of way, flood control channels or flood plains alongside rivers, etc. Some very provocative examples are shown, for example of an express-lanes roadway from Los Angeles International airport to downtown LA and a trucks-only tollway in Brooklyn—both using abandoned rail right of way.
The paper devotes a whole chapter to arterial improvements, as well, suggesting selective use of overpasses to avoid delays at signalized intersections (as in Silicon Valley’s “expressways,” which are half-way between freeways and conventional arterials), innovative intersection designs, and both the benefits and limitations of traffic signal synchronization.
This is, of necessity, a highly visual policy study, and it will repay careful perusal. As the Mobility Project releases a series of city-specific case studies in coming months, you will see many of these ideas proposed for use in real-world settings.An executive summary and the full report can be found here
. A lot of good ideas, although I'm not a fan of car or truck-only lanes, which seems like it would often be underutilized. Better to allow all traffic and use congestion-priced tolling to match supply and demand exactly, perfectly maximizing the throughput of the road. One of their more intriguing ideas for Houston might be using the power transmission rights of way, like along Westpark or the one that crosses 610S near Stella Link (which could finally connect the Ft. Bend Parkway to 610, providing relief to 288 and 59S). I'm also a big fan of more small parkways like Allen Parkway or Memorial. As far as cool tunnel ideas, check out the recent update to this post
Labels: congestion pricing, mobility strategies