The power of congestion pricing and bus rapid transit
I recently received an email from John of NY with a couple of book micro-reviews that make some really good points, so I thought I'd pass it along with his permission. The power of congestion-priced toll lanes to move so many more cars is a particular eye-opener:
I have read the book Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive Twenty-first Century by Sam Staley and Adrian Moore that I mentioned back in November as well as a book put out a few years ago called 21st Century Highways: Innovative Solutions to America's Transportation Needs by Wendell Cox, Alan Pisarski and Ronald Utt. Staley and Moore's book Mobility First was an excellent read! I am sure you will really like it. I can assure you that these authors are very much on the same page as you and I.
They argue for more limited access highway capacity and the use of variable tolling (where the toll increase as use increases) and electronic toll collection ("open road tolling") both to generate revenue for building and maintaining new capacity and to control excess traffic loads. Indeed, they cite a very interesting statistic involving the use of variable tolling on the SR 91 Freeway in Southern California. That roadway, which I personally traveled on back in 1997, has 4 or 5 free lanes and two variable toll lanes on the far left side in each direction. According to the statistic they cited, the two variable-priced toll lanes (which are rarely congested) move as many cars in a day as the 4 or 5 free and often congested lanes. If these statistics are even remotely accurate, it makes a whole lot of sense to use variable tolling whenever new capacity is added.
They also advocate improvements in boulevards and other arterial roadways. These improvements include synchronizing traffic lights and building underpasses or overpasses to move traffic nonstop through major intersections. There whole point is to increase the traffic speed and, hence, the mobility for those who use arterial roads.
They also argue that rail mass transit (including light rail) makes very little sense outside of New York City's Boro of Manhattan and a few other very densely populated places. They argue for expanded Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which is much cheaper, and more flexible and which can be easily combined with express toll lanes and other improvements for cars. Indeed, the book suggests that your skepticism about much of Houston's proposed light rail system is very well-founded. It would seem that BRT should be used instead, as you have suggested. The book was particularly tough on light-rail - which is very much favored by anti-car elites. The authors suggest that light rail in many ways combines the worst both both bus and rail transit. It is inflexible and often quite expensive, like a new rail line, and it is often slow like traditional bus service, particularly where the light rail line must use public streets (as most light rail systems do at least part of the time).
The book 21st Century Highways, which came out in 2005, reaches many of the same basic conclusions as Mobility First. This book was published under the auspices of the Heritage Foundation think tank based in Washington D.C. To me, this book's most valuable contribution is historical context. It provides an interesting history of highway building in America. In particular, it takes a detailed look at the Federal government's role in highway building and transit funding from before the interstate system right up until about 2004. It makes the important observation that mass transit is not underfunded. Indeed, it is overfunded. Over 20 percent of federal "highway" spending now goes to mass transit projects, even though only about 2 percent of all transportation trips involve the use of mass transit, while over 90 percent involve the automobile.
Which creates its own warped incentives (solution here)
Labels: commuter rail, congestion pricing, rail, toll roads, transit