no freeways, no traffic, no problem!

Traffic Expands to Fill Available Road Space

The best solution to effect an immediate improvement to our transportation system is to encourage congestion. Much of North America's "congestion crisis" is comprised of discretionary traffic, which in turn is generated because of readily available and extensive road systems. For example, an estimated 40 percent of the car trips on U.S. interstate highways during peak hours are non-work related. Thus, by reducing the capacity capability of our road system, less "latent demand" is actualized in the form of new car trips as drivers are forced to reconsider their travel habits.

The Greater Vancouver Regional District recently adopted this philosophy in its Long-Range Transportation Plan, which states: "Selectively accepting congestion to change travel patterns is another (transport service) policy lever... Congestion is usually considered an evil; however, allowing congestion to deteriorate for the single-occupant vehicles is a practical method of promoting transit and carpools."

I suspect that this article's description of this in terms of "supply and demand" is the sort of thing that will make actual economists cringe, but I do think there's a sensible point hiding in there.

I've long thought that the absolute best thing that could happen for ease of transportation in San Francisco would be the bulldozing of every parking lot in the city. Public transportation in this town won't improve until people demand it, and people won't demand it so long as it's still relatively easy to get around town in a car. Cities can grow up or out. Tall buildings, or sprawl. I know which direction I'd rather see it go.

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108 Responses:

  1. nyankolove says:

    If only things actually worked this way:
    Ignore the problem and maybe it will go away!

    Maybe they should stop fixing potholes etc. so more people will take trains/subways.

    • jwz says:

      You say that as if it wouldn't work!

      I fully support the gov't redirecting my taxes to subsidize trains instead of fixing potholes.

      • loic says:

        As a taxpayer (who spends an hour and a half a day on BART and Caltrain) I'm in favour of not subsidizing public transport as soon as they stop subsidizing roads. User pays, baby :)

        • semiclever says:

          I don't have a good reference on this, but it's been reported that the BART ticket revenue just about covers the cost of issuing and collecting tickets. To the extent that it pays for the system it does so by reducing ridership to a manageable level.

          • fgmr says:

            I actually looked at the BART report a couple years ago, and I don't believe this.

            • semiclever says:

              It may just be folk "wisdom." I've never actually looked at the numbers myself.

            • relaxing says:

              In Philadelphia it was reported that it would be cheaper to allow everyone to ride public transit for free than pay the tellers. But what mayor would sign into effect job cuts that massive?

              • flipzagging says:

                When they built the Skytrain here in Vancouver, they didn't bother including any tellers, or for that matter drivers. (you can, for one, welcome your new robotic train masters.)

                Most people do buy tickets though, in case a transit cop randomly catches them. It's sort of on the honor system, though you can get away with not paying for a long time.

        • scosol says:

          yeah- at first i was horribly offended by all the tolls going from country to country and city to city in europe, but then i thought "hmmm it actually makes sense"-
          those that actually use the roads are the ones that have to pay for them-

          1) make parking rates F'ing ridiculous- *everywhere*- $2/hr or something

          2) add $2 city tax to every gallon of gas purchased *in* the city

          3) charge $20 per car to enter the city (as defined by some easily-controlled border

          then you'd see cars only used when people actually had someplace to go, and scooters/bicycles used for almost everything

          • ammonoid says:

            I would agree to this, if they also made BART free, or at least cheaper than it is, and it ran all night (or at least till last call). The way it is now, I *have* to drive to go out in SF, because taking BART is just not an option.

            • scosol says:

              yeah me too- but bart and muni are really really just sad when it comes to getting around *within* the city-

              muni needs to come every 5 minutes, and it needs to go *everywhere*-
              put some tracks under all those overheads currently used by the electrical busses and you're done.

              • Every 5 minutes? I'm happy when I get a Muni every 20 and it actually shows up. I've walked a route after waiting 40 minutes for the bus, and in the next 40 of walking I *never* saw it pass. Or alternately you'll see 4 different buses with the same line appear simultaneously. The system has "issues".

            • fanf says:

              The reason they can't run the London Underground 24h/day is because the lines only have two tracks, so there isn't any spare capacity to move the traffic to for maintenance purposes. So all maintenance occurs at night when the trains are not running.

      • caprinus says:

        Don't forget to subsidize some hovercraft emergency vehicles!

        Potholes: another proof the War on Drugs is failing.

      • jp4r says:

        You can't be against road-builders. They have all these asphalt plants and compactors to pay off.

        And there are no significant rail-building business on the West Coast to justify new trains.

    • gfish says:

      If everything worked just like we expected it to, we wouldn't need to do research. Both the case studies and mathematical models are quite clear -- adding capacity often results in worse traffic.

    • nyankolove says:

      i thought of another problem with the article... it relies on the intelligence of human beings.

      i never get out of bed on time even though i know traffic would be better if i left earlier.

      also, when people are stuck in a traffic jam do they really think "geez, i should join a carpool, because that will make all the difference!"

  2. loic says:

    When my dad was a transport planner in the western australian department of transport he was heavilly in favour of increasing congestion. He summed up the reason as "to make people hate their cars". Needless to say the people in the department who came from a road construction background rather than a sustainable planning background didn't really buy the idea so now he's off writing climate change policy.

  3. 21cdb says:

    In Northern Virginia/DC, whose traffic is rapidly gaining on SF and LA, we have these insane ideas that get all sorts of idiotic funding - like adding more toll lanes (with overly complex sliding rates based on traffic conditions) down the middle of existing roads, whereas attempts to put a Metrorail station in Herndon,Reston or Tysons Corner (or any other place without one, but lots of people) met with bloody resistance.

    • otterley says:

      Most people who live in suburbs are opposed to public transit for one of two reasons:

      1) Inconvenience during construction. This is a reasonable excuse, but on the other hand, people will tolerate a little temporary inconvenience for things that suit their tastes, for example, widening the roads or creating better interchanges.

      2) Intolerance. This is the evil whose name is rarely spoken but is well understood. Suburbanites are scared shitless that easy public transportation will bring "those kinds of people" to their neighboorhoods. (By "those" I mean poor black or Latino people.) Besides being racist and morally reprehensible, it's also totally illogical: they don't seem to mind having poor black or Latino people come to their houses to clean and cook for them, as long as they can afford a car. Also, cars aren't particularly expensive. Oh how easy it is to forget that you can buy a car for less than $25,000 through the Sunday paper classifieds!

      • jesus_x says:

        Anyone who equates >$25k with "aren't particularly expensive" needs sent to a re-education camp.

      • Yeah, #2 is particularly irrational since it is the thugs that are almost certainly able to afford a car. It seems like suburbanites have no idea that the underground economy can be lucrative.

        • otterley says:

          My point (which another poster completely and rudely missed - Jamie, why do you allow complete morons to post in your journal?) was that one need have barely any money at all to purchase a car. (I think the Blue Book worth of my car, which is a halfway decent one and still in pretty reasonable condition, is $3,000.) And so, owning one is not particularly high a barrier against moving into the suburbs.

          What keeps "those people" out of the suburbs is high property values and rent - and unlike Chicken Little suburbanites I simply don't see those falling from the sky because an effective public transportation system begins to serve them.

    • rodgerd says: are about Freeeeedum! And mass transit is a symbol of Communism that only poor losers use.

      (And yes, I have been offered the "poor loser" in all seriousness by people, all of whom earn considerably less that bus-riding me).

  4. So, uh, basically, as long as traffic isn't painful, more people will use the road until traffic is painful. So traffic will always be painful.

    Well, that saves me from having to maintain that pesky optimism.

  5. jabber says:

    Next - beheadings as preventive brain tumor and migrane treatment.

  6. lars_larsen says:

    The city I live in has an anti-growth government. Their motto is "We were here first, GO AWAY!". As such, they have not built any new roads even though our population growth is greater than that of Egypt.

    It doesn't work. Our congestion is far worse than NOVA/DC. And that's saying a lot!

    • jwz says:

      Are they building public transit, or just doing nothing?

      • lars_larsen says:

        Doing nothing. They also refuse to approve any new housing construction. This has caused a horrid "urban ring" to be built in the surrounding county. Which means people have to commute even farther from home to work, causing even more congestion.

        They occasionally do studies on why we need to study more studies. But thats about it. There is a road that was proposed *40* years ago that we still haven't built. But its constantly debated. We just got $1.5 million from the state to "study" it.

  7. Ever visited Hong Kong?

    • jwz says:

      I have not. Do you think that it would be improved by the addition of freeways and mini-malls?

      • xed_geek says:

        Where would you put them. I think there is a square acre of undeveloped land on that island, total. Cars are a serious issue there, and bikes are just as bad. Even the public transit is getting over-crowded so they are basically screwed.

  8. acroyear70 says:

    The makers of SimCity considered that a "law of nature" when they first wrote the game 15 years ago.

    DC went "out" as a result of the 1-2 punch of a building height limit downtown (nothing can grow taller than the dome of the capitol) combined with a massive increase in government contracting during the Reagan era bringing in tons of new jobs and office buildings that exploded in the suburbs where they could get tall. the real failure was that metro had already been designed as a hub-and-spoke system oriented to getting everybody downtown. when Tysons Corner, Skyline, Bethesda, Rockville, Arlington, et al all exploded up, metro was way underpowered to handle them.

    the whole system completely failed to comprehend that people would actually travel from suburb to suburb for work rather than go into the city. until 1994, Fairfax County didn't have 1 single road moving north-south (around the city rather than to it) that was 4-lane or more for more than 3 miles in a row. every road had some region where it cut down to two lanes and traffic was horrendous. now every 2-lane road is going 4, every 4 is going 6, every 6 is getting overpasses and cloverleafs to get rid of the stoplights, and it still won't solve the problem.

    anyways, i've ranted too much here as it is...

    • ammonoid says:

      DC native here. It always seemed so asinine to me to take the metro all the way downtown, change lines, then take it all the way out of town just to get to wherever. Metro is now building more between-line connectors, I think, but they still don't have the equivalent of the London Undergrounds ring lines. They need that.

    • dmarti says:

      In the original SimCity, my sim people complained about not having roads so I built them a couple of litle "racetrack" ovals out by the power plant. They instantly filled up with traffic driving around and around, and the people stopped complaining.

  9. fgmr says:

    the bulldozing of every parking lot in the city

    I'm all for getting rid of on-street parking. You want to park near your house? That's what the garage is for. Convert that "in-law" back if your car is so damn important. Your building doesn't have a parking spot for you? Move, or park on the outskirts and bus in.

    I also think some roads should be pedestrian-only, perhaps with streetcars, and maybe bikes, if the riders play nice. Market to Church, and Mission in the mission, to name two.

    On the other hand, 280 should continue through to golden gate bridge. It's stupid to dump through traffic onto surface streets.

    • *What* garage? My cranky old apartment building doesn't have one, and I've never lived in a building in SF that had one. I'm not moving even farther away from pubtrans. But it would be nice if somebody could occasionally park near enough to pick my gimp ass up to drive me somewhere pubtrans won't take me - or because pubtrans on a wheelchair is a nightmare.

    • relaxing says:

      first-floor parking garages in urban areas are bad because they reduce the number eyes on the street watching for crime, etc.

    • rodgerd says:

      Parking challenged areas in the inner suburbs/CBD area are generally residents only parking. You want to park your car on the street, you buy a residents' permit. You want to clutter up where people live by commuting to town and parking for free in the CBD fringe suburbs? So sorry.

  10. ivan_ghandhi says:

    Right... you Sanfranciscans stay where you are; we San Jose burbs will stay where we are.

    Every time I drive to your city, I find that there is nowhere to park anyway, so I get out a.s.a.p., and drive along hwy 1, and enjoy the views.

    We'd probably use your public transportation, if there were such a thing, that would not take half a day to get to SF, and half a day to get back - about 100 miles roundtrip.

    • drstein says:

      But, if everyone in San Francisco got rid of their cars and took public transportation, how would they all get up to Burning Man? BART doesn't go to Nevada! Oh noes!

      /me lived without a car for a long time. Not living right in San Francisco, it got old, really quick.

      • denshi says:

        You have heard of this newfangled "rental" technology, haven't you?

        • jkonrath says:

          If nobody owns and everyone rents for their occasional use, you're in a world of hurt every time you go to the car rental counter - at least that's my experience here in NYC. There are people that take the train or a cab to the far reaches of Jersey or Long Island to avoid the high markup on a rental in Manhattan.

          To add insult to injury, I like walking distance from LaGuardia, but if I try to rent a car from the airport without a plane ticket in hand, they quickly dismiss me to the in-city location charging the double-rate.

          • gfish says:

            Systems designed for that use, like Flexcar, seem to work quite well.

            • jkonrath says:

              flexcar isn't in NYC, but zipcar is. It's an interesting idea, but the final cost and availability didn't blow my skirt up much. Maybe in other cities it works out a bit better. But for shorter trips or just to get a TV home, a cab seems to be cheaper/easier; for longer stuff like a weekend out, bucking up for a traditional car rental makes more sense. Maybe if they catch on or if they have a special or something, it would hit the sweet spot.

          • Oh man. This is the first I've ever heard of anyone else being denied a rental for not having a plane ticket. Not that the rate was any different, though, so it continues to make no sense. And the other rental services in the airport told me they had never heard of such a policy. And I had a damn reservation!

        • drstein says:

          Oh, I have. So have the lawyers protecting the interests of the rental car companies. :)

    • sjthespian says:

      Try 54 minutes each way -- the Caltrain baby bullet service is significantly faster than driving in during rush hour. I take it half way up the pennisula every day from San Jose and the other way in the evening. It's 90 minutes door-to-door from my house in San Jose to the door of my office (that's car -> train -> shuttle bus).

      If I drive, it's 45 minutes in the morning and 90+ minutes in the evening. Taking the train may not be faster, but it's *my* time, I can use it as opposed to swearing at the brake lights in front of me.

      As for SF -- Muni sucks, but it does get you most places in the city as long as you aren't in a hurry.

  11. owen says:

    I live in Boston, and we're just about finished with the massive Big Dig highway construction project. I remember reading last year sometime an article about the project, including a quote from one of the planners who said something just like this. He said, "If you build it, they will come." This is interesting because one of the statistics that the Big Dig people like to throw around is that if we had not undergone this massive overhaul, by 2010 (or thereabouts) we would experience 20 hours a day (or thereabouts) of rush-hour standstill traffic. I've been lucky that my commutes for the last few years have always been opposite traffic, because I live IN the city and work in the suburbs.

    • stenz says:

      I lived in Cambridge for 5 years up until 2 years ago. Traffic in Boston was awful and I generally avoided it as much as possible (actually, while the traffic sucked, the general difficulty of navigating the streets to get where you wanted to go was the worst part).

      After I left, they opened a few parts of the Big Dig (the bridge is open now, and many parts around the airport, if not all) and when I went back to visit I was blown away by how little traffic there was and how fast I could get to and from the airport from Cambridge.
      That was the first year I was away.

      I went back this year and oops, back to traffic standstills again.

      Just as you say - they said this would happen too. When they started the project, they were planning for X amount of traffic - but the project has taken so long that by the time it is finishing, it is already going to be full.

      Now I live in Bermuda and we have no space here and traffic is bad - on the good side, there is no space for new roads - so they can't add anything else. On the bad side, everyone keeps buying cars and avoids the ferries.
      I drive a Vespa, which is somewhere between the two (I would ride a bike if my office had a shower).

  12. semiclever says:

    I read in A Traveller's History of London that the average speed of traffic in London has been 11 miles an hour for the last 200 years.

    • vxo says:

      I've observed the same with Miami traffic, using a GPS. I'm guessing it was once a lot more, before the roads reached total saturation.

      11 mph is the average speed at good hours of the day on surface streets; at rush hour, it can drop down as far as 0.5 mile per hour.

      I'm glad I take public transit instead of driving at such times, for I can abandon the bus, trapped in gridlock, and walk to my destination about 5 times as fast.

  13. voidptr says:

    The same idea applies to gasoline prices. Theoretically, the higher gas prices get, the better gas mileage people will demand. But it isn't a smooth slope. There's a plateu, with demand remaining flat until gas prices get up around $3-4 per gallon (in today's dollars), at which point, demand for better gas mileage/smaller cars shoots up.

    The plateu phenomenon is the reason most cities don't subscribe to the view of the article's author. They don't see a change in people's behaviour (choosing public transport vs driving) until things get so bad that people literally don't have any choice but to use public transport. Since city planners don't usually let it get that bad, they will never see a demand for public transportation.

    Inertia, kids.

  14. ciphergoth says:

    London's congestion charge seems to have been a great success. One measure of the success is that buses now make significantly faster journeys, which should help tempt people away from cars and thus bring about a virtuous cycle. Our Ken is also in favour of high-rise central living spaces like the "shard of glass" tower in Southwark.

    The next thing that London needs to get its transport sorted is inducements to introduce flexible working so the tubes and trains don't fill up at rush hour...

    • The only problem is increased ridership can lead to more delay per stop, and adding more buses per route increases congestion.

      Ottawa has recently stopped sending many of its routes all the way downtown on the Transitway (a mostly separate bus road, reserved lanes on normal roads for parts of downtown) due to too much bus congestion. Now people have to transfer.

      • fanf says:

        They're reducing stop time in London by requiring passengers to buy tickets before boarding from on-street ticket machines.

        • rodgerd says:

          Should be able to SMS your bus stop number, the bus number, and how many zones you want for your ticket, and have it billed on your phone.

          We have SMS enabled parking meters in Wellington, and they're fantastic. Sadly we haven't gone that was with bus or rail services.

  15. jhenrywaugh says:

    The "not build any freeways" no matter how many migrate here... didn't work, people still came, and even when freeways started to get financed, they fill up faster than they can build them. Too bad they can't seem to lay down asphalt as quickly as developers can throw up tract housing plans.

    It's not as bad as California yet, but if you California folks continue to flock here (along with the horde of Mexican migrants and midwestern transplants), it's going to be soon. Already I commute on the outer loop 101 and a 20-25 mile journey can take me over an hour even though it's all freeway. In the summer, on Fridays, cars backup for 10+ miles in parking lot fashion trying to get up north into the mountains, escaping the 110+ degree Phoenix valley heat.

    Public transportation is not working because (a) stuff is so spreadout, one end of the metro area lies 50-60 miles from the other end (or more), (b) people don't congregate at central work areas like a downtown, work is more distributed all over which one might mistakenly conclude would ease the commute burden but it has not and (c) buses in this part of the country run every hour, not every 10 minutes like in other cities where lots of folks can get around on the bus.

    Guess we'll be knotted up at least until someone mass markets a personal hovercraft vehicle...

    • evan says:

      Phoenix is well-known for having the worst sprawl in the country. Easy road access leads to more roads leads to more sprawl; if your car was useless near and within the city, you'd have to live within the city to work there. Mass transit necessarily follows.

    • drstein says:

      I flew into Phoenix last month and was just shocked at the urban sprawl.. I mean, *wow* - there is just a sea of houses there now.

      When did that all start?

  16. d1663m says:

    Don't dispute, telecommute! Heh. Okay, that was bad. Between St. Charles and St. Louis they added a new 6 lane(!) highway and bridge over the MO river. Except at either end it's impossible to get enough traffic to it to fill it. So it looks like a bit of a brain-dead idea right now. I'd have rather they spent the money for that adding to the rail system that goes between the airport and downtown.

    Apparently they voted on it a couple years before I moved in. It was voted down, mostly because of fears that inner city punks would trash our beautiful sprawling hummer filled neighborhoods.

  17. ianbicking says:

    This is a bit of a problem, though, for those people who do need to use transportation to do productive things, like move goods, get to work when it's really reasonable to commute, etc. Congestion is a real problem; it's not a solution to just let it get worse. But, as this guy says, it's also not a solution to increase capacity. We just have to find other solutions. E.g., tolls, which might reserve some capacity for those who find the roads sufficiently valuable. I think there's some potential in the free-market approach -- where goods and services (like road access) are priced according to their actual cost.

    As for public transit, I think too many advocates expect people to use crappy systems when the alternatives just become slightly more crappy. Maybe that'll happen, but that's also bad advocacy. We need smarter public transit, the current systems just suck incredibly -- they are slow, they don't scale, they have huge capital costs, they have little redundancy, they are unpleasant, and many are much worse environmentally than people realize -- 20 ton electric cars don't spew smoke, but that doesn't make them energy efficient. Expectations should be raised. I like the idea of PRT, personally.

  18. bitpuddle says:

    The paradox of "more lanes increases traffic problems" has been understood for a long, long time.

    Ironically, Robert Moses, a man insanely driven to build highways, was one of the first people to make the connection.

    Moses oversaw an unprecedented build out of highways around New York City. By the early 1940s, though, he noticed that traffic was far worse after the highways were constructed. Simply put, larger highways encourage driving and encourage people to live farther from work, as has already been said. A fifteen year study done by UC Berkley showed that as freeway capacity was increased, traffic increased at an equal rate within a few years. If you google for "induced traffic," you'll see all sorts of interesting stuff.

    I like your idea about bulldozing parking lots. One factor influencing the amount that people drive is the cost of parking; if parking is essentially free, demand for it actually increases by a great amount. Construction of additional roads and parking lots serves to reduce these driving-related costs, or to eliminate them entirely, increasing demand.

    But I disagree with your last sentence. Cities growing outward are not necessarily unmanageable, though suburbs growing outward generally are.

    Los Angeles is actually an interesting example of this. For many years, the outward expansion of the city was well served by a system of streetcars. It wasn't until General Motors systematically attacked rail systems in the late 1920s that LA showed the kind of unsupportable sprawl that so defines it today.

  19. karlshea says:

    This does make some sort of sense. Here in Milwaukee, they are rebuilding the Marquette Interchange, which is a major traffic hub right downtown, where I43, I94, and I794 meet.

    Unfortunately, I still have to use it to get to and from work. This spring, they moved all of the southbound traffic to the northbound side of the north leg of I43, while they rip up the southbound side. So each side lost a lane. What's interesting about this is that congestion has actually improved since they did this, because people are learning better ways to get where they're going, or not taking the trip at all. And the people that have to go that way have improved traffic.

    Now, the plan for the interchange was actually thought out well, so when they're finished, the traffic should be improved considerably even with the earlier volume, so now I just have to wait 4 years for them to get done.

    ( is cool)

  20. I'd like to see the cost of parking tickets go up to where getting a handful of parking tickets each month is actually more expensive than monthly parking in a garage. (Especially for parking in bus zones, gimp spaces (if there are any in this town), and fire hydrants.) It's the damn commuters who are a large part of the problem. There's no reason they can't take BART from the wealthier suburbs (except in cases where they've kept BART out of their burb) like the peons do; but they're not given sufficient incentive to leave the damn Jag in the driveway.

    Hmm. Maybe we need an increase of violence and theft from wealthy vehicles without residential parking permits. Hasn't worked all that well in SOMA, though.

    Better 24-hour pubtrans that was safe and clean would be nice, too. But that's a crack dream.

    • Do you talk to anyone that takes BART or Caltrain from other places? You have to get there insanely early to get a parking space. There are problems on all ends of the system. VTA is a non-starter for getting to the BART stations, it is slower and less predictable than Muni, and that's saying a lot. I live on Nob Hill and work at 7th and Townsend, you'd think I could take a bus and get there faster than walking, but you'd be wrong.

      Better 24-hour pubtrans that was safe and clean would be nice, too. But that's a crack dream.

      AFAICT New York and Tokyo are the only true 24/7 cities. You can even see it in Google's internal statistics for IP hits, the traffic from those cities never stops. Incidentally public transit is much better in both.

      • Wait - you're complaining that people don't take pubtrans from the suburbs because there's no place to *park*? While I'm aware of the reality of the situation, it would be kind of nice to see pubtrans that didn't require huge parking lots. Like, I dunno, suburban buses that actually provide usable and useful service, like taking people to BART.

        After all, the poor folks seem to manage to commute somehow, even if it does mean getting up at insane hours to get to their crappy city jobs via buses that only run once an hour. For them, there's sufficient financial advantage to do so; it's cheaper than a car and all that goes with a car, and that money goes to needs or things they want more than a car. But if a car is something you can easily afford, why suffer like that?

        If people have to take their car to get to pubtrans, and parking is bad, there's no incentive for them to not just drive the whole way if parking is bad either way. If pubtrans won't run until after bar-closing time, there's no incentive not to drive to town bars and clubs, and drive home possibly drunk, rather than take pubtrans. 24/7 service may be too much to ask, but pubtrans shipping the drunks and bridge-crowd home after club hours would only seem to make sense.

        I also used to have a 2.5 hour commute from SF to Mountain View via pubtrans (average 5 hours a day, anyway). I would've easily traded one of my legs for a car and a place to park it so I could have driven, or a workable carpool situation. Back in the dark ages on the east coast, I had a 3-hour three-bus commute in the DC suburbs; it would have been a 45 minute drive in rush-hour traffic. But on my crappy government paycheck, a car wasn't affordable. I've been a car commuter too. I - and most people - prefer a car to pubtrans. Pubtrans has to be made more attractive than a car for most people to use it, and with the budgets the way they are, it's easier to tax car commuters and increase the price of parking to make commuting inconvenient (and hopefully put those monies to pubtrans) than it would be to put a Starbucks and free papers and wireless access on every MUNI bus (all of which run every five minutes).

        • Wait - you're complaining that people don't take pubtrans from the suburbs because there's no place to *park*?
          I'm not complaining at all, I'm telling you why some folks don't take pubtrans today. I think we're mostly in agreement.

          I also used to have a 2.5 hour commute from SF to Mountain View
          Was that before Caltrain? SF to Mt. View is 1hr and that's not bullet, which leaves 1.5 for commuting on either end... a 30 minute bus ride on each end allowing time for slop? That seems excessive, even by Bay Area pub trans standards.

          MUNI bus (all of which run every five minutes).
          That is demonstrably not true, especially during "off" hours

          • I also used to have a 2.5 hour commute from SF to Mountain View
            Was that before Caltrain? SF to Mt. View is 1hr and that's not bullet, which leaves 1.5 for commuting on either end... a 30 minute bus ride on each end allowing time for slop? That seems excessive, even by Bay Area pub trans standards.

            Caltrain, but before the hi-speed trains (I'm assuming they've started running) and the BART link. 10-15 min. walk to MUNI (light rail or bus) to CalTrain SF, shuttle bus from Mtn.View to campus. Average, two hours during rush hour, 2.5 with any transit delays or weather. My carpooling co-worker said the same thing until he had to take pubtrans. It does take that long unless you take cabs.

            MUNI bus (all of which run every five minutes).
            That is demonstrably not true, especially during "off" hours

            Did you actually read what I said? MUNI doesn't have a Starbucks on each bus either.

        • otterley says:

          it would be kind of nice to see pubtrans that didn't require huge parking lots. Like, I dunno, suburban buses that actually provide usable and useful service, like taking people to BART.

          Won't happen - the reason buses suck is systemic. They share the road with the rest of traffic and so they do not have right of way. Normally that would not be a big deal (road traffic in general suffers from the malady), but combine that with all the stops they make, and you have one nearly useless conveyancing system.

          • Point. I got spoiled by living in London, where the bus lanes were pretty well enforced. And most of the complaints about suburban buses that I hear seem related to how underfunded and infrequently they run even in rush hour.

  21. nidea says:

    I'm with you. Gas at $10/gallon with public transport at $2/day too. Hmm, how about free delicous coffee on trains?

    • pdx6 says:

      The RTC, Reno Transportation Commission, has seriously considered offering free coffee on buses to increase ridership.

  22. Lucky you, SF cannot possibly grow out! (assuming we don't try more bay fill or that Japanese trick of building islands just to put an airport or the worlds tallest building on them)

    The practical problem with killing all the parking lots, as I mentioned in another post, is that the Caltrain stations and BART stations are already over filled with cars, and the public transportation is even worse in the rest of the Bay Area so getting to them isn't easy otherwise. You have a systemic problem, you can't just address SF.

    • 1eyedkunt says:

      at first i thought it was areally dopey idea, but maybe if the city parking lots are bulldozed, parking ticket prices are raised and the parking lots at bart are still full, the resulting dissatisfaction on the part of people who own cars (and are more likely to have a bit of money, and therefore influence) would result in something being done about the public transit systems around the bay. kinda like the increased gas prices have contributed to a spike in interest in biodiesel and other alternative fuels. but maybe not...

  23. haqr_spice says:

    I've long thought that the absolute best thing that could happen for ease of transportation in San Francisco would be the bulldozing of every parking lot in the city. Public transportation in this town won't improve until people demand it

    You say this like San Fran has bad public transport. I visited from Sydney in March, and was amazed to find a city with both cheap fares, sensible ticketing systems, and also an amazing range of transport modes from which to choose from. Ours in comparison is expensive, flaky, and always depressing.

    • evan says:

      that's especially amusing to me because the transit is worse in sf than most other major cites i've encountered (new york, portland, seattle).

  24. jmaynard says:

    "Sprawl" is the enviro-weenies' attempt to turn the American dream into a dirty word. Free clue, folks: The folks who live in NYC and SF and other crowded central cities LIKE it, and think it's just dandy to force everyone to live that way. Guess what? I, and lots of others, want no part of it.

    Applying NYC transportation solutions to Houston (where I grew up) and Phoenix (see the comment above) won't work, no matter how much money you throw at mass transit. Many people want their own single-family dwelling with their own yard around all 4 sides, and they're not willing to move into an apartment in a densely urbanized city for lots more money. They won't be convinced to do so no matter how unattractive you make commuting.

    So-called "smart growth" policies are nothing more than attempts to legislate away people's dreams. They're doomed to fail. Of course, that won't stop enviro-weenies, who see absolutely nothing wrong with coercing others into their utopian vision (although Manhattan is a dystopia to me), from trying...

    • denshi says:

      Pull your head out of your ass and look at the numbers sometime. Look at the costs of road construction and repair, land usage, loss of cropland, energy required for commuting; the financing bubble for the latest ring of suburban construction, and at the very least, the oil production curve.

      No one is saying that Houston is going to magically turn into Hong Kong overnight -- or ever, even -- but the development patterns Americans have adopted since the 1950's can't continue forever. Density, and particularly, more socially and aesthetically pleasing density, is coming.

    • badc0ffee says:

      You're talking as if the only options are huge yards or tall, dense apartments. You could quadruple the density in many places and still have a front and back yard, and your own four walls.
      Smart growth puts limits on where and what developers can build. I think that's a good thing. When your only housing options are sprawling greenfield developments (with no sidewalks) when you move into town, that's where you're going to live. Now you're in your home 40 miles away from work, and the city/county have to build more artery roads and freeways to accomodate you.

    • rodgerd says:

      Just as long as stupid, selfish, suburbanite fucktards stop expecting me to pay for their "American Dream". by subsiding their urban sprawl with my money.

      • jmaynard says:

        I'll quit asking you to subsidize my dream if you quit asking me to subsidize your mass transit - which does me zero good.

        • Unfortunately, you keep asking people to subsidize your dream while demanding people stop asking you to pay for mass transit. Does this mean you've changed on that front?

    • Mass transit works fairly well in more sprawling areas, if it's designed to accomodate that. Here in Dallas we have a wonderful rail system that many people actually drive to in order to use; there are a number of park-and-ride lots, and people park at those lots and ride the train in. This way they can park far enough outside of the city to avoid all the major rush-hour traffic, and get a quick ride from the parking lot to and from downtown. And when they're done for the day, they get off the train, in their car (which is near their house) and drive home, or wherever they need to go on their way home, without having to worry about fighting traffic between downtown and there.

      And it takes into account that people continue to use their own cars, and doesn't even attempt to eliminate them. It's a wonderful symbiosis, that proves how wrong you and your rather strict interpretations of how mass transit can work are.

    • ronbar says:

      The consistent tone of writings I've read by people born and raised in some southwestern states who visit cities and suburbs with well-managed growth is that those cities are beautiful places.

  25. fantasygoat says:

    That only works if they actually fund transit.

    Toronto city council is all hippie green freaks who hate roads, but for some bizarre reason don't give a nickel to the transit system either, so both stagnate.

    I'm a hardcore car user and even I think converting most of those asphalt lots to a few multistory lots and the rest into green space would be better overall. But unless it becomes easier to get places on transit, why would I give up the car?

    I can litereally walk to some places faster than taking transit. A 15 minute drive is an hour and a half on the bus. Just lame.

  26. skreidle says:

    The hell? When I was in SF a few years ago, I couldn't find a parking lot to save my life!

    1. Up here in Seattle, the city government is actually planning this way. Seattle tends to have fairly well-developed neighborhoods anyway, so the city is encouraging what they call Urban Villages -- self-sustaining areas within the metro area with everything you need. Methinks they've been playing SimCity or something, the clever bastards.

      One of the ways they are doing this is to discourage the development of parking places. They are reducing the minimum per capita parking required for residential buildings, something that developers and architects will gladly embrace.

      Seattle's done a fair job of taking on additional car volume for the last 10 years (a recent study showed that despite a large increase in total traffic volume, commute times have remained steady during that period). The problem of continuing this is twofold: first, it is obviously leading to a lot of sprawl, which doesn't bode well for the area; second, there is too much water and too many topographical anomalies in the area to allow for continuous increase in traffic capacity, so there's no choice but to deal with it now.

      Seattle's just lucky enough to be able to watch SF and LA and learn from their woes.

    2. On the other hand is Boston. As a couple of comments above point out, Boston is arguably the worst traffic in the country. I mean hellishly, violently bad. I mean, cannot-possibly-exaggerate, atrociously, horrendously, stupidly bad. In the central parts of the city (i.e. Boston proper, Cambridge, Sommerville, and most of Medford, Malden, Brookline, and Watertown) traffic is at a constant standstill. Where we used to live it was about 3 miles to get to my wife's school; it took me about 45 minutes to get there; 1.5 hours in rush hour. I once made it in 10 minutes at 3 a.m. but that's the only time when traffic gets a glimpse of being reasonable.

      No really, it's that bad. It's common to wait two or even three cycles of a traffic signal to get through during rush hour. Taking Mass Ave through Cambridge -- a 2 mile stretch -- usually takes about 30 minutes. People routinely run red lights and stop signs. (Last night my wife and I narrowly escaped getting waxed by a car that blithely drove through a red light, right in front of a hospital of all places.) Double parking is not only tolerated, it's standard operating procedure. Only when you get to triple parking does it feel like the envelop is getting stretched. Twice in the five years I lived there I found myself on a street that had been double-parked shut, leaving me to shut off the engine and wait for one of the double-parkers to come back from Dunkin' Donuts to move their damn car. Twice I read in the newspaper about a double parker that blocked an emergency vehicle. In one case the driver told the fire fighter who jumped out to tell her to move her damn car, "I'll only be a minute." In the other the driver was nowhere to be found, and by the time the fire truck had managed to back out the subject of the 911 call had died.

      Maybe strict enforcement is the key. Boston does sweet fuck all about enforcing its traffic and parking laws. It seems that the most common responses to the institutional lack of parking is double- and triple-parking, and to the traffic it's buying a bigger SUV and driving like a solipsistic maniac.

      Figure 1: parking in Boston

      <!-- No, I can't believe I'm using tables either -->

      The point is that this is a cautionary tale when considering throttling capacity to decrease traffic. People's tolerance for horrible traffic can be pretty high, it turns out. If that's the point we have to reach to allow for miserable traffic to govern itself: blech.

    • pdx6 says:

      Just looking at those pictures makes me angry, though the parking seems a bit better on the other side of the street. I think in the case of being boxed in, it is okay to "push" your way out of the spot, making sure to inflict as much damage as possible on the other vehicles.

      I hope the jackass who blocked an emergency vehicle and said "just a minute" got a hefty fine and jail time.

  27. ronbar says:

    I take trains and buses when I can because I can't stand the stress of traffic and because I can sleep, eat, and read on the train. As others have mentioned, the congestion charges (like in London) and high-occupancy/toll lanes (as they're about to begin near DC) are good solutions to sprawl in areas not inherently limited by geographic features, as SF is. IMO congestion charges alone are sufficient to limit sprawl and sufficiently fund road construction.

    We're having our own personal debate right now on traffic and sprawl. We're moving to a much smaller, much less congested urban area in the next month or two and I'll be working in the distant exurban area. A commuter rail line terminates where I'll be working and connects to the city.

    I'm trying to convince my wife that we don't want to live on three acres way out past the exurban area and that it would be better to live in the city and take the commuter rail or drive in the direction opposite the traffic flow. Even though the traffic isn't bad now out beyond the suburbs, it definitely will be in just a couple more years because a nearby, outlying military base was just taken off the closure list after being on it for at least 10 years. I'd love a ton of land for our dogs and kids, to build a nice pool on, and have a big garden, but I'm also the one who will be doing most of the commuting. Our quality of life is currently really shitty because of my nearly two hour commute each way whether I drive or take the trains.

    I'd much prefer a house on a quarter- or half-acre lot in the city and close to everything good, including good public schools. A few years ago I used to walk about a mile each way to a subway station (on average about 10 mins faster than waiting for the bus, and cheaper too) and it did wonders for my health.