The annual Urban Mobility report from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) is out and it has very good news, at least for us.

We have just completed reading some of the media coverage, the TAMU press release, the summary report (24 pages) the full report (91 pages) and several of the special technical supplements. The good news? We do not have to rewrite our 20 September 2004 column “Spinning Wheels, Spinning Data.” The report presents the same picture with the same flaws with only a few percentage point differences.

The TTI/TAMU report is still the best measure of urban area travel congestion citizens have access to. And it is still misleading and incomplete for all the reasons we spell out in our column on last year’s report. Tim and David could not change the report even if they wanted to because of who pays for the study and the other work of TTI. You guessed it, it is just the ones who are responsible for the problem in the first place, USDOT, state DOTs and the asphalt gang.

As if it needed to be any more clear, the timing of the release highlights the political nature of the report. Even the press release notes the report was released when the “transportation” (aka, “highway pork barrel” until there is a direct tie between transport and human settlement pattern) re-authorization hearings got underway. It turns out it was released the very same day as the Senate took up the $284 Billion re-authorization dollar bill.

The press coverage (e.g. AP story carried by CNN and The Washington Post) only makes the picture more muddled. The media quote those who get paid by the auto-mobility lobby about the need for more asphalt and traffic management. The media do note the need for “land-use planing” but not Fundamental Change in the pattern of trip origins and destinations or balancing travel demand with system capacity much less Balanced Communities.

The TAMU staff notes in the study that they do not evaluate “strategies (i.e. Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns) that present opportunities for improving transportation.”

For those who thought we were a little strong with Antidote One in yesterday’s column check out point two from “The Big Picture” (we like those words :>) summary at the end of the full report: “Hours of delay, time of day and the miles of road that are congested have grown every year.” A slow economy in 2003 (the year the data was gathered by transportation agencies for this years report) cause slight decreases in some measures in some regions. But for prosperous places…

Stay tuned for coming columns on real congestion relief.


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  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    If this is written like the last TAMU report, it will have something to make every special interest group happy, depending on how they spin.

  2. Ray – very true.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    My position has been that no one solution will work. The problem is so big and so critical that every approach should be used and used now. TAMU puts it this way:

    “The problem has grown too rapidly and is too complex for only one technology or service to be
    “the solution.” The increasing trends also indicate the urgency of the improvement need. …So we
    recommend a balanced approach—begin to plan and design major capacity increasing
    projects, plans or policy changes while immediately relieving critical bottlenecks or
    chokepoints, and aggressively pursuing operations improvements and demand management
    options that are available.

    As for development patterns TAMU reduces the situation to this: “There are a variety of techniques that are being tested in urban areas to change the way that commercial, office and residential developments occur. These also appear to be part, but not all, of the solution.”

    This is the crux of my disagreement with EMR – these techniques are being tested, there is little data to show that they actually work, they cannot be a solution themselves, and they will take years to begin to take effect, if ever. None of EMR’s suggestions are wrong, necessarily, but they are so grossly oversold that the hype is reducing the value of the argument.

    Meanwhile, all of the other proven strategies should go forward, even if that works counter to changing development plans. We are going to need the space anyway.

    TAMU points out that areas with the highest population have the greatest congestion, which leads me to believe that adding another million and a half people to Fairfax as a means of reducing congestion is about 90 degrees rotated from reality.

    We have had discussion here about induced demand. The most recent academic studies suggest that induced demand is smaller than first thought, and applies to every transportation improvement, balanced communities included. TAMU says “Additional roadways reduce the rate of increase in the time it takes travelers to make
    congested period trips. It appears that the growth in facilities has to be at a rate slightly
    greater than travel growth in order to maintain constant travel times if additional roads are the
    only solution used to address mobility concerns. It is clear that adding roadway at about the
    same rate as traffic grows will slow the growth of congestion.”

    In other words you CAN (sort of) build your way out of congestion if you have the land and money. Land is in short supply in congested areas. TAMU also notes that roads which are now included in urban areas which were formerly outside the zone count as new roadways in their analysis. In other words, spreading out increases the available roads to use and reduces congestion.

    Finally, with regard to EMR’s recent challenge to me about data The TAMU report contains an interesting reference from Portland which supports my earlier position: if ALL of the strategies other than building new capacity take effect it will reduce the INCREASE in congestion by around 20% If we do everything EMR and others suggest, we still need a lot more roads. Here is the data from Portland, supposedly the best in the nation at this:

    “In comparison with an alternative plan to accommodate growth solely through highway capacity
    increases, the LUTRAQ plan was estimated to reduce SOV work trips by approximately 22 percent; increase transit and non-motorized travel by 27 percent; reduce highway congestion by 18 percent; reduce vehicle hours of travel during the evening peak hour by 11 percent; reduce energy consumption by 8 percent…”

    But look at how this was done. that 22% reduction is from the otherwise massive increase in the baseline which is not disclosed, and it only reduces congestion by 18% from the baseline increase.
    Non-motorized travel is less than ten percent now, so if you increaase that by 27% you go from (let’s be optimistic) 9% of total trip demand to 12%, and those are the least valuable trips. and it save only 8% of energy over the baseline.

    EMR will splutter away about this, but I’m pretty sure his spin will be among the most wobbly and least balanced.

  4. Fredrik Nyman Avatar
    Fredrik Nyman

    Is there any particular reason to assume Fairfax will ever grow to 2.5M people? There’s not much buildable land available, and it seems unlikely that many existing neighborhoods will be re-developed with much higher densities.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I agree with you, but try telling it to EMR and others.

    It’s not my idea, but there are many powerful people actively promoting that plan and getting laws passed to ensure that it does happen. How much it will cost, who it will benefit, and who it will hurt don’t seem to get discussed much – its an article of faith that it is a good idea and necessary to prevent that nasty sprawl, which of course requires roads. Hence the tie-in here.

    “The key number is one from Professor Fuller’s model which shows a potential for 1,400,000 “More, Better Jobs” in Fairfax County by 2030. We might call this “Fuller’s Golden Future” potential. Based on Professor Richard Florida’s recent books, Koelemay spells out why attracting these jobs and the members of the Creative Class who will fill many of them is important to the County, the Subregion and the Commonwealth.

    Inside the numbers: Based on 1,400,000 jobs, 1.5 jobs per dwelling, 2.5 persons per dwelling and Balanced Communities, that means by 2030 there would be 930,000 dwellings and 2,300,000 residents in Fairfax County. In 2000 there were 359,411 dwellings and 969,749 residents in Fairfax County. “

    for the full argument( at least one side) see

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