Loosening Your Belt Does Not Make You Less Fat
Adding lanes to highways leads to more traffic, not less.
A New York City external panel appointed by Bill Di Blasio has suggested a radical recourse to a rapidly deteriorating 1.5 mile section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. That stretch of highway consists of 21 concrete-and-steel bridges over local roads and sees more than 153,000 vehicles a day, which more than three times what it was built to handle. The panel has recommended shrinking the six-lane highway to four lanes.
Winnie Hu reports:
The idea of shrinking the highway to four lanes from six is a remarkable shift for the city, which, like the nation, has been shaped by a car-centric culture and is now wrestling with the consequences, including gridlocked streets, polluted air and rising pedestrian and cyclist deaths.
Some elected leaders and policymakers are increasingly recognizing that the future health of the city depends on making it less accommodating to cars.
The notion of eliminating highway lanes is realistic because of another ambitious effort to move cars off the road: congestion pricing. Next year, New York will become the first American city to charge a fee to drive into the busiest areas of Manhattan.
The B.Q.E panel’s thinking is shaped by one of the paradoxes of traffic: more lanes lead to more traffic since larger highways attract more cars. This is counter-intuitive because people naturally think in steady-state terms, and reason that X cars on six lanes would have 6/4 more room than on four lanes. But if X cars becomes 2X, or 3X, everything falls apart. Or at least the 1.5 miles of bridges are falling apart. It’s estimated they have less than five years of safe use left.
Samuel Schwartz, a transportation consultant advising the panel, made a great comment, one cited by Wu:
It’s just not in the DNA of most highway agencies to build smaller. We’ve gone through a 70-year period of adding and widening but this is a failing strategy. It’s like solving the obesity problem by loosening your belt.
Now if the city can only continue the progress made by Andy Byford on public transportation, now threatened by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tug-of-war with him, which led to his recent departure. That’s the only way to get people out of their cars.