MORE MOTORWAYS FOR MORE AUTOMOBILES? WE ARE DEFINITELY ON THE WRONG WAY

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 1 ene. 2012 4:26 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 16:09 ]
Carlos A. González G.


'Dinero' Magazine
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia, 20th March 2009


Opinion article

Original title: '¿Más vías para más automóviles? Definitivamente vamos mal'

Although it would not seem strange that still in full twenty first century an unaware citizen, nostalgic of “the American dream” of the fifties, would dare to mention the case of North-American cities such as Los Angeles and Detroit as examples to follow regarding the urban mobility, what does seem at least disconcerting is that it is in the specialised rooms of the local administration from where the promotion of these anachronistic mobility models is made. If the novelty now is that we are going to resolve the congestion problem building wide and “ultramodern” motorways, then there is no doubt, we are definitely on the wrong way.

The idea of copying a mobility model where by building or enlarging urban motorways it is possible to reduce congestion and therefore to improve the traffic since more road space is available for the automobiles, and if to this we add that as this case is about urban toll routes that allow to finance its construction so that it is not the state that has to spend public money but the drivers; it turns out at least praiseworthy with regard to the search for solutions.

The problem is that the proposal is lacking technical fundamentals, since the mentioned logical formulation where the greater the space for vehicles, the lower the congestion, is not only false but many researches made over the last twenty years have shown the contrary: the more available routes, the more users are prepared to use the automobile, so that the congestion reappears shortly after that. So we have not found the goose that laid the golden egg, amongst other things because neither the geese lay golden eggs, nor such as in this kind of proposal, everything that shines is gold.

A few examples turn out sufficiently illustrative. The case of Los Angeles city, much quoted at international level as one of the big mistakes learnt, is of great interest because of the evident harmful consequences of the implementation of the North- American mobility model of the seventies, since years later the abundant empirical evidence allowed to establish that the increase of the supply (construction of new motorways and increase in the number of lanes in the existing ones) brings an increase of both the induced and the latent demand (users of other routes and potential new users of the automobile), so the new lanes end up congested again and therefore the investment distorted. On the Latin-American side, Mexico city in its advance towards the much yearned for North-American modernity, recently chose to build a second level for the west stretch of one of the ring road of the city “El Periférico Poniente”, with the aim of reducing the congestion and in that way increasing the average speed of the automobiles; a few years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the congestion on the top and on the bottom lanes tends to be the same, but not so the pollution and the public debt of the city.

In general terms, a double aim such as reducing congestion (as a result of less drivers being willing to use the motorway if one has to pay to do so) and at the same time finance the construction of this road infrastructure ( by means of a system of concession that implies the payment of a toll), turns out not only confusing but also contradictory when we are talking about urban environments. If the idea is to reduce congestion what is expected from the local government is that a traffic reduction is produced reaching an optimum point in operative terms, on the other hand if the aim is to finance the construction of the infrastructure by means of a concession to the private sector, what the private company hopes for is that many vehicles circulate for the business to be profitable even if it implies a greater pollution in the city amongst other negatives externalities.

Therefore, neither the increase of the supply of road infrastructure generates a significant reduction of the congestion at a medium term, and even less at a long term, nor is it coherent to promote the construction of urban highways under the argument of the search of two aims as different as contradictory: reduction of the congestion and money collection for the financing of the road infrastructure.

It is worth mentioning that it does not have to do with disqualifying the endowment of any road infrastructure, since it is fundamental that this endowment is carried out when it is referring to cities that do not have a complete road infrastructure that allows the access to the different areas or in the case of the needed ring roads. What matters is to avoid that the unhealthy idea of achieving a better mobility implies elevated motorways with twelve lanes that intertwine in all directions resembling a futuristic movie, installs itself in the mind of the citizen. At this stage the questions are simple, if we wanted to build highways progressively for all the automobiles that we could have in the future, that for sure would be too many, what would the city turn into? Would that city be the one that we wish for?

The search for the reduction of the congestion and, in general, for a more sustainable mobility in Colombian cities, would be better based on measures such as the rationalization of the use of the existing infrastructure where the priority of use is given to the transport mode of greater environmental efficiency (in particular to the optimised public transport), the implementation of preferential lanes for automobiles with high occupation (the ones with more than two passengers) in the main roads, the endowment of infrastructure only for the cases where the road network is incomplete, the determined investment in high and medium capacity massive public transport systems, the efficient management of car parks, and in the future, when the scenario allows it -existence of a good supply of public transport as an effective alternative- the implementation of strategies such as a tax by congestion in the centre of the city and an urban toll as a congestion regulator in some existing urban roads with a high flow of cars, amongst many more measures oriented to reduce the participation of the private vehicle in the whole of the mobility of the city until reaching optimal levels.

Do you perhaps continue dreaming to drive your automobile through empty streets and at great speed in a city free from traffic lights and from annoying pedestrians? Wake up, the city has not been, is not, and will not be as those that the TV commercials try to sell us in which “the only one on the road are you and your car” Nonsense, we are many more.

-------------------------------------------------------------

This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled '¿Más vías para más automóviles? Definitivamente vamos mal'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution.

+ Link to this article on the website of Dinero Magazine