“I love LA, but the traffic is so bad.”
You still hear that old thorn-on-the-rose comment, but now it seems more perfunctory than anything—sibling small talk to other banal conversation fillers like, “How ‘bout this weather?” or, “You still live at the same place, right?”
The City of Angels is still a hell on earth for anyone behind the wheel, but in the span of just a year its status as the most congested city in America (and the world) was eclipsed by Boston. And Washington, DC. And Chicago. New York, too.
While that seems like a step up (or a step down, I guess), Los Angeles’ ranking of fifth most congested US city is indicative of a disconcerting truth about the country’s state of mobility: Gridlock isn’t just a nuisance; it’s the norm.
Quick Fixes For Mobility Pains
From the public’s standpoint, it can seem like calls to fix traffic problems land on deaf ears. In reality, however, city officials are just as hungry for viable solutions.
Among them are planners in New York City in the final stages of enacting a congestion toll for vehicles entering a centralized area of Manhattan.
The inspiration comes from the success of similar fees in cities like Stockholm, Singapore and, famously, London.
To no one’s surprise, local governments are excited about the potential decrease in personal vehicle traffic and probable increase in transit revenue (New York City is expecting a cushiony $1 billion). Conversely, commuters are less than enthusiastic to “pay for the privilege of sitting in traffic,” as this USA Today headline carps.
Los Angeles is looking to follow suit with a $4 congestion toll.
Atop the list of concerns regarding congestion fees is that the mobility ecosystems of London, Singapore and Stockholm (the most cited success stories) are all very different to their American cousins (New York City, with its extensive rail and bus systems being a potential exception).
LA paved over its own extensive rail system generations ago to make way for cars. If traffic fees are implemented before alternative transportation solutions, drivers will have little choice but to pay the tolls.
Healing Our Cities Congestion Infections
All that said, compared to road expansions, which actually increase traffic, congestion fees do prove to be low-cost, high-return solutions—when executed properly. But between car-centric cities and dramatic increases in urban population, fees will have little effect unless larger, more holistic strategies are implemented.
Simply prescribing fees as a congestion panacea is bound to have unexpected side effects.
In London, for instance, where the fees unquestionably reduced the number of cars within the toll zone, traffic speeds actually dropped. The culprits—not surprising to Power2Go readers—were TNCs, which increased by 9.8%.
And they didn’t just affect drivers.
“This has reduced the speed of traffic through the city centre, which in turn has affected the bus network,” explains Nicole Badstuber of The Conversation, “… the slower the speed along bus routes, the greater the fall in passenger numbers.”
To avoid such backfires on this side of the pond, we’ll have to watch this closely. In order to fulfill the smart city goals of Tomorrowland, we need to craft our regulations to support public transportation and control the power of private corporations who prioritize their stakeholders, not our streets.
Additionally, we need policies that address the systemic parking issues most cities are up against.
Parking guru Donald Shoup continues to emphasize the importance of appropriately priced parking spots. With circling amounting to upwards of 30% of congestion in urban cores, demand-based parking models could work just as well around town as tolls do on the highway.
A complementary strategy to demand-based parking integrates technology to monitor the pulse of our cities’ parking availability and traffic flow, supplying planners with important data that allows their strategies to be agile and effective.
For instance, Ace Parking uses data analytics from dashboard reporting to track management performance of parking facilities. The information received from internal dashboards can work in conjunction with our video intelligence systems that use cameras to keep tabs on traffic volume for mobility options of all sorts: parking, shuttles, delivery vehicles, TNCs, scooters, bikes… you name it.
To be sure, the prognosis looks good. There’s an abundance of feasible solutions cities and even private developments can adopt to heal traffic pains. It just requires an honest and in-depth evaluation of the mobility ecosystem.
Who knows, maybe someday soon you’ll hear a friend exclaim, “I love LA! And the traffic’s not so bad, either.”