IN A 2014 study of 228 U.S. cities, two economists at the University of Toronto found what they call "the fundamental law of road congestion," which is known as "induced demand" or "induced travel."To its credit, Metroplan has been signing this song but the Arkansas highway builders and city government prefer to stick their fingers in their ears. The billion-dollar 30 Crossing Project keeps cooking.
Even when you account for population growth, the law holds. The easier it is to drive, the more people do it. Adding capacity — widening a freeway by a few lanes or building a new one — makes driving more attractive, right up until the added capacity gets used up.
It is almost axiomatic. Over time, any reduction in congestion tends to be negated, and everyone ends up back where we started: stuck behind the wheel.
I had a dream that the folks at the ArDOT and our city leaders finally saw the light and acted like intelligent adults. They saw that transportation is changing and that they really didn’t need to pave the whole county. They realized that robust local arterials, more connectivity and multiple transportation modes were actually more effective at relieving congestion than expanding freeways. They figured out that these local streets and arterials were a big boon for business creating exponentially more tax base than their giant concrete freeways. They figured out that, like Houston, expanding urban freeways did not get commuters home quicker.
In my dream the ARDOT tried to use a best outcome approach – spend the money but in a way that: increased business activity; increased property values; reduced greenhouse gases; provided low cost, fast, and sustainable ways to move commuters to and from the suburbs, and reduced the negative impact of past urban freeway construction.
In my dream ARDOT saved the day by realizing they were on the wrong track and were big enough to admit they were making a huge mistake. They decided to build a tree-lined boulevard in place of I-30 with many new buildings and green spaces, to add a new river crossing to rejuvenate Pike Avenue, to add inter-city shuttles and to talk of a Bond Street bridge.
But alas, I woke up to the impending din of a mega-freeway and a helpless feeling that we are doomed to highway engineering of the last century.