Epic Planning Battles of History, Part 1: Traffic Congestion

There is a persistent myth that adding more lanes eases congestion, when in reality all it does is bring more traffic. Multiple studies going back to the late-60’s have concluded that expanding traffic lanes will initiall ease congestion, but the expansion also lowers the “cost” (in terms of time/convenience usually, but also in economic terms) of a trip and induce more cars to use the road. This is called induced demand. According to later studies, within about 5 years 80% of the extra capacity is used up and congestion returns worse than before. This raises the pressure for more capacity and further expansion into less congested areas, a condition we all know and love as suburban sprawl.

In the case of our District Center, the city has determined (on two occasions now) the level of new traffic created by development in our District Center does not warrant more lanes along Regal or Palouse (as measured by their traffic models and a result they call Level of Service). That is not to say it will be completely without effect and the city does collect traffic mitigation fees and apply them to traffic projects around the development. In Southgate they are adding the stoplight at Palouse and Regal to help make it easier for vehicles to turn left onto Regal and for pedestrians to make it across Regal. I think we can all agree getting onto southbound Regal from Palouse Hwy can be a hassle occasionally.

The measures being supported by the Southgate Neighborhood Council are aimed at making the area more usable for all types of users: auto, transit, bike, and pedestrian (an approach known as Complete Streets). This aligns with both the Spokane Comprehensive Plan that says the priority consideration for transportation use in Spokane should be pedestrian, bike, and auto, in that order (TR 1.1, pg. 12); and the the Complete Streets Ordinance of the Spokane Municipal Code, which states that all streets shall include complete streets elements. Both of these documents, as well as current best practice in urban planning, point out the need to consider more than just auto user needs on our roads.

And that is how you get back to avoiding the cycle of induced demand: options. When the “cost” of getting in your car to go to the new District Center is equal (or even higher than) to the “cost” of  walking or biking on dedicated sidewalks or trails, then we will actually start seeing reduced demand. And that is the only lasting way to relieve congestion.

The idea of creating options includes options for autos. If people feel Regal is too crowded and will only get worse, then there needs to be other route options available to them to get through or around the District Center. That’s why the Southgate Neighborhood Connectivity and Transportation Plan (with maps) makes one of it’s priorities “completing the grid”. Our neighborhood has very poor east/west connectivity. Between 37th and 57th there isn’t a single complete east/west route. Giving people better options for moving east and west across our neighborhood would relieve the pressure on Regal Street and maybe even get people home faster.

Now, creating a complete street environment will take some traffic calming, which we will discuss in the next post. I think this is a long enough post for one night, stay tuned for Part 2: Traffic Calming.

4 thoughts on “Epic Planning Battles of History, Part 1: Traffic Congestion”

  1. This is actually a really great overview of how traffic congestion can be solved in a long-term manner. I will probably link to this tomorrow on The #spokanerising Project.

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