Lots of people complain about the congestion here in Los Angeles. When asked what they’d want done, the answer is almost invariably, “They should make more lanes.” Unfortunately, making more lanes doesn’t solve anything. It’s true that adding capacity to the freeway will increase speeds, but increasing speeds and reducing commute times makes people more willing to travel further distances to their places of work, or convinces people who might otherwise avoid peak rush hour to switch back to a normal commuting time. The system soon reaches equilibrium, which is gridlock during periods of peak demand.
The problem here is that direct costs are kept artificially low; you pay nothing out of pocket to get on the freeway (hence the name). With no direct cost, and all other things being equal, demand always increases to meet the supply.
So what is the answer? Well, there are a few possible answers, some of them better than others, but most likely a combination of them all would address the problem.
- Charging direct costs: Charging people by the mile to use the highway, with higher pricing during rush hour, normal pricing during the day, and low or free pricing at night would cause people to make different choices about where they work and live, what time of day they choose to commute, and how they choose to commute. This is more effective than indirect costs such as gasoline or other taxes.
- Dedicated transit rights-of-way: Frequent, round-the-clock trains or buses with rights of way that matched/exceeded the commute time of personal automobiles would also change the equation, while promoting a virtuous cycle of relieving congestion for those drivers who still don’t have a practical alternative to driving. Imagine the persons per mile per hour capacity of a bus or train that had its own dedicated lane.
- Re-zoning major transportation corridors: Los Angeles is full of two to four story low rise buildings along its major thoroughfares. Doubling the allowable square footage and heights, while promoting the mixing of uses, would add much-needed supply to the real estate market (even now it’s a good idea), giving people more choices in terms of where they work and live.
- Increasing indirect costs: Driving behavior actually changed when fuel cost in excess of four dollars a gallon. Keeping prices high would discourage people from taking frivolous trips by car.
- Enforcing the idea that driving is a privilege: There are way too many idiot drivers on the road. A good chunk of them need to be given lifetime bus passes.
I can sense the coming storm of comments.