Program for today’s event; Picture is thanks to Juan’s Nexus One

Given LA’s notoriety as the most congested city in the nation, plus upcoming plans to launch a congestion pricing pilot on the 10 and 110, I decided to attend “Changing Lanes”, an event that brought together academics and politicos to talk about solutions staged by the School of Public Affairs.

I live-blogged the event on www.bruinplanners.com, the (un)official blog of my graduate program. This summary primarily focuses on the presenters who talked about congestion pricing and HOT Lanes, which is relevant to us as commuters here in LA because that is the heart of the Express Lanes project that Metro is implementing on the 10 and 110.


Richard Katz

Metro Board member Richard Katz kicked off the day. His purpose seemed to be to defend Measure R, Expo, and the connection of the 710 to the 210 freeway.

Takeaways:

  • RK thinks that Bruins for Traffic Relief rocks.
  • A realtor told RK that he has home buyers looking to buy in Cheviot Hills because of proximity to the Expo Line
  • Mayor Villaraigosa’s 30/10 plan could confer “Costco-like benefits”, as we could hedge against future price increases and buy supplies, like concrete, in bulk.
  • RK suggests that people may be opposing new projects, like a proposed Target by the corner of Pico & Sepulveda, because of fear of unknown and the fear of past planning mistakes. Enter the song Pico & Sepulveda, which alludes to a Los Angeles long ago:


WITTICISM: Richard blamed Art Leahy’s tardiness on his affiliation with USC.

Panel 1: Tackling Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles

Brian Taylor, Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA and department chair, gave a thought-provoking job crash course on congestion, debunking myths and espousing solutions. He did so great a job that I actually peppered the School of Public Affair’s PR person until Brian’s presentation was posted online.

Opening slide: Re-Thinking Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles

These are the points he made in his presentation:

  • Traffic congestion is not as it seems
  • Why is LA so congested
  • Compact, transit-oriented development will increase congestion – that may not be a bad thing
  • Only 3 ways to substantially reduce congestion (but may not be politically popular)

BT says

WITTICISM ALERT: According to Brian, most people hold contradictory views on the causes and consequences of traffic and like most people make their opinions known on traffic, since most think they are experts on the subject.

Myth #1: Building more transit will lessen congestion.

Greater Portland Area: Relationship between transit lane miles and total trips taken

Brian: Most transit rich cities also have congestion. The reasons vary, but generally, they attract more visitors, many of whom arrive via transit because transit becomes more attractive in places where cars don’t work at well.

Myth #2: “We would have to double-deck freeways, or get rid of half cars in order to cut congestion.”

Brian: While it may seem preposterous that traffic flows and speeds could increase without adding capacity, Brian says that it is true that with small actions – such as congestion pricing to manage travel demand – we could dramatically increase capacity.

How so? Brian explains that as traffic density increases (i.e. cars get closer together) and the flow rate decreases, not a lot of vehicles are getting through. So if we regulated the number of cars that could enter the freeway, then a LOT more cars could get past a certain point. Everyone would be better off.

Thus, small changes in travel demand can have huge effects on travel time and flow.

Myth #3:  LA is so congested because people drive a lot, and drive everywhere.
LA has fewest lane miles per capita in the country

Brian: Actually, LA is congested because the area has fewer lanes per capita, high population density, (6,237/square mile–highest in the country, higher than New York), and no efficient mechanisms to regulate when and how far people travel.

Myth #4: Density is bad. Less density means less congestion.

Brian: As population density increases… there is an inverse relationship – people travel way fewer miles per person, and their travel density is highest (SF is 1,000vmt miles/acre) — so people are traveling a lot less, but because they’re all traveling together, there’s just more congestion.

vehicle travel per person decreases

He says that smart growth does not make people worse off because it provides residents more options for traveling through congested spaces.

Other takeaways:

  • People who live in densly populated areas make a LOT of trips.
  • People who live in low income areas make fewer trips.
  • Areas with densely populated areas (all factors held equal) make more shorter trips, like at UCLA, Santa Monica, NoHo, Burbank, Torrance – and these are areas that are notorious for being very congested. WeHo, for instance, has a lot of trip making and congestion — but there’s also close uses, and density, and destinations.
  • The area southeast of downtown is moderately dense, but also has less compatible uses,  but fewer nearby destinations accessible by foot, bike, or bus.

Here are three ways to decrease congestion:

  1. Increase supply and add lots more roads
  2. WITTICISM: Reduce demand – Brian calls this Flint model
  3. Bring supply and demand in line with prices. Right now, congestion delays increase time “price” of travel until equilibrium is reached; this is grossly inefficiently. This is a deadweight loss because nobody is collecting the revenue.

Selected photos here.

Panel 3: Using Prices to Reduce Congestion

Bob Toole, HOT Lanes 2010: A US Overview

Dr. Toole talked to us about what HOT Lanes are and his recommendations for operating HOT Lanes, not all of which sat well with the audience.

Takeaways:

  • Dr. Toole recommends responding to naysayers who say that they see congestion pricing as double-paying by explaining that pricing can combat HOV lanes that don’t work very well: Most either have too few vehicles, or too many, and the flow breaks down.
  • To find space for two HOT Lanes in each direction, Dr. Toole suggests converting shoulders, elevating, tunneling, and lane narrowing.
  • Dr. Toole suggested that the HOT Lanes should be open to registered carpools only.