Carmageddon: A Worthless Ordeal?

Traffic, just north of Los Angeles, in the Newhall Pass

Recently I wrote about the upcoming apocalypse fondly called "Carmageddon." My perspective on the Carmageddon controversy has been, "no pain, go gain." While living through 53 hours of heavy traffic due to the closure of the 405 surely will not be pleasant, I thought it certainly must be worth it for the long-term good. A wider freeway must mean less traffic, right?

Maybe not. A recent study by the University of Toronto entitled, "The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from U.S. Cities," found that where there are more lanes and roads, there will also be more traffic. Put another way, if you build it, drivers will come.

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But do more roads help at all? Not according to Gilles Duranton and Matthew A. Turner, the authors of the study. Apparently 1 percent more roads in a city leads to 1 percent more driving in that same area.

But the same cannot be true of public transportation? That must help ease traffic congestion, right? A few weeks ago I wrote that Carmaggedon "is a good reminder that it is time to get real about transportation infrastructure." I lauded the new Expo Line as a "promising project." Well, according to the study, that was, shall we euphemistically say, somewhat off base (if our measure of success is merely getting drivers off of the road). The study found that more buses and trains only leads to more riders, but not less driving, and therefore no less traffic.

So then there is simply no hope? Wrong again. The study found that the only way to ease traffic is to charge people for it. Put another way, so-called "congestion pricing," which includes tolls on people driving in heavily traveled areas does ease traffic. London, Singapore and Stockholm have done it, with apparently great success.

And now, we will try it as well. Construction of toll lanes is commencing on about 25 miles of carpool lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways. The construction will create "HOT" lanes. HOT stands for "high-occupancy toll." Prices for solo drivers could hit about $1.40 per mile during rush hour.

Will Angelenos and those traveling through our freeways pay to avoid traffic?

More: For more information about the full 405 freeway closure, please visit KCET's Carmageddon L.A.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user respres. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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Great points. To clarify: HOT lanes aren't exactly congestion pricing in the pure sense. HOT lanes give drivers the choice to get a speedier commute by paying a little extra. Congestion Pricing, like you see in London and Stockholm, requires *all* drivers to pay a charge to enter the city or use certain roads.

This has the effect of reducing the amount of people on the streets, thus reducing congestion. HOT lanes just enable more people to drive by using excess capacity in our carpool lanes.

That said, I'm all for HOT lanes. It's a good incremental step for Angelenos to experience paying for the congestion they cause -- after all, traffic delays are hugely expensive in terms of wasted time and fuel.

I'm glad we're having this discussion too. Because a lot of people have been misinformed about what reduces traffic, specifically public transit's role. Transit gives you an *alternative* to traffic -- one that's cheaper than driving -- and transit helps more people move around the region and do fun/productive/irreverent things.