The Basics on Congestion: Singapore, London, Copenhagen

What’s the best way to cut congestion in cities? Photo by andrew j. cosgriff.

Thanks to Copanhagenize.com, I’ve come across a great video from the Mexican office of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. It nicely sums up in less than four minutes the glaring and basic problem with non-integrated and car-centered design. Developing countries with growing automobile markets like India and China could use the warning, and it forces a great question of value. What’s more important: unchecked cheap car use or healthier, less stressful, cleaner cities?

As you can see, just building more roads isn’t an effective strategy. It may even be a recipe for decay. On the other hand, providing multiple public access options to economic centers and enforcing negative incentives on car use, such as congestion pricing in Singapore and London, where cars are billed for their use of public roads during peak hours, have successfully reduced traffic problems. The same goes for properly managing parking and enforcing traffic law. These methods also return gains in funds for road maintenance, reduce overall health care costs, and increase cities’ economic efficiency.

An IMPRINT EUROPE study claims the original Singaporean congestion pricing scheme that started in 1975 reduced traffic in the restricted zones by more than 30 percent through 1988, most notably by forcing car traffic that was passing through the restricted areas to go around. This drop is despite a 77 percent increase in car sales and a third growth in employment. The expansion into the current per car electronic system further increased the efficiency of traffic flow.

Similarly, as discussed in a 2007 seminar hosted by EMBARQ (the producer of this blog,) London’s congestion pricing plan made traffic in the city’s charged zones fall by 26 percent in its first three years.

Other ideas in the same vein exist without the fees. Copenhagen is starting a pilot project with counter-intuitive plans to cut air pollution by keeping cars waiting at red lights. The idea is that officials would measure pollution in the city’s air and change traffic signal patterns when the air quality had deteriorated to a certain extent. Drivers would be informed by email, texts, social media or news sources that green lights would run shorter and red lights would last longer that day, hopefully prompting them to consider using alternative transportation.

Ultimately, it’s about giving options. Planning and management can’t be mired in building more roads, because it will only lead back to the same problems at a larger scale. Providing bike lanes, buses, metro lines and other public transit options coupled with restrictions that ask people to think twice about getting into their cars for every trip is a real solution for congested and polluted cities.

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