Calming traffic by removing roads?

Controlling traffic speed and volume is a problem that has vexed planners and governments for almost 100 years. Most of the time the end result has been a misguided attempt to reduce congestion and speed flow by adding and expanding roads. Why is this misguided? Because you can’t build your way out of congestion and also, it seems, more connections can lead to worse congestion.

You can’t build your way out of congestion. There is even a fancy term for this: induced demand. Essentially, if you provide it, they will use it. Grocery stores understand this perfectly well. Why do you think all those candy bars in their shiny wrappers are right at kid height at the checkout aisle? This coin has two sides and if adding roads adds traffic, then removing them will reduce it. Sounds crazy, right? This isn’t just conjucture, both Seoul and San Francisco have both removed major roads and have reaped the rewards.

For more information, the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute‘s Todd Litman has a excellent summary report: Smart Transportation Investments: Reevaluating The Role Of Highway Expansion For Improving Urban Transportation (PDF).

Now what about closing connective roads to reduce congestion? This works on psycology of human driving behaviour: provide fewer choices and you will have an easier time choosing. Not only that, people instinctively choose the “fastest route”, which has predictable results. A little bit of mathmatical modelling and suddenly you can see what roads you need to keep, what ones can be cut and what roads should be cut. Sightline Daily has a good story and for the mathmatical modellers in the audience, the paper can read online: The Cost of Anarchy in Transportation Networks (PDF).

What does all this mean for Oak Bay? We need to be proactive. We need to figure out what streets are actually critical for traffic flow and which we can sever without causing major issues. All this would allow us to have the seeming paradox of safer streets with increased traffic flow and making Oak Bay a better place to live.