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Count new Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner among the growing crowd of local transportation officials wary of road-expansion as a solution to traffic problems. Turner told the Texas Transportation Commission last week that it was time for a “paradigm shift” away from the ineffective approach of widening highways, according to prepared remarks posted by Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt. That strategy, he said, only makes congestion worse. 

 

To help his case, Turner pointed to the Katy Freeway in Houston, or Interstate 10. A few years ago it was expanded to 26 lanes in some segments at a cost of $2.8 billion—good enough to earn the title of the “world’s widest freeway.” Despite all that new road capacity, rush-hour travel times increased between 2011 and 2014; in 2015, Turner pointed out, one segment of the Katy was ranked among the most congested roads in Texas.

 


 

 

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Aw man, Turner's jumped on the induced demand bandwagon too?

Citylab is one of these nutjob anti-car sites, so they may be only grabbing certain parts of what he said.

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Turner should focus on getting the damn University line built, TxDOT does the freeways and they never seem to have any shortage of money. 

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Turner should focus on getting the damn University line built, TxDOT does the freeways and they never seem to have any shortage of money. 

 

Didn't we just pass two constitutional amendments because TxDOT had an extreme shortage of money? I'm pretty sure that's why the Grand Parkway is a toll road.

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For the love of God, please tell me our mayor did not really say he thinks adding roadway capacity causes increased congestion.  That's even step beyond the idiocy of induced demand.

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Aw man, Turner's jumped on the induced demand bandwagon too?

Citylab is one of these nutjob anti-car sites, so they may be only grabbing certain parts of what he said.

If we expand Katy Freeway to 40 lanes, we're going to wipe out a bunch of cool businesses that contribute to the economic vitality of the city. At some point we are going to have to change the way things are done, or the freeways will eat the entire city and everything in it.

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If we expand Katy Freeway to 40 lanes, we're going to wipe out a bunch of cool businesses that contribute to the economic vitality of the city. At some point we are going to have to change the way things are done, or the freeways will eat the entire city and everything in it.

 

A case can be made that we need to adopt methods for improving mobility beyond widening and adding freeways.  But the mayor would bring a lot more credibility to the discussion if he didn't lead with something as idiotic and counter-factual as claiming that widening freeways creates congestion.  Again, hopefully, he didn't actually say that.

 

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For the love of God, please tell me our mayor did not really say he thinks adding roadway capacity causes increased congestion. That's even step beyond the idiocy of induced demand.

Fairly well known theory.

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I could swear I read somewhere that somehow that it was passed that a property tax rate increase couldn't occur? 

 

If that's indeed the case, then the only way to bring in more revenue is to increase land value and density. You can increase land value and density by making it easier to travel inside the city, rather than expanding freeways out to the suburbs.

 

So whatever his reasoning, it's the smart choice, make the inner city a desirable place to live, more desirable than the suburbs. Build parks, fix roads, we just need a school system that is better.

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Going back to the rail side, aren't the voters supposed to decide on light rail funding or did they do that in the last local elections? Wasn't that the deal between Culberson and Metro?

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Going back to the rail side, aren't the voters supposed to decide on light rail funding or did they do that in the last local elections? Wasn't that the deal between Culberson and Metro?

I believe they decided it would be put to a vote to decide the fate of the University Line. It would behoove Metro to put that on the upcoming November 2016 ballot.

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For the love of God, please tell me our mayor did not really say he thinks adding roadway capacity causes increased congestion.  That's even step beyond the idiocy of induced demand.

A case can be made that we need to adopt methods for improving mobility beyond widening and adding freeways.  But the mayor would bring a lot more credibility to the discussion if he didn't lead with something as idiotic and counter-factual as claiming that widening freeways creates congestion.  Again, hopefully, he didn't actually say that.

 

I've lived near the Katy Freeway inside the loop for several decades.  

 

Prior to the Katy becoming The Widest Freeway In The Whole Freakin' World, the eastbound side between the Loop and downtown would generally only become congested for a wreck or construction, the backup at the Smith Street exit in the mornings excepted.  Now, inbound in the afternoons is as bad or worse than in the mornings (though it seems to be running well today for some reason). 

 

Going back to the rail side, aren't the voters supposed to decide on light rail funding or did they do that in the last local elections? Wasn't that the deal between Culberson and Metro?

I believe they decided it would be put to a vote to decide the fate of the University Line. It would behoove Metro to put that on the upcoming November 2016 ballot.

 

Remind me... will this be the third or the fourth time we've voted on this?

Edited by mollusk
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Yeah, I know it's a fairly well-known theory.  That does not reduce its idiocy.

 

 I think it has to do with the fact that there's a point of diminishing returns. Increasing from one to two lanes can help, but increasing from 26 lanes to 36 lanes might not help at all.

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I've lived near the Katy Freeway inside the loop for several decades.  

 

Prior to the Katy becoming The Widest Freeway In The Whole Freakin' World, the eastbound side between the Loop and downtown would generally only become congested for a wreck or construction, the backup at the Smith Street exit in the mornings excepted.  Now, inbound in the afternoons is as bad or worse than in the mornings (though it seems to be running well today for some reason). 

 

 

And...???   If there is increased congestion inside the loop, it's a result of the failure to widen that portion of the freeway. 

 

 

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 I think it has to do with the fact that there's a point of diminishing returns. Increasing from one to two lanes can help, but increasing from 26 lanes to 36 lanes might not help at all.

There may be diminishing returns, but that does not mean there are no returns to further widening.  I highly doubt that increasing from 26 to 36 lanes would "not help at all." 

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There may be diminishing returns, but that does not mean there are no returns to further widening.  I highly doubt that increasing from 26 to 36 lanes would "not help at all." 

 

Say you're in the fast lane. You need to get over 12 lanes to exit. You're getting in a lot of people's way to get off. At some point widening the freeway may not help but actually hurt.

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Say you're in the fast lane. You need to get over 12 lanes to exit. You're getting in a lot of people's way to get off. At some point widening the freeway may not help but actually hurt.

 

/\  This.  Ridiculously wide frontage roads are also a problem.  The prime example is westbound Katy at Bunker Hill - just try to get all the way over to turn north onto Bunker Hill without driving like an aggressive jackass - and just forget trying to get into Lowe's and Best Buy from the south.  The wide frontage road encourages people to go faster, and it's a bunch of changes in the short distance from the end of the ramp to the intersection.

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Yeah, I know it's a fairly well-known theory. That does not reduce its idiocy.

It's not idiotic. In fact removing lanes is an even better idea because this forces people to take alternative forms of transportations or drive on alternative routes. More freeways encourages more people to drive, thus zero effect on congestion.

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/\  This.  Ridiculously wide frontage roads are also a problem.  The prime example is westbound Katy at Bunker Hill - just try to get all the way over to turn north onto Bunker Hill without driving like an aggressive jackass - and just forget trying to get into Lowe's and Best Buy from the south.  The wide frontage road encourages people to go faster, and it's a bunch of changes in the short distance from the end of the ramp to the intersection.

 

I'm pretty sure 5 lanes is what has been bandied about as the end of positive results from making a freeway wider. I don't know that anyone has done a study for feeder roads, but since we're the only town with them, we are probably on our own to figure it out.

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It's not idiotic. In fact removing lanes is an even better idea because this forces people to take alternative forms of transportations or drive on alternative routes. More freeways encourages more people to drive, thus zero effect on congestion.

 

False.  Anyone who says that the widening of the Katy Freeway did not do anything to alleviate congestion, or more to the point, provide improved mobility for thousands of people every day is either flat-out lying or utterly ignorant.  It did not become re-congested because thousands of people every day decided, "oh, hey, there's a nice wide freeway out there, let's go for a drive."  It became re-congested mostly because we've added another 2 million or more people since the project started.

 

Using the logic of the "induced demand" theory, -- we should not have added additional rail cars to serve the redline when the original cars became overcrowded at certain times of day.  If we add more rail cars, more people will just use the rail line and it might become crowded again. Maybe we should remove some cars and force people to take alternative forms of transportation or ride on the bus -- We should not add gates at Bush Intercontinental.  In fact, I guess we should eliminate some gates and force people to take alternative forms of transportation.  More airport capacity encourages more people to fly, thus zero effect on congestion.  -- We should not expand the container port at the port of Houston; that will just encourage more people to ship things and the container facilities will just get congested again.

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That's such an improper understanding of the induced demand theory, and it really has nothing to do with adding more trams to the Red Line. If there's increased demand for transit on the line, you add cars, which fill up, and the increase the frequency of the trains.

A better use of your example would be to add extra lines parallel to the Line without adding more cars to the original line, which is just silly.

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To add another point, things were still building along the Northwest Freeway corridor even when expansion plans weren't made clear yet. Secondly, the Katy Freeway widening is final and won't be expanded anymore. Like, tell me where TxDOT even SUGGESTED widening Katy Freeway after it was widened and rebuilt.

 

I don't know, I expected a little more sense out of Turner in terms of mobility, he did oppose Whitmire's "monorail" plan as proposed in the 1980s.

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That's such an improper understanding of the induced demand theory, and it really has nothing to do with adding more trams to the Red Line. If there's increased demand for transit on the line, you add cars, which fill up, and the increase the frequency of the trains.

A better use of your example would be to add extra lines parallel to the Line without adding more cars to the original line, which is just silly.

 

How do I have an improper understanding of the induced demand theory?  (I disagree that adding rail cars is not a proper comparison, but for argument's sake leave that example aside.)

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Induced demand at the core isn't simply new freeways lead to congestion - it is the union of two ideas:

- The previously congested freeway made people avoid certain trips or take less desirable routes; with the addition of the new capacity on the freeway those trips can now be taken using that freeway

 

For example, people who were taking a parallel street to I-10 would move their trip on to I-10 to save 5 minutes.  Another example of this is someone who was shopping at a suburban mall because going to the Galleria took to long; with the increased capacity they feel like going to the Galleria is closer in time so they go there instead.

 

- The new capacity of the freeway attracts people to move along it, adding to the growth of the area in a different pattern than before the freeway.

 

This one is more for bypass loops that become congested (think West beltway) but can also hold for expanding radial freeways.  Because you can go faster on the road, the 30-40 minute commute distance becomes a longer mileage, encouraging more sprawling development.  An example of this would be a new development built BECAUSE of the grand parkway or the Westpark tollway - before they were built the areas made no sense to live in (too far away) but now with the new road development makes sense.

 

the tl;dr is mainly its a complicated theory, but that at it's core expanding a freeway to accommodate growth will often accelerate the growth of the traffic, and can outpace the additional capacity.

 

 

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Induced demand at the core isn't simply new freeways lead to congestion - it is the union of two ideas:

- The previously congested freeway made people avoid certain trips or take less desirable routes; with the addition of the new capacity on the freeway those trips can now be taken using that freeway

 

For example, people who were taking a parallel street to I-10 would move their trip on to I-10 to save 5 minutes.  Another example of this is someone who was shopping at a suburban mall because going to the Galleria took to long; with the increased capacity they feel like going to the Galleria is closer in time so they go there instead.

 

- The new capacity of the freeway attracts people to move along it, adding to the growth of the area in a different pattern than before the freeway.

 

This one is more for bypass loops that become congested (think West beltway) but can also hold for expanding radial freeways.  Because you can go faster on the road, the 30-40 minute commute distance becomes a longer mileage, encouraging more sprawling development.  An example of this would be a new development built BECAUSE of the grand parkway or the Westpark tollway - before they were built the areas made no sense to live in (too far away) but now with the new road development makes sense.

 

the tl;dr is mainly its a complicated theory, but that at it's core expanding a freeway to accommodate growth will often accelerate the growth of the traffic, and can outpace the additional capacity.

I agree--it's not total fiction dreamed up by anti-freeway activists but it's far from the simplistic "more capacity = more congestion" tale that people like Slick like to peddle.

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Induced demand at the core isn't simply new freeways lead to congestion - it is the union of two ideas:

- The previously congested freeway made people avoid certain trips or take less desirable routes; with the addition of the new capacity on the freeway those trips can now be taken using that freeway

 

For example, people who were taking a parallel street to I-10 would move their trip on to I-10 to save 5 minutes.  Another example of this is someone who was shopping at a suburban mall because going to the Galleria took to long; with the increased capacity they feel like going to the Galleria is closer in time so they go there instead.

 

- The new capacity of the freeway attracts people to move along it, adding to the growth of the area in a different pattern than before the freeway.

 

This one is more for bypass loops that become congested (think West beltway) but can also hold for expanding radial freeways.  Because you can go faster on the road, the 30-40 minute commute distance becomes a longer mileage, encouraging more sprawling development.  An example of this would be a new development built BECAUSE of the grand parkway or the Westpark tollway - before they were built the areas made no sense to live in (too far away) but now with the new road development makes sense.

 

the tl;dr is mainly its a complicated theory, but that at it's core expanding a freeway to accommodate growth will often accelerate the growth of the traffic, and can outpace the additional capacity.

 

So...  for the first part, the improved or new freeway reduces congestion on the alternative routes and increases traffic on the new/widened freeway.  Yeah, that's pretty much why we build new freeways and widen freeways.  Seems like an unalloyed good result.  Improved mobility.

 

For the second part, sure, new freeways will alter development patterns compared to if there were no freeways.  So what?  The same can be said for any infrastructure development. And without economic and population growth, there will not be traffic growth and there will not be congestion on the new/expanded freeways.

 

 

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So...  for the first part, the improved or new freeway reduces congestion on the alternative routes and increases traffic on the new/widened freeway.  Yeah, that's pretty much why we build new freeways and widen freeways.  Seems like an unalloyed good result.  Improved mobility.

 

For the second part, sure, new freeways will alter development patterns compared to if there were no freeways.  So what?  The same can be said for any infrastructure development. And without economic and population growth, there will not be traffic growth and there will not be congestion on the new/expanded freeways.

 

That is why if a freeway is congested, it is a good thing to widen freeways.  However, the growth curve is steeper than what you can do for freeway widening (its just a geometry thing - a freeway is a long line, while it serves an area) so alternates to freeway travel (car pooling, park & ride buses, and commuter rail) help to slow down the traffic growth while keeping or further accelerating the development growth.

 

Once a freeway is congested again, adding alternatives doesn't relieve traffic any - it just encourages more (though slower) growth.  

 

The main issue is planners need to look at traffic growth, development growth, widening roads, and mass transit options when planning out growth and fixing congestion issues.  Focussing only traffic growth and widening roads is where you get into an issue of continuing to need to widen freeways.

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Freeways are not a panacea, ever bigger freeways even less so.  There are a number of examples where getting rid of a freeway entirely actually improved accessibility.  (link)

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False. Anyone who says that the widening of the Katy Freeway did not do anything to alleviate congestion, or more to the point, provide improved mobility for thousands of people every day is either flat-out lying or utterly ignorant. It did not become re-congested because thousands of people every day decided, "oh, hey, there's a nice wide freeway out there, let's go for a drive." It became re-congested mostly because we've added another 2 million or more people since the project started.

Using the logic of the "induced demand" theory, -- we should not have added additional rail cars to serve the redline when the original cars became overcrowded at certain times of day. If we add more rail cars, more people will just use the rail line and it might become crowded again. Maybe we should remove some cars and force people to take alternative forms of transportation or ride on the bus -- We should not add gates at Bush Intercontinental. In fact, I guess we should eliminate some gates and force people to take alternative forms of transportation. More airport capacity encourages more people to fly, thus zero effect on congestion. -- We should not expand the container port at the port of Houston; that will just encourage more people to ship things and the container facilities will just get congested again.

There are many examples of freeway segments closing and no real effects on traffic, (pierce elevated) people simply take alternative routes. And comparing the red line is hilarious. A lot more people fit into one rail car than any automobile. Unfortunately wider freeways simply encourage more driving, especially in a town where for the most part the field is rigged to make driving the only option. You're seeing things from a Houston only perspective.

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How do I have an improper understanding of the induced demand theory? (I disagree that adding rail cars is not a proper comparison, but for argument's sake leave that example aside.)

I just think you weren't using the theorem correctly, which is why I used the second example. Your first example would be a solution to the issue of increased demand right? Combining multiple automobiles together into one SuperCar would take off some cars and would add one bigger car, that would allow multiple passengers to occupy one singular car.

Now, why does that sound so familiar... ;)

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Freeways are not a panacea, ever bigger freeways even less so.  There are a number of examples where getting rid of a freeway entirely actually improved accessibility.  (link)

 

There was a rebuttal on the now-defunct Keep Houston Houston that almost all "freeway removal projects", at least in the United States were at least one of the following:

 

A) Partially built highways that ended up being underused spurs (or at least the underused spur part)

B) Pre-Interstate parkways functionally replaced years prior

C) Pre-Interstate highways replaced with a newer, modern counterpart

 

That covers ALL of the United States "freeways" listed. The discussion was in reference to the Alaskan Way Viaduct which would be dealt with as "C". Any comparisons to Houston won't work, especially not South Korea, because the things we don't know about the freeway (Google Earth seems to indicate traffic already favored surface streets, unknown integrity, etc. etc.)

 

The South Korea example just gives anti-freeway activists ammunition to advocate similar ideas in the United States even if it's in completely different situations. I bet that after a year of open carry in Texas, there's going to be a certain group of people that are going to latch onto a disparate piece of data and claim that it's proof positive that open carry lowers crime, and keep insisting on that after people poke holes in the theory. 

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The Embarcadero Freeway was hardly a little used spur.  Sure, it never got built all the way around to the Golden Gate (Lord knows what a sclerotic cluster* it would have been if it had), but from the Bay Bridge to Chinatown it carried 100,000 cars a day.  Ditto Central (the remainder of which is still pretty crowded). Having not sat on the others, I can't speak to them from my own knowledge.

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The Embarcadero Freeway was hardly a little used spur.  Sure, it never got built all the way around to the Golden Gate (Lord knows what a sclerotic cluster* it would have been if it had), but from the Bay Bridge to Chinatown it carried 100,000 cars a day.  Ditto Central (the remainder of which is still pretty crowded). Having not sat on the others, I can't speak to them from my own knowledge.

 

Ah yes, another thing I didn't mention was that both of those freeways were heavily damaged in the 1989 earthquake. Their particular construction made them very susceptible to earthquake-prone California, and the emergency repairs afterward made them partially unusable (they couldn't carry as much traffic as they used to). It was the earthquake that really caused CalTrans to lean (pun not intended) to tear the freeways down rather than repair or replace them. The part of Central that WASN'T torn down was completely rebuilt anyway to modern standards (as Google Earth images show).

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The Embarcadero Freeway was hardly a little used spur.  Sure, it never got built all the way around to the Golden Gate (Lord knows what a sclerotic cluster* it would have been if it had), but from the Bay Bridge to Chinatown it carried 100,000 cars a day.  Ditto Central (the remainder of which is still pretty crowded). Having not sat on the others, I can't speak to them from my own knowledge.

 

that's as may be, but it wasn't an interstate highway intended to not just get people to a specific local location, but as a bypass of the local locations.

 

It would be like getting rid of spur 527.

 

Or once they realign 45 along 59/10 not building the spur for getting people from 10 and 45 to the south of the bayou on the west side of town (whatever they call that spur, just not make it).

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(***sigh...***) I suppose that begs the question "when is a divided multi lane limited access and perhaps even grade separated road designed with the intention to move a bunch of vehicles at high speed" not a freeway...

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I'm not taking a side here, I just see a difference between a freeway that is intended as a way to pass through a destination area, and a freeway that is a way to get to destinations.

 

i45 (no matter the alignment, current, or future) is a way to bypass downtown.

 

527 as a spur is a way to get into downtown from a freeway that bypasses downtown.

 

they're both part of the freeway system in that they bypass intersections and street lights.

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I suspect that we will see quite a bit more "Highway/Gateway Beautification" initiatives in the coming year, leading up to SB'17.  Lord knows...

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I'm actually fine with this.  Getting better lighting underneath and putting some lipstick on that pig is likely to give at least the perception of greater safety.  Plants and screens can help with noise abatement.  And why should it be a given that if we're going to have a freeway in some place that it has to be ugly?

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A deck park over the 59 trench between midtown and 3rd ward would be nice, but unlikely with the long term plan of re-doing the whole thing

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