Rubén M.Cenzano

Chartered Civil Engineer specialised in Transportation

Ingeniero de Caminos especialista en Transporte

nine traffic myths

Posted On Thursday, 21 January 2016

Picture: Lucaackey / flickr

  • More roads mean less traffic:
The problem is the induced demand; building more roads eventually (if not always immediately) leads to more traffic, not less, because people who stopped driving out of frustration with traffic now return.

  • More public transport means less traffic:
Some residents will leave their cars at home and take the bus or metro; others will see this new space on the road and fill it. Strong and reliable public transport offer many benefits to cities, while being an integral part of the last traffic solution: congestion fees.

  • Bike lanes make traffic worse:
New York City reduced the width of car lanes from 3.6m to 3.0m and added protected left turns. As a result, the city was able to preserve vehicle volume and actually reduce travel times between 35% and 14%.

  • A wider road is a safer road:
An evaluation of intersections in Toronto and Tokyo found lower crash rates in lanes that were closer to 10 feet (3.0m), compared with those that were wider than 12 feet (3.6m) since wider lanes invite cars to drive faster.

  • The next lane over is moving faster:
This perception is a visual illusion created by the fact that it takes longer to be passed than to pass someone else; you spend more time being overtaken by three cars in the next lane than you do zipping past three other cars. That gives drivers the general impression that they’re losing ground even when both lanes have similar average speeds.

  • Everyone else’s bad driving is the reason for traffic:
No, it’s everyone’s inability to hold a steady speed and following distance. The Error-Prone game reflects the basic principles behind “shockwave/phantom” traffic jams. What this means is that every imperceptibly imprecise move in a car—tapping the brake a bit too hard, or holding the gas a bit too long—sends a ripple effect of congestion back through the rest of the road.

  • You need to get lots of cars off the road to reduce traffic:
Removing just a few cars from a road has a disproportionate impact on congestion. Traffic is “non-linear”; the relationship between cars and delay is not one-to-one. Removing just 1% of commuters off the peak-hour road in especially high-traffic corridors, can reduce travel times by 18%.

  • Removing an urban highway would be a traffic nightmare:
It is true that not every urban interstate can be torn down without having a major short-term impact on traffic.But drivers adapt extremely quickly to changes to the road network by shifting their routes, travel times, or modes when an existing road closes; others simply decide not to make a trip at all. As the authors of one study put it, “predictions of traffic problems are often unnecessarily alarmist.”

  • There’s no downside to cheap petrol:
While cheaper petrol seems to be good news for everyone, it is bad for all the hidden social costs of driving, which includes the time lost to congestion both at home and at work.

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