Congestion on American roadways has never been worse. According to available statistics, Americans spend 14.5 million hours stuck in traffic each day. In the ten most-congested cities in the U.S., drivers sit in traffic jams for 42 hours every year, wasting more than 121 billion dollars.
Population is going to increase, meaning the problem will only get worse as time goes on. However, there are some innovative solutions to traffic congestion that can help fix some of the problems it causes.
Opening Up Congested Areas
The simplest proposal to alleviate congestion is to open up these areas. This can be complicated in practice. For example, Los Angeles has a sophisticated system that alerts drivers to changing road conditions, giving them the time to opt for another route.
Much of the focus of congestion is on highways, although most congestion occurs on city streets. Implementing effective traffic control on city streets is therefore essential to easing congestion. Since a lot of street traffic is caused by people looking for a place to park, one way that cities can ease urban congestion, is with systems that assist drivers in finding parking spaces. One method that has been tested in San Francisco and Los Angeles is a system of sensors that guides drivers to vacant spots.
For highways, the simplest solution is to build more of them, but this would be very expensive.. Since 1970, the U.S. population has grown by 32 percent, the number of licensed drivers has grown by 64 percent, and the number of registered vehicles has grown by 90 percent. But the total number of road miles in the country has grown only by an additional six percent. In order to accommodate these increases, there would need to be a huge investment made.
Reducing the Impact of Trucks
Studies show that trucks contribute to over 20 percent of all urban congestion. This problem could escalate as many cities continue restricting the operation of large vehicles, while the rise of internet shopping makes delivery services more and more important.
However, there are many new strategies being designed to fix this problem. One strategy is the BentoBox. This tool works to reduce congestion by shifting the activity of delivery trucks away from peak driving hours. The BentoBox is a storage locker that is loaded with deliveries, left at a docking station at night and accessed by the customer in the morning.
In Brussels, Belgium, a courier company called TNT Express delivers about 1,300 parcels per week, mostly through small electric tricycles. These vehicles are small, more environmentally sound, and less disruptive than trucks, when parked. TNT Express is now designing a new model for parcel distribution in Brussels called the “mobile depot,” which functions similarly to the BentoBox. The “mobile depot” is a trailer containing a multitude of parcels that is towed to the center of the city at night. The packages are then distributed in smaller, more efficient vehicles.
Improving Public Transportation
Los Angeles, the driving capital of the U.S., has made a multibillion-dollar investment in its public transportation infrastructure. This is a huge step for the city famous for its single-owner vehicle traffic, and sets an example for other cities interested in relieving congestion.
Intuitively, public transportation makes sense. There are higher levels of congestion in cities with higher population densities; but higher population densities also make for thriving public transportation systems. When roads fill to capacity, public transportation systems provide commuters ways of getting where they need to go without single-owner vehicles.
Studies show that public transportation relieves congestion on roads that parallel heavy transit corridors. In Los Angeles, the congestion relief provided by the public transportation system sits between $1.2 and $4.2 billion every year.
Additionally, studies have shown that there is a hidden, indirect economic value to public transportation. Increased use of public transportation leads to higher foot traffic in urban centers, which helps local economies and increases wages. This hidden value could be between $1.5 million and $1.8 billion per year, depending on the city’s size, according to certain estimates. This data illustrates that public transportation isn’t just good for reducing congestion, but good for the overall economic health of a city and its residents.
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