What is the one thing Portlanders have in common with Californians? Unsightly traffic congestion. Recently, Rose City ranked near the top for America’s worst commute in two traffic studies: the TomTom 2015 Traffic Index and the INRIX traffic report. The city is tied with Washington DC and Chicago for congestion level, or added travel time, in the TomTom study, which places Portland at #9 out of 174 US cities despite its modest size.
Wait a minute, “modest size,” what do those words mean? The city of Portland is quickly outgrowing its status and becoming a world-class city. The most current US Census Bureau ranked Portland as the 26th largest city in the United States, sandwiched between Nashville, Tennessee and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It grew 1.9% between July 2014 and July 2015, moving up two spots from the year before. As the population continues to rise, traffic only worsens.
Improving Portland’s Roads
The usual response to more cars on the roads is to make the roads bigger; however, research shows that this is counter-productive. A fascinating piece in Wired reveals why adding more lanes to roads does not increase traffic flow. Over the years, traffic engineers have come to realize that congestion is not something that can be reduced by building. Economists Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Dranton of the University of Pennsylvania studied a phenomenon called induced demand, which is what happens when increasing the supply of something (such as roads) in turn increases the demand for it. The two compared the amount of new roads and highways built in different cities between 1980 and 2000 alongside the number of miles driven in the same time period.
What they found was astounding. Basically, the rate of increased road capacity correlated with the number of miles driven. If a road had increased capacity by 10%, the amount driven in the city also increased 10%. While correlation does not equal causation, it is likely that new roads create new drivers which means that the quality of traffic remains the same. Even in cities with high usage of public transportation the traffic congestion remained unchanged. The traditional solutions to reduce bottlenecks are ultimately ineffective. They also showed how the reverse is true. By reducing road capacity, the population of the city readjusts. No new potential for traffic jams comes about; instead, more people flock to public transportation. Congestion remains stable in both scenarios.
Causes of Congestion
In Portland, we have some easily identifiable high traffic corridors and a few obvious reasons as to why our commute is becoming increasingly unpleasant.
High Traffic Corridors
With the population increase came an influx of 6.3% more vehicles on the roads. PBOT expects even further population growth, estimating that by 2035 another 260,000 will be added to a city that currently holds 632,000. It doesn’t look like traversing the following corridors will get any easier.
- I-5 N to Vancouver
- NE Columbia Corridor
- Rose Quarter
- SE Powell Blvd/ Foster Road
- I-5 S/ Marquam Bridge/ I-405 S
- I-5 N from Wilsonville
Congestion + high speeds = a high number of incidents ranging from mild fender benders to severe collisions resulting in deaths. These high-traffic corridors are magnets for car crashes in the Portland metro area.
Do you ever wonder why traffic randomly stops at times only to get moving again a few miles further down the road, with no crash or road work in sight? The folks over at KOIN 6 reported on this mysterious phenomenon. Apparently, according to PSU professor Avinash Unnikrishnan, overly-aggressive drivers are to blame.
A ripple effect occurs when a chain reaction of drivers slamming on their brakes is initiated due to aggressive driving. Impatient drivers weave in and out of lanes, speeding up swiftly to abruptly apply their brakes seconds later. This in turn causes the driver behind him to abruptly slam on his brakes, and the driver behind him, and so on. Such behavior causes traffic to slow to a crawl.
The ripple effect causes gridlock for miles at the most inconvenient times and at the busiest of corridors. It is prevalent on I-5. We would all be better off staying in our lanes and gradually adjusting our speed to the flow of traffic. Let’s face it, at rush hour, hardly any lane moves faster than any other.
Politicians are hardly ever sensible; however, if they were, they may consider what is called congestion pricing. Instead of privatizing roads completely, such pricing scheme would mean charging people to use the roads at the busiest times. A fee like this would deter people who don’t really need to travel during rush hour times. It would encourage more people to utilize the roads at other times of the day when they are underutilized. This tactic has proven successful in London, Stockholm and Singapore, but in America, efforts have failed. No one wants to pay for resources that were always free to use.
So enjoy your free commute as much as you can, and always remember if things go wrong you have the right to an experienced personal injury attorney in Portland to resolve accident claims. Call Richard Rizk at (503) 245-5677 for compassionate legal care.