Friday, December 12, 2008

Grow in population and in traffic

I was doing some quick math again on population growth and on what this means for the number of cars in the region, I can see no way that population growth will not mean growth in traffic.

We are adding about 4000 people a year to the region at the moment, this means we are adding roughly 2000 more passenger vehicles to the region each year as well. We need more housing units for the people coming, but we also need more road space for the cars that are coming.

I know that it is very fashionable for people to say that more roads only leads to more traffic and if we did not build more roads then people would not be able to increase the traffic. I have disagree with this view strenuously.

Whether we like it or not, the cars are coming and will be on the roads. Offering more road capacity does not mean people will drive more, though it does mean they can get from point A to point B faster.

Not adding capacity to the roads means we reduce the average speed of traffic and we increase the time cars sit and idle waiting to move. We also increase shipping costs. We slow buses and therefore need more of them. We have more frustrated and angry drivers which leads to more accidents and a lower quality of life.

The assumption is that people will move further away from work if the roads are better. I disagree, people move further out because this is where they can find housing that is cost effective for them. If the housing someone desires is available at comparable prices in Oak Bay and in Langford, the house in Oak Bay is what they will buy. The problem is that we have all manner of restrictions on housing at the core of the city which create an artificial scarcity and thereby drive up prices.

There are a number of roads that could be expanded in this region and they would not lead to more sprawl, the expansion would simply reflect existing reality. Interurban from Camosun to Burnside should be four laned as should Wilkinson road, Glanford and Finlayson. I know the last one will make many people burst a few blood vessels, but the region is need of a decent east/west corridor between Hillside and Mackenzie.

Adding capacity to all of these roads would simply reducing long waits are traffic lights, allow more and better movement of people and goods in the region, and improve the quality of life for thousands of people.

The Mackenzie Highway #1 interchange would also improve things dramatically. Though I would only do this if the lights at Burnside and Mackenzie and Hwy #1 and Tillicum were also removed in some fashion. I think it is in the interests of better movement to have Mackenzie from Hwy #17 to Hwy #1 become a freeway.

2000 new cars per year in the region is an extra 50 million kilometers of vehicle use per year. It also means that there will about an extra six kilometers of road space being used during rush hours. That is a long line of cars that will be covering pavement in this region. This is an annual increase, not a one off.

I have lived in Vancouver and spend enough time there to know that traffic congestion has to be a lot worse before people might move to transit. Even with the virtual gridlock in parts of the Lower Mainland, people still drive to work. Anyone that thinks people are going to embrace transit here en mass is kidding themselves. The reality is that we have to work with the actual behaviours of people and not fantasy visions.


Anonymous said...

How would you respond to Gordon Price's recent assertion that bottlenecks are a desirable, even declaring that 'congestion is our friend"?

Anonymous said...

"The problem is that we have all manner of restrictions on housing at the core of the city which create an artificial scarcity and thereby drive up prices."

This is very important. As much as I love the way Oak Bay looks right now, it's going to need to densify, if we're going to avoid more sprawl, more idling cars in traffic from the WestShore...

It's going to take some convincing though!

Bernard said...

Congestion is not our friend - congestion sucks.

In 1994/95 I spend a year working in Vancouver driving a truck. Working from 6 am to 8 am I could be reasonably efficient, but after 8 am it did not matter where in the city I was going, there was no fast way to do anything. The traffic congestion in Vancouver simply meant I spent more hours driving and less time doing work.

I also lived in London twice, once in the 1980s and then in the early 1990s. Congestion there is brutal, bad enough that almost everyone uses transit, but this is a city of close to 10 000 000 that would fit into the CRD. Even then, if you were not coming into the core, it was not so bad.

Congestion leads to idling and this is a significant source of CO2. I turn off my car at stop lights and I gain about 10 to 15% in city gas mileage through that. I can only imagine how much more fuel I would use if was on clogged roads.

Unknown said...


You conflate congestion automatically with emissions, which certainly makes sense today, but in the future far less so with the mainstreaming of low/zero emission technologies. Should society care if a sea of plug-in Priuses are clogged in traffic while others sail by them in a BRT lane? The only way the BRT stands a case of increasing ridership is if the congestion is truly bad.

Congestion is a reality in most places with excellent transit systems, so I'm not exactly sure what actually you're trying to convey. You mention London's infamous traffic, yet don't mention its controversial/successful congestion fee, which as of 2007 has reduced overall traffic by 16% (30% of chargeable vehicles) within London's CBD.

Of course, lowered congestion has come a whole other set of costs, but that's neither here nor there because Victoria is certainly not London, which as you have mentioned is part of the problem: we often look for suitable models (eg. Vancouver, Portland), but in reality Victoria stands on it own as a relatively dense yet low-population metro area.

Ryan Hinton said...

It states, "The assumption is that people will move further away from work if the roads are better. I disagree, people move further out because this is where they can find housing that is cost effective for them."

But in the post, Paying for Rail Transit, it states, "No one is talking about the sprawl that a successful rail based transit will bring this this region. The easier it is for people to live further out, the more people will do it. If the commute is eased through a reduction in congestion, the population on the Westshore will rise."

Those two arguements oppose each other, so which do you stand by because you can't have it both ways?

Bernard said...

Actually I do think that I can stand by both statements because they are not entirely the same thing.

The Westshore has people living there because the housing in cheaper than in the core of the city. If we make it easier for people to live on the Westshore and commute into town, the relative price difference people are willing to between a house in Victoria and one in Langford will narrow.

Unless the core of the region can drive down the housing costs dramatically, say a median price of below $300 000, the demand for housing on 'the edge' will be there. This would require the core to allow a lot more housing and much denser housing.

Unless than happens, there will remain a demand to live on the Westshore and this demand would only increase if the commute becomes better.