Letters to the editor 

Gridlock, and solutions to it

Solution to traffic

(In response to Fallout, "Governed by gridlock," Aug. 31)

Established academic theory in transportation geography has been inadequate in assisting experts to find solutions to urban road congestion. Current models offer temporary fixes and are not capable of solving current problems.

Increasing or decreasing the flow of current on our road, adding toll roads and more modern traffic technologies merely alter the carrying capacity of existing roads. The building of more roads does little better.

Another way to look at the old model is to compare traffic to fluid mechanics: As more pipes are added to a fluid mechanical model, more water volume can be handled and pressure is temporarily reduced. However, the system is not isolated. Reductions in localized pressure only encourage a larger shift that seeks to equalize the pressure in the whole system. In short order the new pipes or roads are just as clogged as before. Increasing the accessibility to new areas for development is also a temporary fix. As new areas are developed, traffic is not eliminated, it is only spread out over a larger area. In time, virgin lands will be built over and commuting distances will have increased without an accompanying decrease in travel time.

Two paradigm shifts:

Transportation geographers talk about origin and destination sites. Origin sites generate traffic and destinations sites attract traffic. The most common origin sites are residential, while destination sites cover a range of locations that include but are not limited to employment zones and shopping districts. As zoning becomes more specialized the distance between residential origin sites and regular destination sites grow. Plus, as the land values of the destination site increase, it becomes difficult to afford to live near the destination site. Hence, the drive between the origin sites and the destination sites increases. Since there is usually a temporal element of destination sites, traffic usage is maximized at selected times of the day. To reduce the drive distance between origin and destination sites, zoning boards need to encourage mixed-use zoning. Urban workers need to be able to afford to live near where they work. That may mean public housing that caters to office workers, loft communities and proactive residential redevelopment programs. It would also mean encouraging the owners of large office buildings to turn some of their office space into high-end suites. The largest problem stopping this type of change is not market forces or the business community, but government regulations that try to standardize urban development instead of allowing market forces to solve the problems for them.

Nowhere is government more inefficient than when it tries to redevelop under-utilized land.

Now, what do you do about the current congestion? There will always be traffic on the major roads. However, the solution is not to tear down residential districts in order to increase the size of roads a-la the failed urban renewal project of the '60s. That would only create more congestion and hardship as the displaced people are forced to move further out from their destination sites. Increased capacity to roads would only encourage more traffic. In time, the roads would be full again and more land would have to be seized in the name of road construction.

The solution is to identify existing high-density demand corridors and finding alternative higher-capacity transportation methods that meet existing needs. For example, express bus service meets the needs to high-demand origins and high-demand destination sites. For long-distance commutes, there is passenger rail.

The development created by the train system would complement already-existing commuter patterns along Highway 85 and Highway 316. Development encouraged by the trains would reinforce existing development trends. The infrastructural needs of the system would be less than a new highway or even a new rail line.

Commuter rail and express buses have the advantage of increasing or decreasing their carrying capacity in order to meet demand. A highway is always ready for maximum traffic. Instead of expanding roads and urban sprawl we need to encourage solutions that meet the needs of current traffic patterns. Express bus service and commuter rail are legitimate steps in meeting current needs without contributing to overdevelopment. By looking at the problems differently we can protect our quality of like so threatened by congestion, traffic, endless road construction and urban sprawl.

-- Mike Seigle, geography instructor, Georgia Perimeter College

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