If tearing down an expressway can reduce traffic congestion, what would a few bus lanes do?

The Infrastructurist Blog has a very interesting post on what can happen to traffic congestion when expressways are actually removed – in many cases it just goes away!

Huh?! 4 Cases Of How Tearing Down A Highway Can Relieve Traffic Jams (And Save Your City)

The post cites examples of the Cheonggycheon highway in Seoul (removed and replaced by a long “river”-park that has proven to be immensely popular), Harbour Drive in Portland Oregon (USA), and The Embarcadero and Central Freeways in San Francisco, California (USA).

In all cases, traffic congestion has been reduced with the removal of these expressways – mainly because the trips that would have been made by car (often by a single occupant vehicle) are not being made. Instead, the majority of trips are being replaced by carpooling and public transport.

Induced Demand Phenomenon

This is an example of induced demand – if we provide expressways, people will drive more often. If we take away the expressways (or never provided them) and provide alternatives like public transport, people will use the alternatives. And, if we take away the expressway and provide no alternatives, people will choose not to make the trip.

Of course, the typical arguments would now arise – we have to have people drive into the centre of KL, there are no alternatives, Malaysian public transport is so terrible, congestion is so high, etc. etc. – all trying to emphasize the idea that we cannot remove the expressways without risking a terrible catastrophe.

But interestingly enough, the phenomenon has proven itself in other cities and it is likely to prove itself in the Klang Valley as well. If we remove expressways and do not provide alternatives, we will find that instead of attempting to make trips down to KL, people will stay out of KL and spend their money locally.

And if one takes a look at the development of suburban malls (especially in the “upscale” or “high end” sectors) and commercial spaces, it is clear that there is a large number of people who do not want to go into KL.

TRANSIT is ok with expressways if used efficiently

Here is the interesting part though – TRANSIT does not want to remove expressways. What we want to do is make expressways more efficient. We want to change the transport mindset so that instead of moving vehicles, we are focusing on moving goods and moving people.

Under this mindset, lorries and buses become more important than the single occupant vehicle – lorries are moving the goods and buses are moving 40 people each as compared to a single occupant vehicle with a capacity for 4 but only moving one person. Also under this mindset, the carpooler (moving 4-5 people) and taxi (moving 2 or more people) similarly more important than the SOV.

We would even be happy to say that the motorcycle (moving 1 person and taking up far less space than a single occupant vehicle) is more important.

So how do we go about doing this?

The first step is to reorganize our approach to bus routes by collecting routes that use similar roads or expressways, eg. Federal Highway, Jalan Puchong, Jalan Cheras, etc. These buses should act as trunk lines, bringing people into and out of KL. Feeder service should be used to take people from the main lines to the housing estates.

Second, put buses in the centre lanes of the expressways, in their own special lanes separated from the rest of the traffic by kerbs. This will ensure that the bus service is frequent and reliable. Using overhead bridges (in many cases, these bridges are already existing), passengers can walk to the centre of the highway/expressway/roadway to board their buses.

If one looks at the number of buses on the Federal Highway during the day time, for example, they can see that there might be a bus every 3-5 minutes – but these buses are different routes and operated by different companies – truly a waste of public transport assets.

Third, certain highways and expressways should be designated as “lorry routes” with restrictions on cars during certain times of day. Similarly, certain expressways and highways should have restrictions on lorries during certain times of the day.

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5 thoughts on “If tearing down an expressway can reduce traffic congestion, what would a few bus lanes do?”

  1. Certainly, choosing not to make a trip is not a good idea. It shows that mobility has failed. Plus, it may slow down the economy too.

    One more thing, does it make any difference by having a ‘special’ lane for the BET at toll plazas when other vehicles can freely use the lane at any time?

    1. @Hazman

      Thanks for your comment. Actually, people not making the trip may not necessarily be a bad idea. For example, “not making the trip” could mean that:

      • money is not spent and economic activity is not received
      • money is spent and economic activity is received, but not in KL
      • associated costs of congestion (e.g. stress, air pollution, traffic collisions, wear & tear and lost productivity) are actually reduced

      That is, effectively, the beauty of economics – we do not only consider the benefits but also the costs – and traffic congestion has a very high economic and social cost indeed.

      As for your question about the toll plaza lane, we certainly think that this design could be improved. One major problem (frankly) is that buses are forced to slow down and stop at toll plazas – not good for pollution and definitely a waste of time. We would like to see toll plazas redesigned wherever possible to facilitate the movement of buses.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

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