Monthly Archives: January 2015

Does the Price of Gasoline Modify Travel Behavior?

By Dom Nozzi

Studies show that American demand for high-priced gasoline is extremely inelastic (that is, Americans are willing [compelled?] to buy gasoline at their current promiscuous rate regardless of how high the price goes).

Why inelastic?

Because it is currently so incredibly rational to drive a car, even high-priced gas has only a relatively minor impact on changing travel behavior. After all, driving gives you extreme comfort, freedom from criminals, status, speed, convenience, heavy government subsidies, etc. By contrast, taking the bus, walking or bicycling requires one to recklessly and irrationally avoid all these wonderful benefits and instead, risk your life. As for “putting up with extra time,” studies show that Americans hate congestion almost as much as they hate density (which is a related problem in their minds). That is why we have a NIMBY epidemic, and why Americans hardly blink when their federal elected officials spend hundreds of billions of tax dollars each year to make cars happy (less burdened, in the very short term, by congestion, that is). It is also why, at the local level, Americans show “road rage” to the point of shooting people who make a left turn too slowly, and only elect commissioners who promise to spend all our local tax dollars to widen all the roads. I’ll never be mayor…

For all these reasons, I recommend “planned congestion” as a very effective aversive technique for car travel. “Planned congestion” is a tool with which a community makes a conscious decision NOT to widen roads/intersections or synch traffic signals, or engage in other conventional methods to “reduce” congestion.

Significant restrictions and higher prices for parking are also relatively effective ways to influence travel behavior. In Gainesville, Florida, very high parking costs and parking inconvenience on the University of Florida campus led to a nation-leading increase in bus ridership by UF students in the late 1990s.

As Donald Shoup points out, higher priced parking overwhelms higher priced gas in terms of impact on your pocketbook. After all, even with a gas guzzler car and gas that costs, say, $4 per gallon, howmuch would it cost to drive across town? But look at how quickly the price of that trip goes through the roof if we jack up the price of parking from, say, $1 to $10 per time parked across town (which is M~ SUN0805N-Gas 5quite fair, given the public and private costs to provide parking).

This is not to mention the highly effective nature of “congestion fees,” in which you charge motorists fees based on when they are driving on major roads that tend to become congested, and even better, to charge fees that vary throughout the day (higher fees charged when the road is more congested).

For the record, I am not recommending that Americans “give up their cars.” I just want the cars to behave themselves — by driving more slowly and attentively in towns, and by having their drivers pay their fair share.

Fairly priced parking, parking scarcity, and congestion fees are very durable (in terms of modifying behavior), if designed correctly. They effectively send a very loud signal each day: If you choose the socially irresponsible, unsustainable travel behavior, you will pay through the nose. If not, you are free from such payments and can instead use your hard-earned money to spend a romantic weekend in Paris…  The message is especially clear if you see your fellow citizens zipping along in the tolled or high-occupancy vehicle lane next to your bumper-to-bumper congested “free” lane, or if you see your co-worker chuckling over his/her higher paycheck because he is not needing to pay for his workplace parking space with his paycheck, since he/she gets to work by bus, and has “cashed out” their “free” job site parking space.

2 Comments

Filed under Bicycling, Transportation

The Folly of Double-Left Turn Lanes

There is a troubling, counterproductive “solution” that continues to be employed for addressing congested intersections – even in communities that are otherwise progressively promoting transportation choice. The “solution” is to add a second left turn lane to an existing left-turn lane when there is a perception that the number of motorists waiting in the single left-turn lane has grown too large.

Conventional traffic engineering claims that creating a double-left turn lane at an intersection is an double left turn lane intersection boulder“improvement” that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing congestion. And that a double left turn does not conflict with the transportation plan objective of promoting pedestrian trips.

On the contrary, I believe that double-left turn lanes will INCREASE emissions and will REDUCE pedestrian trips.

Double left-turn lanes cause serious problems for scale and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, but have been shown to be counterproductive even if we are just looking at car capacity at an intersection. Adding a second left turn lane suffers significantly from diminishing returns. That a double-left turn does NOT double the left turn capacity – largely because by significantly increasing the crosswalk distance, the walk cycle must be so long that intersection capacity/efficiency (for cars) is dramatically reduced.

Cities across the nation are facing severe transportation funding shortfalls, yet at the same time, they are often building expensive and counterproductive double-left turn lanes.

Why? Probably because of the absurdity that transportation capital improvement dollars are in a separate silo than maintenance dollars, and that the former dollars are mostly paid by federal and state grants.  Of course, double-left turn lanes also destroy human scale and obliterates the ability to create a sense of place, but those are much more difficult arguments to make.

A colleague of mine adds that double-left turn lanes are an abomination. He adds that “they are a sign of failure: failure to provide enough street connectivity, so that when drivers do come to an intersection, it is gigantic, so it can accommodate all the left turns that had not been allowed prior to that point. Many trips on extra wide arterials are very short, and involve three left turns: one left turn onto the arterial and one left turn off the arterial: there trips could and should be made on connected local streets.”

How can a city claim it is short on transportation funding when it is building such counterproductive facilities? Double-left turn lanes…

  • Increase per capita car travel and reduce bike/pedestrian/transit trips.
  • Increase GHG emissions and fuel consumption.
  • Induce new car trips that were formerly discouraged (via the “triple convergence”).
  • Promote sprawling, dispersed development.
  • Discourage residential and smaller, locally-owned retail.

Cities need to draw a line in the sand: Place a moratorium on intersection double-left turn lanes and eventually removal of such configurations. Double-lefts are too big for the human habitat. They create a car-only atmosphere.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

The Colossal Boondoggle of the War on Terrorism

I just finished reading an extremely disturbing, important book. Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, by James Risen, catalogs the immense, disgusting greed, corruption, unchecked power, incompetency, loss of privacy, waste (of both lives and hundreds of billions of public dollars), and utter dishonesty of both the Bush and Obama administrations.

The War on Terror boondoggle engaged in by Bush and now by Obama has become a vicious, downward spiral of what is now an ENDLESS war against “terrorism” (that, incidentally, is making future terrorism against the US much more likely). The “Terrorism Industry” includes a large number of Republicans AND Democrats, who are criminally, shamelessly leveraging public fear to pocket billions of public dollars (in the name of fighting terrorism). Bush and Obama have been shoveling hundreds of billions of dollars into places like Iraq and Afghanistan to make those nations “democracies.” Countless people in both those nations and in the US have quickly succeeded in enriching themselves by directing that money to their bank accounts and their “terrorism/democracy” contractor businesses.

It is obscene how much money has been thrown away in this boondoggle. And how many people, communities and nations have been ruined or killed in the process.war-on-terror

It is despicable how gullible the federal government has been in hiring crooks who have, for example, claimed they have secret software able to decode secret messages from terrorists. Even a 10-year old would be able to see through this scam, yet the “leaders” and “thinkers” of America buy it hook, line and sinker. At the cost of countless public dollars and innocent lives.

Chillingly, the magical code-breaking software created by the charlatan lead, at one point, to a situation where Bush nearly ordered that civilian airliners from France to the US be shot down over the Atlantic. Think about THAT the next time you are flying home from a vacation in France.

The software turned out to be completely bogus.

This fiasco has spawned a large collection of corrupt companies that are gobbling up billions of public dollars naively being showered on them by bureaucratic ideologues and a corrupt Congress. These start-up businesses are happily creating such things as militarized drones that have compelled both Bush and to a much larger degree, Obama, to engage in war crimes by promiscuously killing civilians overseas.

This is not to mention, by the way, the torture that both Bush and Obama have authorized to extract “truth” from “terrorists”. And not to mention the vast domestic spying program that Obama has substantially ramped up.

There is no end in sight to the extreme waste of public dollars and the killing of so many people, because the “War on Terror” is self-perpetuating. The more the US kills people in Iraq and Afghanistan, the more the US breeds hatred against America. The US thereby gives birth to more “terrorists” (like “ISIS”). That compels the US to spend even MORE billions of dollars to fight harder against terrorism. And so on. Endlessly.

Do you wonder why so many American communities are suffering from a severe shortfall in dollars for education, health, and transportation? Why taxes need to be raised so often? We now know an important reason: Our hard-earned tax dollars are being squandered as we pour trillions of dollars, counterproductively, down the Terrorism Rathole.

The key leverage point to enrich all of the corrupt people involved in the Terrorism Industry is fear. The War on Terror is therefore endless. The more we fight the War, the more anger and fear we create. The more anger and fear we create, the harder we must fight the war, and the more public dollars we agree to spend. Great news for the Terrorism Industry: NONE of the US presidential candidates running for the 2016 election will do anything to start ratcheting down this endless war.

None.

Why should they? It is a great way to siphon loads of public money into their pockets, and to pour both money and jobs into their congressional districts.

Don’t miss this exceptional, courageous book by one of America’s leading investigative reporters.

Risen, James (2014). Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 304 pages.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics