Few things are more frustrating than being stuck in traffic. Yet Americans spent an average of 42 hours waiting out gridlock in 2016, costing commuters a total of $300 billion, or about $1,400 per driver, according to connected car services and analytics company Inrix.
Sitting in traffic can also take a psychological toll on commuters, say researchers Louis-Philippe Beland and Daniel Brent, both economics professors at Louisiana State University. The pair found that the bigger the traffic jam, the more stress and aggravation drivers tend to suffer. Reported incidents of domestic violence went up as well.
The pressure to give up more real estate to roadways is felt acutely in high-growth areas, where population growth is triggering building booms and as a result have planners barely able to keep up with demand.
“It’s difficult to stay ahead of the population game,” said Kurt Knebel, executive vice president of McCarthy Construction’s Texas division and head of the company’s civil business unit in the region. “In Texas, we’ve done multiple projects on the same stretch of roadway,” he said. “By the time you get it designed and constructed, pretty soon you need some more.”
Federal agencies funding such projects require lengthy environmental reviews that include detailed projections about future development near the proposed roadway as well as expected traffic conditions decades into the future. However, it can be hard to anticipate when new businesses or residential developments will sweep in and change that carefully thought-out dynamic, Eustace said.
Using standby designs
State transportation departments and their design teams can reduce the level of congestion and better control traffic flow using one of a handful of interchange layouts. Interchanges use ramps and connectors to direct traffic from one freeway to another or to move traffic from the freeway onto local roads.
The cloverleaf, the diamond and the single-point urban or diamond interchange are elements of conventional interchange design, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The cloverleaf is a two-level interchange that allows left turns by directing traffic over the desired road and then looping it back around onto the road via a right-hand exit. The diamond interchange has four ramps that exit and enter the freeway at angles so as to meet local roads at right angles, allowing a right or left turn at a stop sign or traffic light. The single-point urban or diamond interchange is a variation of the diamond configuration. The single-point urban interchange’s ramps meet at one point either under or above the freeway, necessitating only one set of traffic signals.
While the traffic needs of many larger cities require unique solutions that don’t fall squarely into one of these categories — along the lines of the Spaghetti Bowl in Las Vegas, which is now undergoing a $1.5 billion renovation — they represent the basics from which hybrids have emerged. One of those is the diverging diamond interchange (DDI), which has been gaining popularity since its introduction in the US. in 2009. Florida alone has 38 DDIs under construction or in development, according to Florida Today, six of which are part of the Ultimate I-4 project near Orlando.
One of the DDI’s most sought-after characteristics is that it does away with left turns across traffic, increasing the pace of traffic flow and decreasing the chance of accidents. The country’s first-ever DDI is in Springfield, MO. In its first year of operation, total crashes were down 46% in that location and left turn–related accidents were down 72%, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT). MODOT also surveyed motorists and 80% reported better traffic flow and fewer delays.
Knebel said contractors aren’t involved much in the planning for these roadways unless they are being carried out through a design–build arrangement. However, DDIs seem to be popular when DOTs want traffic to easily access frontage roads and interstate overpasses with minimum impact.
Another, more unconventional method of reducing traffic congestion on local arterials is roundabouts, which are more prevalent in Europe and other parts of the world than they are in the U.S. Roundabouts, also known as traffic circles and rotaries, move traffic in a counter-clockwise motion around an island. There are no stop signs, and drivers circle the island until they are able to exit at their desired street. According to the FHWA, roundabouts have increased traffic capacity and reduced accidents where adopted in the U.S.
Challenges to implementation
Could it simply be drivers’ fear of being stuck in an endless roundabout loop that is preventing wider implementation? David Tullis, design-build manager for Skanska USA‘s civil business, said roundabouts are more prevalent in the Midwest but that their development is often constrained by space limitations. As a result, their use in the U.S. tends to be limited to intersections with low or medium traffic volume, he said.
Americans’ lack of familiarity with the road feature may have stymied its ability to gain traction in much of the country. With a little education, Eustace said, U.S. drivers could benefit from them.
Until then, planners’ priority is to carry out traffic improvement projects with as little disruption to traffic flow as possible. That is no small feat when considering work to today’s massive bridges and highways, which see high traffic volumes daily. This is particularly true in urban areas or within the environment of an infrastructure asset like an airport. “The goal during construction would be to at least maintain the current conditions, [where the] end result is better than where you started,” Tullis said.
Despite being such a regulated environment, airports, specifically, are fraught with traffic-related logistical concerns given the ebb and flow of for-hire vehicles and buses, as well as the rush around flight schedules and the holidays, he said.
The pressure to deliver transit projects as soon as possible persists. Knebel said even the most well-thought-out plans can develop cracks along the way, such as starting a project without the necessary land acquisitions finalized or hiring a construction team before the final pieces are in place. “They push so hard to get the projects going that sometimes they’re really not ready for it,” he said.
Until the country is ready to fully embrace alternatives like mass transit, contractors and DOTs will keep trying to make traffic flow a little smoother through new roadway design to handle increased capacity. “It’s a never-ending challenge,” Knebel said.
How one city plans to steer residents away from driving
HELSINKI — Countries from the U.K. to China are rolling out extraordinary plans to eliminate fossil-fuel-guzzling automobiles. But one Nordic capital city is mixing tech and urban planning to make sure citizens do not need a car at all.
Finland’s capital Helsinki is growing quickly as it attracts labor from the countryside and overseas. Instead of building more freeways to accommodate the growth, however, officials are trying to make public transit so good that people just give up driving.
“Our aim is to use more positive measures to mix walking, cycling and public transport to make it more attractive for people to travel that way,” said Anni Sinnemäki, deputy mayor for transportation. “We have parking restrictions in the city center and are not widening roads for cars. But it is about positive measures to attract people to public transport.”
Johanna Koskinen, 24, a student who lives in the suburb of Vuosaari, likes the idea if it means extending subway hours.
“Cars are expensive in Finland anyway. A lot of people out here can’t really afford to run one,” Koskinen said. “The metro already makes Vuosaari pretty accessible, but right now it closes at 11:30 p.m. If we are going to reduce car use even more downtown, they need to make sure that people like us don’t lose out.”
Helsinki already has high transit ridership. But Sinnemäki and others believe the city can further reduce traffic that produces carbon emissions and undercuts quality of life.
“We want to bring our target of carbon neutrality by 2050 forward,” said Sinnemäki, whose Green Party made big gains in municipal elections in April after promising major changes in transit. “That means having an ambitious transport policy, energy efficiency, renewables and improvements to the city social environment where people can meet each other and socialize at the same time.”
City officials didn’t have an exact goal, except to significantly reduce car traffic.
“We want a situation where nobody in Helsinki needs to have a car,” she added. “There are people, families with children who play hockey, for example, who might need one sometimes. But I am certain that it will go down well below 21% as the city center expands.”
Statistics released by the city government show that about 7,000 new people have been moving into Helsinki annually in recent years. There are now around 630,000 residents. By 2024, that number could rise as high as 850,000, according to forecasts.
City leaders want residents to be able to travel anywhere in the metro area on one fare that would include trips on the subway, trams, a bike-sharing system and even by-the-minute electric car rentals. Housing has been zoned around streetcar and subway lines to attract riders. New corridors have been opened only to bikes and streetcars.
In fall 2016, Helsinki residents were given a glimpse of the future when officials tested the robottibussi — Finnish for robot bus — on the city’s harbor front. Smaller than conventional buses, these driverless, automated vehicles can be linked to a smartphone app and programmed to cover bespoke routes, collecting people from instantaneously booked pickup points and dropping them at transit hubs.
The buses are due to be introduced for larger scale trial services in Helsinki later in the fall of this year, so researchers can see how they perform in denser downtown conditions.
Some residents weren’t so quick to embrace the plan.
Despite their enthusiasm for public transportation, Finns hold their cars dear, with almost one vehicle per head in the sprawling country of 5.4 million, according to the Finnish Transport Agency, a figure well above neighbors Sweden and Denmark that has climbed steadily since the 1960s. Cars are especially popular in the winter, when temperatures can sink to 4 below zero Fahrenheit.
Tuomas Kiuri, 28, is a transportation consultant who lives downtown and currently owns a car.
“I would like to believe it is possible, but it is a political thing,” he said. “It requires changing the paradigm. If I am going to a place that is further away from downtown, where the transit isn’t efficient or if I’ve got a lot of stuff to carry, then the car is better.”
But Kiuri believed that self-driving buses could replace cars for some journeys.
“It is hard to estimate exactly when it will happen. But vehicles are going to be self-driving in the future, and buses are the best way to implement that,” he said. “There are fewer of them compared to cars.”
For the plan to work, the city is relying on ongoing developments in smart mobility technology.
Big data and smartphones mean authorities can better map travel needs and respond to individual journeys. The city has also deregulated its taxi monopoly and is looking to integrate them into its smart ticketing system too. By bringing in taxis to transit fare structures, citizens could book and pay for taxis using their smartphones and subway passes even when riding with commercial firms like Uber and Lyft.
Smart technology is no substitute for investing in infrastructure though, Sinnemäki noted. She is now pushing her colleagues on the City Council to devote more funds to the project.
“In a dense city environment, to make use of these technologies we still need investment in rails,” she said. “There are people who said that is pointless because we will all have driverless cars. But we just do not have enough street space.”
Atlanta and multiple technology partners have begun a Smart City Project test program with sensors and cameras to allow autonomous vehicles and conventional motorists safer driving. (Sept. 14) AP
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost’s PRI.org. Its content was created separately to USA TODAY.
The City of Oxford in England has introduced plans to create the world’s first Zero Emission Zone, taking a jump on local rival and neighbor London by introducing its restrictions at the beginning of 2020.
The Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council put forward their proposal for a Zero Emission Zone in the Oxford city center on Wednesday in an attempt to yield “historic reductions in air pollution.” Transport for London is aiming to introduce a Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London in September 2020, but Oxford is looking to introduce a ZeroEmission Zone at the beginning of 2020 which would ban emitting vehicles from city centers.
The bans would be introduced in phases starting with some vehicle types and a small number of streets in 2020, before moving to all vehicle types across the whole city center by 2035 as technology develops.
The plan would therefore drop air pollution levels in the Oxford city center down to near-background levels: For example, George Street, which is Oxford City’s most polluted street, would experience a 74% reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels by 2035.
“Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford’s residents,” said Councillor John Tanner, Oxford City Council Executive Board Member for A Clean and Green Oxford. “A step change is urgently needed; the Zero Emission Zone is that step change.
“All of us who drive or use petrol or diesel vehicles through Oxford are contributing to the city’s toxic air. Everyone needs to do their bit – from national Government and local authorities, to businesses and residents – to end this public health emergency.”
The Zero Emission Zone proposals include in full:
- From 2020: Non-zero emission taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses excluded from Queen Street, Cornmarket Street, New Inn Hall Street, Market Street, Ship Street and St Michael’s Street
- From 2025: Non-zero emission taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses excluded from roads including New Road, the southern part of Worcester Street, George Street, Magdalen Street, Magdalen Street East, Pembroke Street, Speedwell Street, Norfolk Street and Castle Street
- From 2030: Non-zero emission taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses excluded from all roads within Hollybush Row, Hythe Bridge Street, Worcester Street, Beaumont Street, St Giles, part of Parks Road, South Parks Road, St Cross Road, Longwall Street, Merton Street, Blue Boar Street, St Aldate’s and Thames Street
- From 2035: All non-zero-emission vehicles, including HGVs, excluded from within the above area
The results in terms of nitrogen dioxide levels include:
- George Street: NO2 levels were 61µg/m3 in 2015, and are modeled to fall to 38µg/m3 in 2020 and 16µg/m 3 in 2035
- High Street: NO2 levels were 54µg/m3 in 2015, and are modeled to fall to 35µg/m3 in 2020 and 17µg/m3 in 2035
- St Aldate’s: NO2 levels were 49µg/m3 in 2015, and are modeled to fall to 33µg/m3 in 2020 and 16µg/m3 in 2035
- St Clement’s Street: NO2 levels were 67µg/m3 in 2015, and are modeled to fall to 55µg/m3 in 2020 and 34µg/m3 in 2035
Phil Southall, Managing Director of the Oxford Bus Company, said: “One of our core values is being socially responsible to the people we serve and the environment we all share, and so we always embrace modern technology to ensure we are as green as possible. All of our fleet was upgraded to at least Euro 5 standard for the introduction of the Low Emission zone in 2014, and today we already have 70 Euro 6 vehicles, as well as 90 vehicles with hybrid systems fitted.
“We support the principle of a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford. However, zero emission bus and coach technology is still evolving so we will work with the City Council to identify the possible solutions for Oxford and the time frame in which they might be able to be deployed.”