April 13, 2009

Point, Counterpoint

Chris over at Austin Contrarian has a counterpoint to my post last week regarding congestion pricing. After reading it, I think I understand his premise a little more which (and I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm getting it wrong) is that congestion pricing is as much about alleviating congestion as it is about changing behaviors.

If that's the goal, then that's great. I don't agree with it, but congestion pricing will definitely do the trick. However, it's not the leisure driver or the soccer mom heading to HEB you have to worry about. It's the through traffic and people actually going to work that will be disrupted. And they'll change their behaviors by taking surface streets through neighborhoods. Well, maybe not the through folks but the others... yeah, if it's sit, pay a toll or work your way up a surface road, watch as more and more people do it. As Chris points out, we could argue endlessly about this and not get anywhere. I have just observational evidence because even my shortcuts to bypass the freeways are taking longer because there are more people using them. Still it is pointless to argue the point to a meaningful conclusion.

Moving on to the 130, in a few months you'll offer an alternative to a clogged 35 but at a price. Whether the additional lanes are on 35 or not is irrelevant. Seriously, let's see what this accomplishes. This is the first time in Central Texas that we'll have a tolled alternative to a freeway. Let's see what it does to traffic because it will be a great case for adding tolled capacity to 35.

The reason I've never really addressed induced demand is that much like the panacea of changing behaviors, I don't really buy it. Lookit, NTTA isn't building the Dallas North Tollway, for example, continuously north because they hope to drive development in the Sprawl (apologies to William Gibson). They're building out because there are people already out there and more are on their way. What people are trying to avoid with talk of induced demand, IMHO, is a real discussion about the pricing of land in the suburbs or close in rural areas relative to urban cores, not to mention the desirability of housing in those areas for certain consumers relative to what's available in the urban cores. I just think those issues are far bigger factors impacting sprawl than induced demand.

Chris is spot on about one thing... while we may disagree on the mechanisms to improve transportation in Austin, we do both agree that it's essential we come up with something.

Posted by mcblogger at April 13, 2009 07:35 AM

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1. Induced demand isn't a myth - it's real, and has been pretty conclusively proven. You're pigeon-holing it as purely "new road == new demand", when what really happens is more often "old crowded roads == deferred demand". IE, people now make more trips down Mopac from Round Rock than they did before when it was just FM 1325 - they delayed or simply didn't take some trips before. And to pretend that TXDOT doesn't build roads to open up new areas for development, especially frontage road strip mall sprawl, is kind of ridiculous.

2. 130 is no real alternative to I-35 given truckers' margins. The far smarter way to do this would be tolling I-35 and making SH-130 free for trucks (only trucks because otherwise you're basically paying people to move farther out - we do enough of that already).

3. A lot of the demand you see for suburban living is artifical due to the subsidized price. If you subsidize chicken sandwiches so they're $0.50 for the consumer while burgers are $5.00, don't you think more people would be buying chicken sandwiches than we see today?

Posted by: M1EK [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 13, 2009 04:23 PM

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