Adding more lanes to relieve traffic congestion = a zero sum game

The best thing we can do to solve our traffic problem is to do nothing.

Seriously, while “doing nothing” is clearly not an option, studies have shown that adding more and more lanes simply adds more and more capacity and encourages more and more cars.

Expanding highway infrastructure on our main thoroughfares is a zero-sum game we will never win.  The principle is called “induced demand.”

This conclusion is one that is obviously counter-intuitive, and politically unpopular.  People reading this column have by now already stopped and many are screaming at the idiocy of the suggestion, even as they swear and condemn the traffic in Kapaa and increasingly on the west-side as well.

However, any basic internet search of “transportation planning #101” will repeatedly lead you to this end.

The Brookings Institute says: “Living with congestion. This is the sole viable option. The only feasible way to accommodate excess demand for roads during peak periods is to have people wait in line.”

Brookings goes on to state: “Experience shows that…, peak-hour congestion cannot be eliminated for long on a congested road by expanding that road’s capacity.”

USA Street Blog says: “Numerous studies have documented the phenomenon known as induced demand in transportation: Basically, if you build highway lanes, more drivers will come.”

This is not to say that we should not build new roads.   Yes, we need new roads but simply adding new lanes to existing roads will not get us out of the constant gridlock.  We must continue to improve side street and back road circulation patterns, offering drivers options that avoid the congested areas.  And yes, most certainly we must improve the repair and maintenance of existing roadways.

Given our small population, the huge cost of building new highways, the limited state budget and the sensitive nature of conservation lands that must be crossed for major interior by-pass roads, these types of projects are non-starters.

But the studies, the research and the facts are clear – adding more lanes will not alleviate the traffic.  What will alleviate the traffic are the choice people make to not drive during certain periods, to use public transportation and to live and work within the same general geographic vicinity.

We should think of traffic as a planning opportunity, rather than a planning nightmare.  This is the time, when Kauai County is reviewing its General Plan intended to guide its growth over the next 20 years when the principle of focusing growth on the redevelopment of existing urban centers should be the focus.  Infill re-development, increased density and the reduction of urban sprawl must be the driving force guiding the plans need to provide increased housing, commercial and industrial development.

While our towns will inevitably grow outward, the focus must be on redevelopment of existing urban areas.  Spot zoning outside of our towns and the sprawl that results must be avoided like the plague.

Though adding more lanes has been proven to not alleviate traffic in the long term, the State Department of Transportation (SDOT) will continue to follow this path in the foreseeable future.

The good news/bad news for Kapaa is that within the coming 24 months the SDOT (at a cost of approximately $25 million dollars) will be adding a fourth lane extending from the existing Wailua bridge, running northward in front of the Coco Palms Hotel until it meets with the current Kapaa by-pass which connects with Olohena Road.

Most predict the fourth lane will greatly alleviate traffic in this particular bottle neck, but that relief will last for no more than 5 years when the “induced demand” then catches up.  Also predictable, is that the path of least resistance for the SDOT is continuing incremental construction of that fourth lane, in both directions so that generations to come will be able to sit in 4 lanes of traffic all the way from Kealia to Hanamaulu, instead of the existing 2 that grandma and grandpa enjoy today.

Yes, it is crazy. And yes, we can do something about it.  Comprehensive multi-modal transportation planning, expanding the Kauai Bus service, focusing the development of new affordable housing projects within or adjacent to existing urban areas and saying NO to increased sprawl must be mandates within the Kauai General Plan.

NOTE: First published on October 18th, 2017 in The Garden Island newspaper weekly column “Hooser – Policy and Politics”

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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1 Response to Adding more lanes to relieve traffic congestion = a zero sum game

  1. Thank you for going that extra mile, doing research and offering solutions. Kauai so needs people like you!

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