Urban Congestion Impacts and Improvements

The US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released their annual Urban Congestion Trends for 2010, which shows an increase in congestion and traffic levels overall within US urban cities. Twenty cities are measured annually and the latest report shows an 18 minute increase in daily delays from 4:20 to 4:38. Congestion levels have been steadily increasing since 2008 when levels dropped due to the downturn in the economy. However, they haven’t reached the levels previously seen prior to the recession in 2007.

According to the report, congestion levels increased in all of the urban cities measured. This has a profound effect on cities, from increased air pollution and carbon dioxide levels, additional wear on vehicles and roads as well as social/psychological impacts such as increased anxiety, stress and road rage.

The Victoria Transport Policy Institute states that traffic congestion is one of the leading transportation issues for urban cities.  The estimated costs of congestion within the US are upwards of $100 billion annually, with comparable costs in other countries.

 

Countermeasures for Increased Congestion and Traffic

Infrastructure updates can greatly improve congestion such as constructing bridges, tunnels and express lanes, which will reduce the frequency of traffic stopping at intersections. Changing hard shoulders into additional lanes, HOV or bus lanes provides extra capacity and dedicated lanes to public transit and carpooling provides incentives for utilizing other modes of transportation.

Implementing an effective public transit system and infrastructure that efficiently incorporates alternative modes of transportation is crucial for decreasing congestion in larger urban cities. According to the American Public Transportation Association, public transportation systems have increased more than sevenfold in the last 30 years, from 1,044 in 1980 to 7,700 in 2009, which has increased economic activity. It is estimated that every dollar invested in public transportation, four dollars are generated in economic returns.

A number of urban cities have started to introduce monetary penalties such as road and congestion pricing. Parking restrictions and permits for road access are also strategies that can be implemented to reduce traffic in urban areas.

 

Improving Congestion in Practice

In 2000, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) identified that extensive construction was the largest reason for congestions within the state. They reviewed whether the increased work zones would cause more crashes. ODOT developed an extensive “Maintenance of Traffic” policy for construction traffic management and adopted effective policies such as limiting the number of lane closures during peak periods. As a result of these efforts, ODOT found that increased spending on construction lead to a downward trend in work zone crashes and relieved congestion.

These are the results that ODOT was able to achieve – a vast reduction in construction work zone crashes after implementing their “Maintenance of Traffic” policies.

London, England implemented congestion charges in order to decrease congestion in 2003. Other major cities have also implemented this such as Beijing, Singapore, Rome, Stockholm and Milan. It is additional revenue for the city and can be reinvested in infrastructure projects.

 

Understanding the Current Congestion

In order to properly solve (or attempt to solve) congestion issues within the city, traffic engineers need to understand the current capacity and traffic flow within a designated, high-traffic area. Various traffic studies, such as turning movement counts, average daily traffic, travel time studies, and other traffic data provided by Miovision, can be used to undertake traffic management projects that tackle congestion issues.

FHWA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Transportation Research Board, state DOTs, and Metropolitan Planning Organizations have all been involved in moving towards adapting a ‘Performance Management’ approach to selecting and funding projects. The FHWA has been using travel time when looking at the issues of reducing congestion and improving system reliability. Of course, these projects are not possible without accurate and reliable traffic study data. Using Miovision’s solutions provides high level of accuracy as well as a versatile and easy to deploy process for traffic data collection.