Cities’ sprawl comes with a price in transit costs, commute time

The annual study on the cost of traffic congestion gets its share of publicity. A new one on the cost of sprawl deserves just as much attention. The authors say that while the congestion studies suggest the solution is to build more highways, they wanted to look at the price of land-use patterns that force people to travel farther to get from home to work, shopping and other destinations.

So City Observatory, an online urban policy think tank, put together what it calls a “sprawl tax,” which includes transportation costs, plus the excess hours spent commuting. The first analysis estimates that commuters in the nation’s 50 largest metro areas pay a sprawl tax of more than $107 billion a year, nearly $1,400 for the average worker. That total rivals the $124 billion estimate for the cost of congestion – time and money lost stuck in traffic.

Source: Cities’ sprawl comes with a price in transit costs, commute time

This opinion piece goes on to suggest the shopworn Industrial Age remedies of locating housing closer to jobs in central metro areas and beefing up public transit. But both are unrealistic, retrograde solutions.

Housing market economics typically attach a price premium to downtown housing that makes it unaffordable for many. Second, employment is changing and is far less permanent than it used to be. People stay in a home longer than with a given employer. Third, public transit use is dropping, not surprisingly so since it tends to lengthen rather than shorten the duration of commute trips.

In the 21st century, information and communications technology (ICT) makes it quite possible for knowledge workers to live and work outside of metro centers, improving their quality of life and eliminating the urban sprawl issue.

Last rush hour may be drawing near as Southern California transit agencies report shrinking ridership

“I don’t know if this is long-term, but it doesn’t feel like it’s temporary when we’ve been dealing with 36 straight months of declining ridership,” said Darrell Johnson, chief executive of the Orange County Transportation Authority.The decline suggests that Southern California policymakers are falling short of one of their longtime goals: drawing drivers out of their cars and onto public transportation to reduce traffic congestion, greenhouse gases and the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Source: Southland transit agencies report shrinking ridership as investments continue to grow – LA Times

The last rush hour may be drawing near in a region infamous for some of the worst rush hour traffic in the United States. Once a region becomes so geographically large and heavily populated as Southern California (and other metro areas including Atlanta, Washington DC and the San Francisco Bay Area), the transportation system becomes saturated and can no longer move people efficiently within reasonable transit times.

Public transit cannot remedy that inefficiency once a tipping point of traffic congestion is reached, often taking longer to reach a destination than driving and reducing incentive to use it. Neither can adding more freeway lanes, which drives up automobile commuting and only buys time until congestion once again snarls traffic a decade or so later.

The good news is information and communications technology (ICT) has matured to the point that office workers no longer need to commute to an office distant from their communities — a pattern enabled by freeways. They can now work in their communities in home offices and co-working spaces. In that regard, ICT can succeed in achieving the long held goal of transportation and regional planners to reduce automobile use for daily commute trips as well as support environmental objectives such as reducing carbon emissions. ICT could already be a factor in reduced public transit ridership as office workers remain in their home communities at least part of the work week.