Urban Mobility and the Big Lie
The Texas Transportation Institute has released its 2005 Urban Mobility Study
. This is the study that numerically confirms that traffic is getting worse and that is used to justify new road building and new toll roads. There is just one problem, the numbers don't jive with the conventional wisdom as expressed by the TTI's Tim Lomax
: ''Austin didn't add transportation capacity in the '80s or '90s,'' and "The 'If you don't build it, they won't come' philosophy didn't work.''
First let's look at the numbers, then why Lomax's statement isn't supported by the numbers. Following are numbers from the 2005 Study for 2003 (the most recent year covered), 1992, and 1982 (the first year covered).
|Population||850,000 (+109%)||590,000 (+44%)||410,000|
|Area||445 sq miles (+48%)||375 sq miles (+25%)||300 sq miles|
|Density (people/sq mile)||1,921 (+41%)||1,573 (+15%)||1,367|
|Peak Travelers||459,000 (+162%)||276,000 (+58%)||175,000|
|Freeway VMT*||9.2 million (+207%)||6.1 million (+103%)||3 million|
|Lane Miles||740 (+147%)||510 (+70%)||300|
|Arterial Streets VMT||5.24 million (+218%)||3.39 million (+105%)||1.64 million|
|Roadway VMT||20.7 million (+192%)||12.6 million (+78%)||7.1 million|
|Centerline Miles||3,320 (+114%)||2,575 (+66%)||1,555|
|Annual Delay||23.2 million hours (+1189%)||5.4 million hours (+200%)||1.8 million hours|
| - Rank||28||42||37|
|Delay per Peak Traveler||51 hours (+364%)||20 hours (+82%)||11 hours|
| - Rank||13||33||25|
|Annual Delay Saved by Public Transit||2.95 million hours (+1080%)||1.02 million hours (+308%)||0.25 million hours|
|Hours per Peak Traveler||6 (500%)||4 (300%)||1|
* VMT = Vehicle Miles Traveled
These numbers clearly show that Austin did add capacity
in the 80s and 90s. Freeway lane miles went up 147%, arterial streets were up 103%, and roadways were increased 114%. The construction of freeway and roadway miles actually exceeded the population growth between 1982 and 2003 (109%). In addition, due to the bust during the 80s, Austin's congestion actually grew at a rate slower than the national average. Between 1982 and 1992, Austin's congestion ranking fell from 37 in 1982 to 43 in 1992 even though the annual delay increased by more than 200% during that time.
The problem is that people have been driving further at rates ahead of roadbuilding. The miles traveled between 1982 and 2003 increased 207% for freeways, 218% for arterial streets, and 192% for roadways. The increase in miles traveled exceeded the rate of construction by 60% for freeways, 115% for arterial streets, and 78% for roadways.
That is the big lie that Mr. Lomax and the road lobby are perpetuating. It isn't that Austin didn't build roads in line with population growth; it is that people increased their driving distances at rates ahead of road construction. In addition, for the first 15 years of the study period, the road lobby spent much of its efforts pushing for roads to the southwest, into the Barton Creek Watershed and over the acquifer and into areas where the citizens of Austin have objected to development for more than 25 years. Had the road lobby pushed for construction of SH 130 during the 80s or if the Transportation Commission had approved funding for construction of the I-35 & Ben White interchange when the City first requested, our mobility statistics and our congestion ranking would be better today.