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Ways to Reduce Traffic Congestion and Greenhouse Emissions

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Remove car lanes, restrict vehicles and improve transit to reduce traffic congestion

by Fanny Tremblay-Racicot for The Conversation

During a trip to the United States, I was surprised to hear a transportation planner from a major American metropolis say that traffic congestion was not a problem because it was a sign of economic vitality.

Some even say that aspiring to less congestion is not desirable, as the road network is designed to absorb peak traffic during the morning rush hour. Not having congestion means there is more capacity within the network than demand.

Yet the environmental, social and economic costs associated with traffic congestion are real and affect the health, quality of life and wallet of all taxpayers and citizens on a daily basis.

The consequences of road congestion are generally measured in terms of additional travel time, and with the associated costs of additional vehicle use, such as fuel, depreciation and maintenance.

Costs of $4.2 billion in Montréal

Some studies also include greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and additional accidents caused by more time spent in traffic. Congestion also leads to other direct and indirect costs such as premature wear and tear on roads and impact on the health of people.

Montréal is the second most congested city in Canada, with a total of 145 hours lost per capita in peak rush hour traffic in 2018. It comes after Toronto, which ranks first among Canadian cities (167 hours lost). Québec City ranks ninth (85 hours lost).

Increase in greenhouse gas emissions

Road congestion also increases the air pollution produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, leading to an increase in respiratory problems, premature deaths and several types of cancer, especially for neighboring populations, which are often disadvantaged.

Gasoline and diesel vehicles also emit carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. In Canada, the entire transportation sector is the second largest source of greenhouse gases emissions, accounting for 28 per cent of total emissions.

In Québec, transportation accounted for 43 per cent of total greenhouse gases emissions in 2016, of which 80 per cent came from road transportation. These emissions increased by 52 per cent between 1990 and 2016.

Although greenhouse gas emissions from road congestion are not systematically inventoried, they are often used to justify new road projects. But why does congestion persist, despite government interventions to reduce it?

“Build it and they will come!”

The government response to congestion problems has generally been to build new roads or widen existing ones. However, this measure is ineffective because increasing capacity only increases vehicle use.

New routes generate additional demand equivalent to the new capacity. This natural near balance between supply and demand explains why roads reach pre-expansion congestion levels between five and 10 years after the construction of new routes.

What American economist Anthony Downs called “the fundamental law of highway congestion” in 1962 has since been confirmed by a large number of scientific studies.

The new traffic caused by the increase in road capacity, commonly referred to as “induced demand,” comes from four sources: increased commercial traffic, changing travel patterns, population migration and, to a lesser extent, diversion of traffic from other routes.

An increase in travel time

In the short term, new road segments reduce travel time and therefore costs, which encourages individuals and businesses to travel more, change departure times or itineraries, choose cars over public transit or move further away from where they work.

This increase in demand therefore compensates proportionally for the new road supply in the medium term, and at the same time for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that could have been associated with a reduction in congestion.

In addition, the road network may not be used to its optimal capacity because users make an individual decision about the fastest route for their travel, regardless of the choices of others. These decisions may not correspond to the social optimal. Thus, the addition of a road can increase the total travel time over the entire network (and vice versa), making it necessary to coordinate individual trips.

Adding roads does not improve the economy

Another argument often used to justify increasing road capacity is that of job creation and economic development. Although road infrastructure creates employment during its construction, most studies have not found a link between increased road capacity and economic activity. Indeed, it is rather a displacement of economic activity across the same metropolitan region that is observed.

For example, exporting companies will be located along the new road infrastructure, but this will not have a significant effect on the total value of their production.

Increasing public transit is not enough

Increasing public transit is often promoted as the main alternative to building additional lanes or new roads. However, in accordance with the fundamental law of congestion, the space freed up by the use of public transport is ultimately compensated for by the additional demand it creates. Thus, public transport is not enough to reduce congestion.

In fact, if the objective is to reduce car traffic, the only effective method on the supply management side is reduction in road capacity, because the law of road congestion also works in the opposite direction: what we refer to as “reduced demand.” In addition to reducing travel demand, lane removal and traffic restriction also have measurable and documented social, environmental and economic benefits.

Adding new modes of public transit will not solve congestion problems. (Shutterstock)

Ecofiscal measures

Other measures are used to manage transport demand. First, the imposition of eco-tax measures, such as the gas tax and the parking tax, can help reduce vehicle use.

A Québec study reveals that increasing the gas tax to $0.46/L in Québec and introducing a road use tax of $0.15/km in greater Montréal area would make it possible to reach a quarter of Québec’s target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, in addition to increasing the use of public transit by almost 40 per cent.

Eco-taxation also encourages motorists to use public and active modes of transport, provided that these choices are available to them.

Teleworking, flexible working hours, parking management and so-called smart growth policies also reduce travel distances and the need or willingness to travel by car. These measures have positive consequences on public health, urban quality of life, land values, local consumption, etc.

The most effective planning choices are not always the most popular. To get them accepted, decision-makers must act at the right time, use technical expertise, conduct pilot projects, find allies, compensate for inconveniences and work with the various levels of government.

This text is an abridged version of a text originally published in the journal Le Climatoscope.

Fanny Tremblay-Racicot is Professeure adjointe, administration municipale et régionale, École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP)

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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City

WeHo Hits Energy Commission Milestone for Local Efficiency Standards

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WEST HOLLYWOOD — The City of West Hollywood has been approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC) for local energy ordinances that exceed statewide requirements of the 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards.

The City was one of six jurisdictions recognized for ordinances that focus on building decarbonization — the strategic lowering of climate-changing emissions from buildings.

The City of West Hollywood’s Sustainable Roof Measures ordinance was added to the City’s Green Building Program effective January 1, 2020. New buildings and major modifications over 10,000 square feet are required to include either solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, or a vegetative roof, and certain large-scale buildings must install at least one of three high-achieving green building measures.

The City of West Hollywood joins the cities of Menlo Park, San Jose, San Mateo, Santa Monica, and the County of Marin in being recognized by the CEC. Since 1978, California has repeatedly updated statewide minimum building energy efficiency standards as required by state law. After each update, many local jurisdictions have taken advantage of unique authority that allows for the adoption of standards exceeding the state minimum.

Historically, such local ordinances have served as a bellwether for statewide standards, providing a place to test market readiness, drive innovation, and bring down the cost of efficient building technologies. 

Adoption of local standards has gained momentum. The introduction of CalGREEN — the state’s standards for green buildings — sparked the adoption and approval of two dozen local ordinances between 2010 and 2011.

This new wave of local standards with a focus on decarbonization is unprecedented in the state’s history, highlighting the ability and willingness of Californians to innovate and tackle global problems at a local level. 

The standards took effect January 1, 2020. Statewide standards focus on four key areas: smart residential photovoltaic systems, updated and cost-effective insulation standards, residential and nonresidential ventilation requirements to ensure healthy indoor air quality, and nonresidential lighting updates to take advantage of the rapid improvement in LED lighting technology.

In 2015, California lawmakers set a goal to achieve a statewide cumulative doubling of energy efficiency savings and demand reductions in electricity and natural gas end uses by January 1, 2030. The action plan findings show that improved financing options and availability, increased program participation, improved code compliance, and increased equipment turnover is necessary for California to meet its energy efficiency goals. 

The California Energy Commission is leading the state to a 100 percent clean energy future. It has seven core responsibilities: developing renewable energy, transforming transportation, increasing energy efficiency, investing in energy innovation, advancing state energy policy, certifying thermal power plants, and preparing for energy emergencies.

For additional information about the City of West Hollywood’s Green Building Program, please visit weho.org/city.

For more information, please contact Robyn Eason, the City of West Hollywood’s Senior Sustainability Planner, at (323) 848-6558 or reason@weho.org. For people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, please call TTY (323) 848-6496.

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Celebrity News

‘Black-ish’ Star Jenifer Lewis Rips Climate Change Deniers After Antarctica Trip

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'Black-ish' Star Jenifer Lewis Rips Climate Change Deniers After Antarctica Trip

Jenifer Lewis is begging climate change deniers to wake up and smell the smoke from Australia … and believe the scientific facts she observed with her own eyes.

The “Black-ish” star was on “TMZ Live” Tuesday to make a passionate plea to save the planet from the effects of man-made pollution. She told us her recent trip to Antarctica inspired her to start speaking out — and even write a song — about the devastation climate change is causing around the world.

She says she spent 2-and-a-half weeks on a ship off the Antarctic coast and saw massive glaciers melting away, Jenifer told us it not only terrified her but moved the captain of her ship to tears. Jenifer was already planning to sound the alarm when she got back to […]

Jenifer was already planning to sound the alarm when she got back to the U.S., and then the Australian wildfire news exploded around the world. She blames that tragedy on the “stupidity of humans.”

No doubt, President Trump and other world leaders gotta wake up, but Jenifer’s not holding her breath. If they don’t wake up, Jenifer has other solutions.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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AOC Says Climate Crisis Gives Her Anxiety About Having Children

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AOC Says Climate Crisis Causes Her Anxiety About Having Children

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says what’s happening in Australia shows the compounding effects of climate change … and it has young people — including her — stressed about their future … even giving them pause to have children of their own.

We got AOC on Capitol Hill Wednesday night and she touched on Australia’s “horrifying” wildfires, telling us, it’s just the latest example of climate change becoming an all-out crisis before our eyes.

The Congresswoman says we should all be working toward a remedy for the future, but obviously … it’s more important to younger people who will be living in this world longer. As she points out — the stakes are higher the younger you are.

AOC adds people her age are anxious about having children due to looming threat of climate change … and it shouldn’t be like that. She says we have to take immediate steps to make the future safe for our kids.

As for what she thinks President Trump should be doing to help … AOC has some bold ideas, but it doesn’t sound like she believes he’s up for it.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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