Making Public Transit Better Is Still The Answer To Cutting Congestion

It's going to take a lot to get Jalops out of their cars. That's fine. But making driving a car in a city even more of a hassle than it is today, all for the sake of forcing people on to a bus or bike or a train, is cruel. It doesn't have to be that way, right?

OK, I gagged a little reading this headline from The Atlantic Cities: "American Cities Are Still Too Afraid to Make Driving Unappealing." That's unfortunate, because it's not the worst article I've read on the topic.

I live in Boston, where driving is definitely unappealing. There are actually few times where I've driven in the city limits. But the streets are still clogged with traffic and trying to find street parking in neighborhoods like Back Bay or South End during the day means taking a bus or the T is by far the better choice.

The trouble is, you're stuck in the same car traffic if you're on a bus. And if you're on the T, you'd better like walking because the ancient subway system doesn't cover many parts of the city. But hey, I'm from Southern California. I didn't grow up with subway systems.

It is California and the western U.S. that made it unglamorous to expand roads. Making five lanes in each direction is ugly and doesn't solve congestion issues. At rush hour, you just get off the freeway and hit the side streets. This is when the 12-mile drive from Santa Monica to West Hollywood turns into an hour-plus excursion.

This isn't the answer, as suggested by writer Emily Badger:

There are ways to do it. We could reduce parking availability or raise parking rates. We could implement congestion pricing. We could roll back subsidies for gas and highways and public parking garages. We could tie auto-insurance rates or infrastructure taxes to how much people actually drive.

These are really tired, old ideas. Ten years after the London Congestion Charge was imposed, the BBC found that while air quality has improved, travel times for commuters are unchanged. Nationally, there may be fewer cars entering cities every day, but there are also fewer parking spaces. And little has been done to actually improve the reliability and ease of public transit.

City planners and anti-car activists also need to remember one important point. Car culture and commuter culture aren't the same. There are some of us who use roads to get ourselves from point A to point B. And there are those of us who also use roads because we actually enjoy driving.

There's a good reason it's politically unpopular to make driving in cities more difficult. It's an outdated answer, that's why.

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