Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Asking the Right I-380 Question

Asking the Right Questions About Interstate 380 Expansion

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, December 1, 2019, p. D3
[The Gazette (online), November 26, 2019]
also as:
"Asking the Right I-380 Question,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 4, 2019, p. A7

Asking the right question is the first step to finding the right answer.

Asking how many lanes should be added to The Corridor's corridor, I-380, may not be the right question.

“Slow elevator” complaints caused a hotel manager to call in engineers. Complaints continued. Someone suggested, “Your problem is not elevators, it’s complaints.” So perceived, the solution was full-length mirrors by each elevator. Guests’ who admired themselves while waiting no longer complained.

As I wrote in "How to Totally Eliminate Flood Damage," the question is not how to have less water in the river, it’s how to have fewer structures in the flood plain.

The Iowa DOT's December 2018 I-380 Planning Study compares favorably with similar studies elsewhere. Unfortunately, most of them recommend what board consultant John Carver describes as "doing the wrong things better."

The Study mentions CRANDIC. Most nations use passenger rail. That iron horse left Iowa’s barn a century ago when we had 10,500 rail miles. The auto industry campaigned to replace tracks with auto dealerships. Now U.S. highways and parking lots cover an area roughly the size of Iowa, and Americans pay from $7,000 to $10,000 a year to drive cars. China has 2,800 pairs of trains travelling 200 mph between 550 cities. We have CRANDIC. [Photo of G7232 Bullet Train leaving Zhenjiang Station, credit: Wikimedia]

Even if this was a “congestion” problem, most studies find additional lanes increase congestion. Economists call it "induced demand." What did Houston get for its $2.8 billion expansion of the Katy Freeway to 26 lanes? Increased travel times of 55 percent. [Photo credit: Wikimedia, Michael Coghlan]

Sometimes removing freeway lanes is both cheaper and more effective than adding them. San Francisco cut lanes and daily 100,000-passenger freeway traffic in half and created one of its better neighborhoods in its place.

But the I-380 question should not be, “what’s the best way to make room for more cars?” It’s “what are the alternatives to requiring a population the size of a large Iowa community to relocate daily, like unwelcome immigrants, up and down I-380?”

There are many possibilities. Some have been tried. Most require good will among governments, businesses, and employees.

Educate the public to the full cost, in dollars and time, of commuting by car; the months they must work just to pay for getting to work.

Parents buy homes close enough to schools their kids can walk. Imagine the savings if the homes were close enough to work those parents could walk.

Employers could be encouraged to pay workers enough to afford neighborhood housing at 30 percent of their income, or work with governments and landlords to subsidize workers’ rents.

Plans for new businesses and factories could include plans for employee housing.

Current businesses could create regional or coworking centers closer to employees’ homes.

Rethink “employment.” Instead of buying an employee’s time in place, employers could buy their productivity from anyplace.

Employers could rethink communications. What’s the most efficient mix of one-on-one face-to-face, group face-to-face, group phone or video meetings; reaching customers with personal meetings, phone calls, personal emails and texts, newsletters? Did everyone have to be at that last meeting?

Must employees be in “the office” every day to do their work? Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in the world, used telegraph messages to manage Carnegie Steel from China and elsewhere. Today, 100 years later, 50 percent of our workforce hold jobs compatible with what we now call telecommuting.

We can’t solve I-380 congestion with the hotel manager’s mirrors. Nor are more lanes the answer. The answer will be found in creatively redrafting the question.

Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City promoted containerized shipping as U.S. Maritime Administrator in 1964, and is the author of Columns of Democracy. Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org.

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Sources for Column

(in order in column)
Hotel elevators. https://marc-lemenestrel.net/IMG/pdf/dery1.pdf, pp. 16-17

How to Totally Eliminate Flood Damage, May 30, 2013. https://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2013/05/how-to-totally-eliminate-flood-damage.htmlj

Iowa DOT's 2018 Planning Study. https://iowadot.gov/i380planningstudy/pdfs/I-380-PEL-Final-Report%20.pdf

Carver; "wrong things better." Carver, "Remaking Governance," ASBJ, March 2000, p. 26, http://nicholasjohnson.org/writing-2/asbjcarv.html ("Much of what is published for boards -- including advice appearing regularly in these pages -- reinforces errors of the past or, at best, teaches trustees how to do the wrong things better.")

Iowa's 10,500 rail miles. Iowa DOT, Rail Transportation, Iowa Rail History. https://iowadot.gov/iowarail/Historical-Culture/Iowa-Rail-History

Auto dealerships for tracks. "History of rail transportation in California," Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_rail_transportation_in_California ('The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge opened to rail traffic in 1939 only to have the last trains run in 1958 after fewer than twenty years of service – the tracks were torn up and replaced with additional lanes for automobiles. All four streetcar systems, and other similar rail networks across the state, declined in the 1940s with the rise of California's car culture and freeway network. They were then all eventually taken over to some degree, and dismantled, in favor of bus service by National City Lines, a controversial national front company owned by General Motors and other companies in what became known as the General Motors streetcar conspiracy.")

Land covered by highways and parking lots; Iowa in square miles. "Paving the Planet: Cars and Crops Competing for Land," Earth Policy Institute, ("However we visualize it, the U.S. area devoted to roads and parking lots covers an estimated 16 million hectares (61,000 square miles), an expanse approaching the size of the 21 million hectares that U.S. farmers planted in wheat last year.") Area of Iowa. 56,272 square miles. "Iowa Population 2019 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs), World Population Review, http://worldpopulationreview.com/states/iowa-population/ Accord, Iowa DOT, Demographics, https://iowadot.gov/about/Demographics

$7,000 to $10,000 annually to operate car. AAA NewsRoom, "Your Driving Costs," https://newsroom.aaa.com/auto/your-driving-costs/ Discussion includes chart with 8 categories of vehicle from "small sedan" ($7,114) to "Pickup" ($10,839). See also "average" in "The Cost of Owning Your Car? $9,000 a year," USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/16/aaa-car-ownership-costs/2070397/

China's 2,800 pairs of trains; 217 mph; 550 cities. Travel China Guide, "China High Speed Train (Bullet Train). https://www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains/high-speed/

CRANDIC. "Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway," Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedar_Rapids_and_Iowa_City_Railway

Additional lanes increase congestion. "Induced Demand," Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand. ("after supply increases, more of a good is consumed. ... [T]his idea ["induced demand"] has become important in the debate over the expansion of transportation systems, and is often used as an argument against increasing roadway traffic capacity as a cure for congestion. ... City planner Jeff Speck has called induced demand 'the great intellectual black hole in city planning, the one professional certainty that everyone thoughtful seems to acknowledge, yet almost no one is willing to act upon.'")

Houston Katy Freeway; 55% increased travel time, $2.8 billion. CityLab, "City Lab University: Induced Demand," https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/09/citylab-university-induced-demand/569455/ ("cost of $2.8 billion. ... [A]fter the freeway was widened, congestion got worse. ... [T]ravel times increased by ... 55 percent during the evening commute."

San Francisco removal of lanes. "What's Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse," WIRED, June 17, 2014, https://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand/ ("San Francisco removed a highway section, called the Central Freeway, that carried nearly 100,000 cars per day in 1989. The boulevard that replaced it now only carries around 45,000 daily cars and yet they move.") "Six Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever," GIZMODO, May 25, 2016, https://gizmodo.com/6-freeway-removals-that-changed-their-cities-forever-1548314937 ("It seems counterintuitive, right? Rip out eight lanes of freeway through the middle of your metropolis and you’ll be rewarded with not only less traffic, but safer, more efficient cities? But it’s true, and it’s happening in places all over the world. . . . Okay, you’re thinking, but where do all the cars go? It turns out that when you take out a high-occupancy freeway it doesn’t turn the surface streets into the equivalent of the Autobahn. A theory called “induced demand” proves that if you make streets bigger, more people will use them. When you make them smaller, drivers discover and use other routes, and traffic turns out to be about the same. Don’t believe it? Check out these freeway removals in cities all over the world and see for yourself.")

I-380 commuters, over 4,000 each way twice a day, if a city would be in the top 100 of Iowa’s 947 cities (roughly top 10%); https://www.iowa-demographics.com/cities_by_population, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_in_Iowa

30% of income for housing. HUD, “Affordable Housing,” https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/comm_planning/affordablehousing/ (“Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.”)

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Tags: AndrewCarnegie, bulletTrains, CedarRapids, commutingCosts, congestion, coworkingCenters, CRANDIC, employeeHousing, I380, IowaCity, IowaDOT, JohnCarver, MaritimeAdministration, questions, slowElevators, telecommuting, traffic
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