The Texas Transportation Institute just released its annual study on National Traffic Congestion – and surprise! congestion is on the rise across the country, and especially here in Miami. Miami ranked 7th in the top 15 cities for longest travel delay and congestion cost (under cities like Chicago and New York).
Important to note in the rankings is the definition of congestion cost, calculated as,
Value of travel delay for 2009 (estimated at $16.01 per hour of person travel and $105.67 per hour of truck time) and excess fuel consumption (estimated using state average cost per gallon).
- highest transit usage occurred in 2008, but 2009 transit ridership remains historically high (due to the bus service expansion following the PTP)
-Congestion cost in Miami-Dade County $3.2 billion dollars in 2009 – at an average cost of $892/car.
Unfortunately, the calculations tend to fall apart when comparing Public Transportation numbers and the benefits derived from continued service. According to the data, public transportation accounts for a reduction of $217 million in congestion costs. The problem with this number is that it’s derived from calculating transit trips and their value. The report compares vehicle miles traveled for cars and places these on equal footing with unlinked public transit trips - a calculation that ignores the benefits of compact urbanism (ie. downtown). One public transit trip equals more than one car trip because the areas around transit nodes contain more density and intensity of activity that one need not take multiple trips for different activities.
In spite of this misleadingly low number, we can still see that congestion has a hidden cost on our economy that we pay for indirectly and that our limited transit network (here in Miami) provides a tangible benefit in reducing these costs. This should be signal to our elected officials that transit has an economic value, and pulls its weight, in spite of the fact that farebox revenues do not pay for the operation of the system. We end up paying for the lack of transit in other ways – car maintenance/insurance/gas, tolls, environmental and social costs, not to mention lost productivity.
The report did have one shining jewel of advice when considering how these numbers should be used by officials in considering transportation projects and their impact on congestion:
Consider the scope of improvement options. Any improvement project in a corridor within most of the regions will only have a modest effect on the regional congestion level. (To have an effect on areawide congestion, there must be significant change in the system or service).
Well said. Transportation planners in Miami-DadeCounty have to stop thinking about ‘congestion’ as a problem that can be fixed with operational gimmicks and highway expansion. Congestion is going to exist with or without projects like MDX’s South Dade lexus lanes. What we need to do is provide people with an expanded array of transportation options that will give them an alternative to congestion. Projects that try to ‘ease’ congestion will only serve to benefit a small number of users, as in the case of the US1 managed lanes; wealthy residents of South Dade will benefit, but the rest of the working class and poor residents of South Dade will continue to use the service that remains on the Busway, or have no other choice than to sit in congestion and wait. Doesn’t sound like an equitable or efficient use of the public righ-of-way to me.
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