July 29, 2014

Another ‘Most Congested Cities’ List – and its critics

Clive Rock passes along this piece from The Guardian:The 100 most congested cities in Europe and North America.”

The Inrix traffic-data company has raided its archives to calculate the most congested cities in Europe and North America, as well as the total number of hours wasted in traffic.

Guess where Vancouver is?

We’re number 40!  After Toronto and Seattle even.

But like the Tom-Tom list (which says we’re No. 1 in congestion in Canada), there are problems with these kinds of surveys.

Notes Tamim Raad at TransLink:

This is better than the TomTom one, but still suffers the same fundamental methodological problem – using each city’s ratio of most congested to least congested condition within the city to compare to other cities.

Each system is different, and travel speed doesn’t matter; travel time per trip (which reflects distance) does.  Why should I care if travel time in Vancouver is 50% slower in Vancouver than Miami if I have to spend 300% more time making an trip because everything is further away?

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His colleague Maria Su adds:

Another really interesting perspective to consider is that in a freeway-heavy city, traffic speed reductions are likely due to congestion or incidents.

However, in an urbanized setting or a city like Vancouver with its city streets, traffic signals, and pedestrian crosswalks, etc., traffic slows down simply to allow for the variety of flows in different modes to occur (e.g. so a mother could push a stroller across the street at an intersection to get to the store on the other side)  and not because there is congestion per se, and yet indexes like these would attribute everything to congestion!

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And my colleague Anthony Perl observes:

The meaning of congestion carries exactly the reverse connotations and expectations in the marketplace as it does in the domain of road socialism.

If we observe a crowded restaurant, pub, nightclub or even a store, we consider it a great success.  People expect to queue to get into such establishments at busy times, or perhaps queue when inside them (e.g., Costco).

When it comes to road socialism, we define queuing as failure.  What if a restaurant or club’s ‘level of service’ objective required them to keep expanding until there was never any queuing at peak periods?  How long would they stay in business?  But in road socialism, we’ve come to expect that we keep over-investing in transport infrastructure until it bankrupts our treasuries, and our ecosystem.

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Comments

  1. Re Anthony Pearl’s comment, using his analogy, Mexico City has very successful transportation. Measures of success for a restaurant vs a transportation system are in no way related nor should a successful transportation system come at the cost of bankrupting our resources or destroying our ecosystems. That is the type of system we have now and it’s not working.

  2. “Road Socialism”… that’s good. I’m going to use that. That has a strong PR bite.

    That forces the Rob-Ford, anti-tax suburbs to face the reality of their lifestyle: dependent on government handouts.