August 24, 2021

The New Massey Tunnel: Jevon, Marchetti & Induced Demand

Something I have been discussing with Duke of Data Andy Yan, who is Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University-do transportation decisions at a Federal and Provincial level set the tone for planning policy at a regional level?


That’s also what Nathan Davidowicz posted on a Vancouver Politics social media group, noting that because the Federal government cost shares up to 40 percent of funding on large projects, that also influences planning policy. Approximately 180 billion dollars is available through Ottawa’s Infrastructure Fund.

I have previously written that a smaller crossing at the existing Massey Tunnel with a separate crossing of the Fraser River that aligned up for truck routes for Vancouver port bound traffic may have made more sense, but the cost makes one bigger tunnel at one location more feasible.

It is absolutely true that a new crossing of some type was needed in this location to service Deltaport truck traffic and the existing populations in Delta and Surrey along the corridor as the existing tunnel is at the end of its shelf life.

There’s another issue  ensuring that a faster dedicated transit lane and three travel lanes in each direction in a new tunnel does not feed consumer demand for more housing south of the Fraser River along the highway alignment.

Why? Because of “Induced Demand”.

As described by City Lab,  induced demand refers to the idea that increasing roadway capacity encourages people to drive, thus failing to improve congestion”. This is also called the Jevon’s paradox or effect, when technological progress (a tunnel in this case)  increases the efficiency of a resource (road capacity) and increases consumption (vehicles).

Create more lanes, you get more traffic flowing in and out of the suburbs.

This feeds into “Marchetti’s Constant”, which refers to the daily amount most people are prepared to travel to work. People generally are happy to commute 30 minutes each way. When people move house, they usually try to keep their travel time the same.  As travel times (like through a tunnel with a dedicated three vehicular lanes in each direction at any time of the day)  become predictable, constant, and quicker, commuters choose to live farther out, with the “constant” said to be about one hour in total travel time.

Locate more people along the Massey Tunnel corridor, people will live farther out along this highway access and travel to and from work through the Tunnel, creating congestion.

While some type of crossing is definitely needed here, the goals around sustainability for the region and how to make transit more accessible and appealing for single occupant vehicle drivers needs to be implemented. That is a reason for the new tunnel having less vehicular lanes, having dedicated bus lanes in the new tunnel, and also reviewing best practices for road and congestion pricing.

Public transit in this corridor needs to be quick, comfortable and reliable and be easy to use, with a faster trip compared to a single occupant automobile.

You can see an example of induced demand in the Port Mann bridge, which has over 150,000 daily crossings. In pre-pandemic days, the City of Surrey was growing by 1,000 people a month. The Port Mann bridge experienced a 62 percent bridge traffic increase in just five years.

That should not happen along the Massey Tunnel highway corridor, which is on  floodplain and is not targeted for increased growth in the regional plan.

This is where the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) may be better for the environment but is not solving the issue that owners of EVs may be driving  more than owners of internal combustion engine vehicles.

You simply cannot drive your way out of congestion.

While it is still up in the air how the government will pony up for funds for the new Massey crossing, you can be sure it will entail some type of road pricing, tax or congestion charge, and  hopefully more of those funds will be earmarked for efficient, comfortable and fast transit options.

Here’s a few minute excerpt from the hit Australian program “Utopia”, a comedy based upon the inner workings of the “National Building Authority” in charge of Australia’s major infrastructure projects.

Their comedic take on how induced demand works is perhaps a better illustration of what can go wrong.


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  1. 100% agree with you, Sandy. When we add the prospect of post-covid transit hesitancy, “revenge travel” from cooped-up demand, and increased chauffeuring of students to the induced demand and the 10-15% extra driving by EV owners that you cited, the situation looks bleak.
    Two hopeful signs:
    1. MetroVancouver’s new Clean Air report advocates for the Province to implement a “trip-reduction program” for all large employers and major trip generators. (This fits well into CleanBC’s pledge of action on congestion and commuting.) A mandatory TRP would cut SOV driving by over 10% across the Lower Mainland within a few years (while also improving on affordability, air quality, CO2 emissions, productivity, mental & physical health, etc.).
    2. ICBC is evaluating Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) insurance, which would be revenue-neutral to ICBC, and has been shown to reduce kilometres travelled by those who select this option by 10 – 15%. This could counteract the tendency for new EV owners to increase the number and length of their trips.
    Thanks again, Sandy, for your coverage of these issues!

  2. This project is indicative of why our civilization will not survive the climate crisis. We are too entitled and anyone who even speaks of acting responsibly is punished. We just keep building more roads because it’s the only thing that shuts people up. We are so screwed.

    1. We keep emitting carbon because we are trapped in an oil based economy. Most of us are not capable of living off grid and outside of the city. We are dependent on a monster of our own making. We are prone to talk about everything other than the climate crisis we are facing. Litton burned to the ground, over 800 British Columbians died this year during a three-day heat dome event, the interior is plagued with wildfires. No matter, pour another trillion cubic meters of concrete for transportation and high-rise high cost living. There are consequences to this behavior. We can see them to the south in the Colorado River basin where over twenty million people are about to lose their water supply, electrical generation, manufacturing capacity, agricultural irrigation, potable water, functional economy. Not good. Why? Extreme and long lasting heat events year after year caused by carbon emissions.
      Should we build a tunnel under a river on a floodplain during a time of rising sea levels?
      I had hoped for some leadership on these issues from the professional experts on building cities. They are woefully absent on the subject, they need to speak with the climate scientists, they need to figure out how we should build cities because right now cities are the principle cause not the solution to climate change.

      1. Leadership only knows it will be out of a job if it acts (or in this case, refrains from acting by not rebuilding anything). Talking with scientists isn’t going to change that. But you’re not wrong. The longer our most pressing societal challenge remains “fighting congestion” and not forestalling or mitigating the effects of a warming planet, the harder the future is going to hurt.

        1. Speaking of city making, the builders, architects, planners, engineers, social scientists are through our cultural evolution the ones who inherit building the city. Think of this as the ‘Amalgamated City Building Guild’. It is employed by ‘Profits’ and its many, many strings attached. This is the development model in the democratic countries.
          When we consider the global climate crisis from the local perspective we see that there is no place in the development equation for the climate scientist. Because we are in a new situation environmentally, we need new ways of moving forward particularly when it comes to major projects which we all know will generate carbon emissions for generations to come. It seems obvious that we need the climate scientist at the head of the table and not a footnote in a consultants’ report. Where might this new head of the table lead us as we seek ways of living that do not produce carbon emissions. This is new territory for us humans, it demands new thinking and new design responses. These will not be binary choices of competing failures, but rather new discoveries of the order if this then that……..and so on and so on. Very exciting future coming.

  3. Great article Sandra! One point I would make is that in terms of employer commuting, although Marchetti’s Constant is fascinating and has very much lived up to its name throughout human history! I do think that with remote work, what we’re seeing is perhaps the most significant technological transition in the workplace we’ve seen for some time. In BC 7% of people remote working became over 30% in a manner of days and weeks. At least for white collar workers, the power has very much flipped in favour of the employee. Employers now need to justify from an economic standpoint asking their employees to come back into the office on a semi-regular or FT basis. There are myriad reasons remote work didn’t accelerate faster pre-COVID, many of them perceived problems (lack of supervision, costs, productivity, legal issues/unions etc). In practice, many of these issues have been figured out on the fly with new policies and the realization that adults who go through job application processes can supervise themselves and be even more productive in many cases. Not to mention it just won’t fly with many employees from a work-life balance and productivity point of view now. I would expect the morning peaks to shift quite a bit, particularly on Monday and Friday (three day weekend) and what we’re seeing is many white collar employers making 1-3-day in office arrangements, and recruitment firms are already including this type of ‘perk’ in their job postings. This won’t ‘fix’ the congestion problem by any means but I think it there will be a significant and long-term change. Could an ancient willingness to commute be cut from 30 to 15 minutes? Lastly, the Province, TL and MV are looking at implementing an employer trip reduction strategy like Seattle, Santa Monica etc.

    1. Thank you, James, for those great observations. I hope all planners and decision-makers can keep in mind that much of the workforce cannot work from home because their presence on site is required. Think of schools and hospitals- most staff must show up in person. How does a hospital laundry worker work from home, right? How does an ER nurse? A custodian? So a trip reduction program must not be narrowly focussed on white-collar office workers.
      For example, if we want to improve affordability and equity as well as reduce GHGs and congestion, the TRP needs to encompass employers in the 5 Cs occupations that are predominantly filled by women and disadvantaged groups (the 5 Cs are caring, clerical/admin, cashiering, cleaning and catering/cooking). The Seattle and California TRPs missed the opportunity to help a broad swath of the workforce. We can do better in BC, starting fresh and not feeling limited by what Washington State set up in the last century. Much research and development has already been done on a proposed BC TRP, preparing for the political will to be consolidated.

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