Thursday, February 24, 2011

PE Editorial Board Says Something Stupid

Really, that happens so often it shouldn't be news. When it's about transportation, however, I feel a duty to report it. The editorial in the paper yesterday calls on the federal government to lend Riverside County $400 million in order to further widen the already 13-lane-wide 91 freeway through the Yorba Linda canyon, up to I-15 in Corona. They say that this project is necessary because of the congestion that plagues this stretch of freeway- and don't be mistaken, traffic truly does suck there, all day long, every day. But, as we all know around here at RiR, widening freeways to reduce congestion is like loosening your belt to reduce obesity- it's just not going to happen.* What the 91 freeway corridor needs, and needs desperately, is transportation alternatives.

As it stands today, the Metrolink IE-OC and 91 lines, the OCTA 794 and the RTA 216 travel through the canyon. This sounds impressive, but it actually means very little in terms of congestion. Both Metrolink lines serve the area primarily during peak commute hours, and neither has impressive weekend service. (IE-OC has one train a day, and the 91 Line has none at all.) The 794 is similarly peak-commute oriented, and also makes no stops from Corona to Costa Mesa. The 216 runs 4-5 buses a day. This is simply not enough transit capacity to make a real dent in the 91 freeway. What we need to be doing to this corridor is not expanding the freeway, but expanding bus and rail service on and along it. No matter how many multi-billion-dollar construction projects we undertake, there will always be traffic on the 91 freeway. Latent demand along the corridor is such that, no matter how many lanes we add, drivers will be poised to fill them up. It would be a better use of our money and time to give drivers a choice- do they want to deal with soul-crushing traffic, or would they rather take transit?

Remember, by the way, that $400 million would be enough to DOUBLE RTA's annual budget for 10 years.

The fact that Riversiders generally, and the PE editorial board in particular, are ignorant of the vast body of research on the subject doesn't surprise me. However, I must wonder about the traffic engineers at RCTC.

*See:

Chen, Donald D.T. 1998. “If you build it, they will come: Why we can’t build ourselves out of congestion.” Surface Transportation Policy Project Progress 2(2):1–4.

Hansen, Mark and Yuanlin Huang. 1997. “Road supply and traffic in California urban areas.” Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 31(3):205 – 218.

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