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May 6, 2020  

COVID-19 Is Teaching Us How to Fix Our Traffic Problem. Are We Listening?

May 6, 2020

We’ll let you in on a secret: most highway investments are not primarily about moving vehicles more effectively. If that was the main goal we would spend a lot less money on expanding capacity and start pursuing smart strategies to manage demand.

The thing is, traffic engineers already know this. We have data going back decades. But what’s happened with COVID-19 is that we’re now seeing it play out in real-time, in city after city, as traffic flows shift.

City Observatory’s Joe Cortright has written a provocative article on just this topic. Looking at traffic patterns on I-5 in Portland, Oregon, Joe concludes that, if we’re willing to learn, the experiment foisted upon us can teach us how to fight congestion and get a more efficient transportation system—even after the worst is over.

On today’s episode of Upzoned we look closer at Joe’s article, with host Abby Kinney—an urban planner in Kansas City—and regular co-host Chuck Marohn, the founder and president of Strong Towns. Abby and Chuck discuss two tools mentioned in the article (ramp meters and congestion pricing), both their promise and potential unintended consequences. They discuss what’s really behind most highway investments. And they talk about how to replace demand for long-range trips with demand for short-range trips.

Then in the Downzoned, Chuck recommends a book by Jane Jacobs that feels especially perceptive during the coronavirus crisis. And Abby recommends The Color of Law and says the history of de jure segregation needs to be more widely taught.

Additional Show Notes