Saturday, January 9, 2016

LR City Board to consider urging highway department to broaden I-30 options

Posted By on Sat, Jan 9, 2016 at 7:01 AM

SOLVING CONGESTION: Behold a Los Angeles freeway after completion of a widening project. - LA NOW
  • LA NOW
  • SOLVING CONGESTION: Behold a Los Angeles freeway after completion of a widening project.

A resolution has been filed for consideration by the Little Rock Board of Directors to to urge the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to consider more options for the Interstate 30 project through downtown Little Rock.

The Arkansas Highway Department has sent signals through its own officials and commissioners that its abiding preference is for replacement of the existing Arkansas River bridge and a 10-lane corridor through Little Rock and North Little Rock between the interchanges with I-40 on the north and I-30 on the south.

The plan would further damage Little Rock neighborhoods segregated by freeways, create additional traffic demand and all but dictate still further widening and neighborhood destruction by feeder routes such as Interstate 630. None of this troubles the Highway Department nor, apparently, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which seems to hold more interest in moving commuters to and from Little Rock to suburban cities, no matter the cost to people who live here. The chamber has pre-emotively declared good the 10-lane Berlin Wall of concrete the desired solution.

The resolution notes the ill effects of favoring one mode of travel over another, of increasing new congestion, of the example of other cities that have replaced urban freeways with parkways and parks and the long-term impact of this project.

The resolution sponsored by Directors Kathy Webb and Ken Richardson, asks the Highway Department to consider Metroplan's Imagine Central Arkansas Plan, to consider capital expenditures on mass transit, to consider options used in other cities.

The analyses mentioned above should consider impacts on economic competitiveness, air quality, health, reducing the Central Arkansas economy’s nearly exclusive reliance on cars, mobility for people who do not drive cars, the benefits of more people having the choice to replace car trips with other modes of travel, the development potential resulting from reducing the area of the right-of-way and reducing the amount of land currently devoted to car storage, the potential for improved safety resulting from slower benefits accruing to businesses as a result of the work force having greater choice in travel mode when commuting.

Director Kathy Webb's previous effort to get City Board support for broader study was tabled after Director Lance Hines and others deep in the pocket of the chamber of commerce raised objections. That was as good an indication as any that the establishment — the chamber and the highway department — are fixed in their plans and have no interesting in hearing from creative urban dwellers with ideas to depart from a half-century of manifest freeway destiny.

Perhaps, at least for window dressing, the chamber will allow passage of this resolution. Then, after very careful consideration, the Arkansas Freeway Department will say, "Gee, we were right all along."

If the City Board DOES approve this resolution, I suggest they attach when forwarding it to highway officials a copy of this fine article from Vox on the utter insanity of never-ending freeway expansion projects.

For people who are constantly stuck in traffic jams during their commutes, there seems to be an obvious solution: just widen the roads.

This makes intuitive sense. Building new lanes (or new highways entirely) adds capacity to road systems. And traffic, at its root, is a volume problem — there are too many cars trying to use not enough road.

But there's a fundamental problem with this idea. Decades of traffic data across the United States shows that adding new road capacity doesn't actually improve congestion. The latest example of this is the widening of Los Angeles' I-405 freeway, which was completed last May after five years of construction and a cost of over $1 billion. "The data shows that traffic is moving slightly slower now on 405 than before the widening," says Matthew Turner, a Brown University economist.

RelatedHighways gutted American cities. So why did they build them?
The main reason, Turner has found, is simple — adding road capacity spurs people to drive more miles, either by taking more trips by car or taking longer trips than they otherwise would have. He and University of Pennsylvania economist Gilles Duranton call this the "fundamental rule" of road congestion: adding road capacity just increases the total number of miles traveled by all vehicles.

Should you happen to plow into this thoughtful article, which includes some ideas about alternative means of taxing road use, be sure to take a look this provocative link that explains why free parking is a bad idea. Don't tell this to state officials. For decades, they've followed a pattern of building ever wider freeways to Highway Director Scott Bennett's home turf in Saline County, as well as Faulkner, White, Lonoke and Grant, and also working to be sure that every state employee who commutes from those distant places to dangerous Little Rock is provided a free parking place close to their door and perhaps even elevated walkways that prevent the need to touch foot to the soil of this dangerous city. Free parking isn't free. Taxpayers pay for it. It encourages driving. It is enjoyed by a relative handful while many others pay. The free-parking produces acres of land that could be taken up by tax-paying businesses. It's bad for cities, in other words. It stimulates car-based development that hurts the poor. The article includes some ideas on parking pricing and other strategies being applied in some more progressive places.

But don't tell any of this to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce or the Highway Department. They know what's best. For Conway, Benton, Bryant and Cabot, if not necessarily for the city of Little Rock, that is.

Sadly, the people in charge of the city seem just as short-sighted. Just last week, city officials said they couldn't see how a wider river of concrete could hold any peril for MacArthur Park and the museums there, including the Arkansas Arts Center, tapped for a $37 million taxpayer-financed improvement if voters approve. They are wrong and the existing freeways prove it. Making them wider won't make them better for neighbors.

The resolution is on the agenda meeting schedule Tuesday. That means, if not again tabled (and it is a "consent agenda" item) it could be called up for consideration a week later.

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