Less roads reduces congestion

Building more roads to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.

It is a 60-year-old phrase that is still the oft-spoken mantra of transport strategies in Vancouver - the city often voted as the world's most liveable.

With overwhelming international experience suggesting that building bigger and wider roads actually makes traffic worse, Vancouver has decided to "use" congestion to its advantage.

Former Vancouver city councillor Gordon Price made worldwide headlines when he suggested congestion could be a city's friend. He is convinced that congestion can be managed to achieve benefits for a community.

"On one hand, congestion encourages more people to consider other forms of transport - like walking or bike riding or public transport," Mr Price said. "But it can also help authorities to manage the transport system.

"Well co-ordinated traffic lights can act as meters, allowing a certain number of vehicles through at any one time. If done effectively, it means the traffic continues to flow.

"And as the traffic is moving, albeit slowly, it makes it less attractive for motorists to dart off into side streets looking for a quicker route - the concept known as rat runs." Mr Price, who now works at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University, said building more roads to solve congestion was a legacy of engineers who had been dictating urban design and transport networks in many cities for many decades.

It was easy for politicians to accept their advice because, on the whole, building new roads was a safe, reliable and politically savvy approach to transport issues.

"But in many cities around the world, including Vancouver, city leaders have begun to realise that this can't go on any more," Mr Price said. "If it does, we will literally run out of space. It's a simple law of physics."

Mr Price said that, as populations grew, more people needed to travel in ways other than cars to allow enough room for the current number of cars, trucks and buses to move around efficiently.

"If the next million or so people all choose to drive, then we really do get gridlock since there isn't enough room to handle an increase on that scale," he said.

Commuting in forms of transport other than cars is far easier in cities such as Vancouver where there are options such as the SkyTrain light rail, an extensive bus service, several ferry services (some operated by private companies) and even seaplanes. There are far fewer options in Perth.

Former Vancouver chief planner Brent Toderian said the power of engineers to dictate transport policy was waning because "the math is so strong".

"The biggest mobility challenge in cities is the massive amount of space that cars demand - space to drive in, space to park in and space for cars even when the cars aren't using it," he said.

"It's staggering how much of a city is set aside for cars and how unwilling we often are to share that space with other uses and users.

"Vancouver has been showing the world for some time that the only successful way to improve commute times, lower vehicle miles travelled and improve mobility and accessibility is by prioritising walking, biking and public transport. Other cities have slowly begun to understand the law of congestion - that building more roads only adds more traffic and congestion."

We will literally run out of space. It's a simple law of physics. " Former Vancouver city councillor Gordon Price

The West Australian

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