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This article is from the In-Depth Report Urban Visions: The Future of Cities
See Inside February 2009

Removing Roads and Traffic Lights Speeds Urban Travel

Urban travel is slow and inefficient, in part because drivers act in self-interested ways

Although encouraging vehicular chaos seems at odds with the ideas presented in the price of anarchy study, both strategies downplay the role of the individual driver in favor of improved outcomes for everyone. They also suggest a larger transportation niche for bicycles and pedestrians. As the Obama administration prepares to invest in the biggest public works project since the construction of the interstate highway system, the notion that fewer, more inclusive roads yield better results is especially timely.

Faster Streets with Less Parking
New strategies in parking management could also improve urban traffic flow, remarks Patrick Siegman, a principal with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates in San Francisco, a transportation-planning firm. In a misguided effort to reduce congestion, planners in the 1950s required developers to provide a minimum number of free parking spaces—a strategy that “completely ignored” basic economics, Siegman says, referring to how lower prices
increase demand.

Now limited urban space and concerns about global warming are inspiring city planners to eliminate these requirements. In San Francisco, for example, developers must restrict parking to a maximum of 7 percent of a building’s square footage, a negligible amount. Although downtown employment has increased, traffic congestion is actually declining, Seigard says. With fewer free spaces to park, drivers seem to be switching modes, relying more on mass transit, cycling and just plain walking.

Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Detours by Design".

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