Traffic Will Cost Motorists, RAND Study Finds
By Jorge Casuso
October 3 – If you want to ease traffic congestion,
be prepared to tighten your belt and fork over some cash, according
to a report released by the Santa Monica-based RAND corporation
The report -- “Moving Los Angeles” -- found that
the only strategies that have a lasting effect are those that
raise the cost of driving during the busiest hours in the most
congested areas. These include such pricing measures as road tolls,
gas taxes and increased parking fees.
The study did not address measures that deal with land use policies,
such as Prop T on the November ballot that would cap most commercial
development in Santa Monica or the City’s update to its
Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which would steer taller
mixed-used developments to specific locations near mass transit.
“Our report did not look at land use measures,” said
Warren Robak, a RAND spokesman. “It only looked at measures
that would be put into place and show effect within five years.
Land use measures take longer.”
The report “debunks common myths about the metropolitan
region’s traffic patterns and details the reasons why congestion
is so bad -- and why it will get worse in the coming years without
significant policy changes,” according to a RAND statement.
Implementing measures that “improve traffic conditions
and enhance transportation alternatives” won’t be
easy, researchers warn.
“Some of the strategies this report recommends -- especially
those that would raise the cost of driving -- are likely to prove
controversial,” said Paul Sorensen, the study’s lead
author and an operations researcher at RAND.
“But without bold action, congestion across the region
will only get worse and cost everyone more -- financially, environmentally
and through a diminished quality of life.”
Contributing to traffic congestion in the Los Angeles region,
which is “very high” in urbanized areas such as Santa
Monica, is cheap and abundant parking, the report found.
“Most drivers do not pay the full economic and social costs
of driving,” researchers concluded.
In addition, Los Angeles is “polycentric,” with many
sub-centers that have high populations or job densities, such
as Santa Monica, instead of one single, dominant downtown region,
according to the study.
“Though polycentricism can spread traffic out,” researchers
found, “it also makes it more difficult to provide a fast,
effective, and well-connected transit network and reinforces auto-reliant
“By many measures, the Los Angeles metropolitan area leads
the nation in urban traffic congestion. For example, the metropolitan
region ranks number one for total annual hours of delay for all
travelers and total annual gallons of wasted fuel for all travelers.”
Researchers say the region already has adopted most of the “effective,
affordable and uncontroversial” ways to reduce congestion,
such as freeway on-ramp meters, traffic signal timing and ridesharing
The report offers 13 options selected as being “the best
and most effective, based on their individual merits as well as
their complementary interactions.” The recommendations are:
- Install curbside parking meters that charge more during peak
business hours for parking in congested commercial and retail
- Enforce the existing California state law that allows employees
to “cash out” the value of their parking spaces.
Companies with more than 50 employees who lease parking are
supposed to offer their employees the option of cash instead
of free parking, but this law is not enforced.
- Implement local fuel tax levies at the county level to raise
- Develop a network of high-occupancy/toll lanes on freeways
throughout Los Angeles County.
- Evaluate the potential for implementing tolls on those entering
major activity centers, like those that exist in London and
- Expand rapid bus transit with bus-only lanes on arterial
streets and express freeway service in the high-occupancy/toll
- Offer and aggressively market deeply discounted transit passes
to employers, who would purchase passes for all employees, allowing
those who commute by transit to ride at reduced cost.
- Develop an integrated, region-wide network of bicycle pathways.
- Restrict curb parking on busy arterial streets.
- Convert selected major surface streets to one-way streets.
- Prioritize and fund investments in upgraded signal timing
- Bolster outreach efforts to assist businesses in promoting
ridesharing programs, telecommuting and flexible work schedules.
- Evaluate the costs and benefits of implementing a regional
incident management system on the arterial streets to reduce
congestion caused by traffic accidents.
A key component of the recommendations is charging fees for driving
and parking during peak travel times, also known as congestion
pricing, a measure that could face initial opposition, researchers
“Congestion pricing is met with resistance when people
first hear about the concept,” Sorensen said. “Nobody
wants to pay more money for something they’ve previously
gotten for free, and many are skeptical that congestion pricing
will actually work.
“And there’s a legitimate concern that if it’s
not properly implemented, it could end up being more of a burden
on the region’s poor,” he added.
Still, congestion pricing has worked in other cities and resistance
seems to drop as residents become more familiar with how well
it works. In fact, congestion pricing also raises enough revenue
to fund significant transit improvements, researchers found.
“Pricing strategies are the only sustainable option for
reducing congestion over the long-term, and they will be immediately
effective upon implementation,” said Martin Wachs, director
of the RAND Transportation, Space, and Technology Program, and
one of the authors of the report.
RAND researchers compiled their recommendations after studying
successful efforts in cities around the world, including London,
Singapore and Stockholm, and many major urban cities in the United
States, such as New York and Seattle. A panel of noted local transportation
experts served as project advisors.
The full study is available on the RAND website: http://rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG748/