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Adding bike, bus lanes in LA could reduce traffic in long term, professor says

Thursday, September 10, 2015

LAWRENCE — City leaders in Los Angeles have approved a transportation policy that would add bicycle and bus lanes to some of the second-largest city's busiest boulevards in an effort to reduce traffic over the next 20 years.

Bradley Lane, an expert on planning issues in urban transportation and a University of Kansas assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration, is available to discuss issues related to urban traffic. Lane's broad research interests also focus on travel behavior and policy, and his current project involves the study of policies, perceptions, attitudes and travel behavior effects of electric vehicle usage, including two surveys of urban residents across the country.

Q: Are there past examples where a city or government used a change in infrastructure — such as taking away space for driving instead of expanding a road or street — to successfully influence the culture and steer people either to public transportation, biking, walking, etc?

Lane: Much of the research and literature pretty clearly indicates that, despite people's perceptions to the contrary, reducing roadway capacity reduces travel demand and moves trips to other modes or other roadways less used. It also shows that adding roadway capacity induces travel demand. However, cities and governments are often reluctant to reduce roadway capacity for the perception of the negative impacts it will have on traffic.

There are a few famous examples of cities removing roadway infrastructure for other alternatives that involve freeways, in particular the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco and The Big Dig in Boston. And many cities have introduced traffic-calming devices to better manage roadway traffic and make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians and drivers, too.

Even here in Lawrence, there has recently been the talk of reducing the number of lanes on Kasold Drive between Sixth Street and Bob Billings Parkway as part of the city's long-term transportation plans to encourage use of more non-automotive means of travel. It's a little amusing to see people in Los Angeles express concerns of "gridlock" from these changes because L.A. has been at gridlock since "Roger Rabbit" took place. And the only things that have helped alleviate it have been the transit infrastructure L.A. has steadily been improving over the last 30 years or so.

Q: What specific factors have influenced decisions like these?

Lane: The transportation engineering and planning worlds have slowly realized that you can't really build your way out of traffic. Adding roadway capacity stops providing benefits to congestion after a while and can actually encourage traffic growth.

Concerns about traffic and congestion rising to a level that allows the consideration of alternatives combine with a desire for a better or different way of urban life, such as the street life most people envision when they vacation in the great cities of the world or if they go to some neat neighborhoods and think of the number of people walking. Also, they see the ease of getting around on transit and vibrant urban life in such places.

And increasingly, people and cities are recognizing the connection between auto-dependence and negative health outcomes, and between walking and physical activity and positive health outcomes. Together, cities have had success implementing changes, usually in small pockets of neighborhoods, development around transit stations, or a single or limited set of bike and pathways.

Q: In your research, have you uncovered any specific strategies that have worked or been mildly successful in instituting some change away from the one-person, one-vehicle culture?

Lane: Changes that have the effect of reducing roadway capacity are best received and most effective when they are tied with other changes that increase accessibility and capacity of alternatives to cars, such as public transit and bicycle or pedestrian activity, and changes in development to forms that mix residential and commercial uses and reduce travel distances.

To be successful, you can't just make it harder to drive — by decreasing lanes or increasing the cost of automobile use — or just build bike lanes and transit-oriented development, or just add transit. You have to do them in concert and think of the impact the changes will have within the entire travel and land-use network of a neighborhood or city. Culture changes in transport only work when the status quo becomes untenable, either due to cost or inconvenience, and there is a viable alternative that improves upon the conditions of the status quo. These changes also take tremendous amounts of time and patience, something that the political system notoriously lacks.  

To arrange an interview with Lane, contact George Diepenbrock at gdiepenbrock@ku.edu or 785-864-8853.


Ruth DeWitt, Communications Manager
KU School of Public Affairs and Administration
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