Indivisibility of Cars and Commuting: NMA E-Newsletter #567

One of the exciting elements of the October 5 Keep the US Moving Conference (KLAM) attended by both Gary Biller, NMA President and Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director, was meeting others who study urban commuting. Mariya Frost, Transportation Policy Analyst for the Washington (State) Policy Center, a free market think tank, was one such person. Her organization recently released a study by Wendell Cox, another speaker and participant of the KLAM Conference, who currently serves as the principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in St. Louis, MO. Cox is a leading proponent of adopting land use and transport policies based on their effectiveness in improving the standard of living and alleviating poverty.

Research on how the transportation puzzle fits together is key to articulating information to elected officials, bureaucrats, and the media.

Under the domain of the Washington Policy Center, Cox recently published a study entitled Toward More Accessible and Productive Transportation in the Puget Sound. The research included the city of Seattle, one of the most congested metropolitan areas in the US. Read the full study here. It examines the future of Puget Sound transportation with a particular emphasis on transit due to political and funding commitments.

Here are some highlights:

  • An overwhelming share of population and employment in the area exists outside of Seattle city limits despite the growth of both since 2010.
  • Downtown Seattle accounts for less than 15 percent of employment in the region.
  • Despite the Amazon boom, nearly 60 percent of job growth in recent years in the region has not included Seattle.
  • Two-thirds of commuters in the Puget Sound use vehicles. That includes 75 percent outside of Seattle. Nearly 50 percent of Seattleites drive or ride in a personal vehicle when traveling to work.
  • 48 percent of commuters traveling to downtown Seattle use transit with a 9.3 percent share doing so in the rest of the city. In the Seattle area, auto access to jobs within 30 minutes is 19 times that of transit and in downtown, auto access is more than triple than that of transit within 30 minutes.

Cox’s principle finding:

“There is no potential, at any cost, for transit to materially reduce driving or to reduce traffic congestion in Puget Sound. This finding is supported by PSRG (population) projections, at least for the next two decades.”

Cities across the country are dealing with congestion, and are trying to find ways to move motorists out of their cars in favor of transit, bicycling, and walking. For example, this past week the Boston Globe, ran a three-part investigation on the incessant traffic congestion in the area. Considered the most congested city in the US, Boston officials continue to lower speed limits and build bike lanes on arterial streets, which only makes congestion worse. State lawmakers have discussed implementing congestion pricing which adds a driving tax and hurts rural commuters who have little access to public transit. There are no easy solutions for Boston, Seattle, or the smaller city of Portland, Oregon.

In a recent blog post from Portland’s Cascade Policy Institute, another free market, public policy research organization, Eric Fruits noted that 80 percent of Portland-area commuters drive or ride in a car. The title of his blog says it all: Deal with it—Commuters Need Cars. He writes:

“After decades of trying to get people to abandon their cars, our leaders need to understand the automobile is an amazing technology of freedom, and improve our roads to support that freedom.”

Commuters should have a choice of how they travel to work. Driving for most of us, though, is the only choice and that choice should not be demonized by anyone.

We need more research, such as the Cox Study sponsored by the Washington Policy Center, to bring data and informed policy solutions to the forefront instead of the hyperbolic rhetoric of the anti-car movement currently driving the war on cars.

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