Kamis, Desember 07, 2017

How to add traffic congestion to your city? Build more roads

Despite the massive effort and investment into mass transit projects in Jakarta, the city government is still eager to build flyovers and even toll-road, as a way to mitigate the traffic congestion in the city. This post explains why the investment towards road has negative impact on urban mobility.

Inaugurated on the 2017 Independence Day, by President Joko Widodo, the new circle flyover at Semanggi interchange in Jakarta has been praised as an innovative project by many. Claimed as a measure to reduce congestion by 20%, the flyover was built using new construction technology, at least in Indonesia, and built without any public fund. The Rp360 billion investment—from Rp579 billion given—was built using so-called “compensated funding scheme” by private developer, a financing scheme developed as an exchange for extra floor allowance given to the developer.

Induced traffic
Relieving traffic congestion has always been the main argument to build the new road or interchange whilst precisely leading to the fallacy of floor area ratio (KLB) compensation allocation. The phenomenon is called induced traffic which is, economically speaking, people tend to utilise something even more when the supply increases, especially something that is completely free. It happens for the case of adding more roads, too.

Two economists from University of Toronto and University of Pennsylvania, Turner and Duranton, wrote “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities”. They compared the number of roads built in cities in the US between 1980 to 2000, and the vehicles kilometer travelled (VKT) in the same period. It is a match correlation that every 10 per cent increase of road between 1980-1990 and 1990-2000 induced 10 per cent more of VKT.

In practical domain, California Department of Transport, commonly known as Caltrans, also admitted that more roads mean more traffic. The institution linked to a policy brief written by Susan Handy from University California, Davis, and highlighted the empirical evidence of induced traffic, VKT addition both in short- and long-term and surprisingly most of the traffic is entirely new.

The traditional way to mitigate congestion by adding more lanes or roads is proven as a myth. The most popular analogy is curing obesity by loosening the belt which does not solve the root of the problem. It may provide faster travel time in the short term, but all the construction benefits are all lost because of the increased demand in the long term.

Six inner-city highways
Not to mention Jakarta is currently facing another huge threat of induced traffic phenomenon. It is the six inner-city highways. The massive Rp41 trillion for 69 kilometers highway investment has begun its construction in Kelapa Gading for Pulogebang - Sunter section. Yes, it is surely intended for cars, not people.

As explained earlier, constructing more roads either elevated or underground is definitely not the answer to solve the problem in urban context. Investment in urban highways reduces the city’s capacity to connect its people for daily interaction.

The torn down Park East Freeway in Milwaukee, Cheonggyecheon Freeway in Seoul and Inner Ring Expressway in Bogota are international examples that cities around the world have shifted their mindset to prioritise people by regenerating the same spot into place of interaction such as boulevards and plazas. Those cities were literally tearing down their freeways, why would Jakarta start again the illusive approach?

There are places outside Jakarta and Java that, foremost, need highway to boost the economic growth. Jakarta is at tipping point to decide whether to prioritise people or cars. Bold and thoughtful commitment from the government alongside with citizen support are crucially needed to turn the project down.

Logically, similar formula could also be applied to induce pedestrian, cyclist and public transport user. Budget should be allocated for sidewalk, bicycle lane and public transport revitalisation and that is the form of commitment for sustainable and equitable city. It really is a matter of priority. In line with that, the city has no right to limit people from buying their own cars, but it has the obligation to protect and prioritise its people by promoting efficient urban mobility especially in the heart of the city.

Also worth to note that cities improvements do not necessarily have to start with billion or trillion rupiah budget. Janette Sadik-Khan, the former New York City Transport Commissioner, gave example by streets operating code review, existing space adaptation with tactical urbanism and parking regulation adjustment.

It is important to strive for accurate long-term planning and goals because it is too common to see decision makers only execute short-term and easy-to-implement solutions during their defined service length. They often forget that “public”, the people who directly affected by their decision, is the key word in the phrase of public policy. Thus, it is important to decide without compromising fairness and choose the best interest of the public.

To sum up, cities would need countless road to accommodate cars. Rather than building more roads, cities should promote equality by prioritising pedestrian, cyclist and public transport user.