Traffic Fix Means Making People Do What They Don’t Want To


Really, fixing traffic comes down to getting a whole lot of people to get to and from places differently than they always have.

You need to change driving behavior, whether you offer options and count on enough people using them to make a difference– mass transit; or you punish and coerce people into driving how you’d like– giving tickets, making certain lanes into toll roads; or you offer rewards to people for doing what you want. And so on.

There are endless infrastructure changes that might be done– lanes added, rail lines built– but in the end, the way people move from one place to another has to change.

In the first part of this three-part series outlining alternative arguments for fixing traffic, the lay-of-the-land was presented: The idea of a regional transit system, with Nashville’s plan being the first and largest part, as a traffic solution has gotten almost all the attention. But there are voices out there that make compelling arguments against the plan, which includes a large investment in light-rail and buses in a spoke-and-wheel sort of transit system.

After all, just because it has gotten the most attention does not mean it will do the most it can to decrease your commute.

Vanderbilt economics professor Malcolm Getz has a highly critical opinion about the plan. It gets things all wrong, he thinks.

His solution: toll roads, and no light rail. Combined with better technology like camera-monitor systems that will control access to toll lanes, Getz argues that toll roads work and that they shape behavior in an age-old way: money.

Getz, who has appeared on a number of panels and authored an editorial or two for the Tennessean expressing concerns about the Nashville transit plan, is fully in favor of converting current HOV lanes to toll lanes to reduce car count and improve traffic flow.

He points out that adding lanes does not address traffic, and TDOT representatives have often echoed that sentiment. If you add a highway lane, it tends to simply fill up and traffic does not decrease in an impactful way. Instead, he argues, it’s all about flow. Currently, HOV lanes are mostly treated as “just another lane” by the driving public.

“Engineering literature shows that if traffic is heavily congested with stop and go movements, if you change one lane to moving at 50 miles per hour, it doubles the number of cars that pass a certain point,” he said.

“If you made the HOV lane into a toll lane, where the fee might be $.50 cents per mile or more, with restricted entrance points and maybe some simple, inexpensive markers, like permanent road cones,” Getz explained, “..then Bingo! Overnight, the HOV lane becomes a toll lane and it would work like it is supposed to, without the trouble of added enforcement, and traffic would flow much more freely.”

“To those who say that only the more wealthy would benefit, the added cost of commuting quickly, on the toll lane, would also make people more likely to rideshare to share the cost, it would incentivize the use of public transportation down the line,” he added.

Dedicating a lane to market forces would open up traffic dramatically and people would pay for the privilege of blasting downtown.

Creating a toll lane is “not an insignificant investment” Getz acknowledges. It would take more than a change in policy or a paradigm shift in individual behavior.

“It would take a revolution,” explains Mark Cleveland, Nashville’s 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year. “Toll lanes are not legal in Tennessee, automated enforcement systems and video cameras are not legal in Tennessee.”

More on that in part three, coming later this week. Click here for Part One: Is The Traffic Solution Right in Front Of Us?

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