If you live in or around a major metropolitan area, chances are you’ve been caught in your fair share of traffic congestion. For decades, cities have been searching for ways to alleviate road congestion, with varying degrees of success. This month’s Good Idea looks at a few of the more innovative programs that have been designed and implemented across the nation to address the problem of congestion.
As a response to concerns over long commute times and unreliable traffic information, the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) launched “Moving Washington.” One of the main features of the program is the creation of “smarter highways” through an Active Traffic Management (ATM) system. The system was inaugurated this past August, on a nine mile stretch of Seattle’s Interstate 5. The highway is equipped with overhead electronic signs above each lane that identify upcoming merges and lane closures. The signs also specify variable speed limits (a concept that has become popular in several European countries) based on current road conditions. Vehicle speeds and congestion information are continuously recorded and instantly relayed to a traffic management center. Unlike several other variable speed limit models in the United States, adjustments are automatic and do not require any manual operation. The program is limited to Interstate 5 in the Seattle region, but will be expanded to other highways in Washington in the near future.
The cities of Minneapolis, Minnesota and St Paul, Minnesota are managing road congestion by increasing the availability and attractiveness of public rapid transit. In addition to an expanded light rail system, the region has one of the most extensive networks of bus only travel lanes. About 260 miles of roadway are restricted to buses during peak travel times. In addition, many downtown streets now feature a double bus lane, so that buses do not have to wait behind other stopped buses. The result is a 60% increase in bus operating speeds. While the two cities actively promote the use of alternative transportation, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is working on several projects to reduce travel times for traditional commuters. Of note, Minnesota has begun to convert several previously restricted highway bus lanes in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region to Priced Dynamic Shoulder Lanes (PDSLs). Similar to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, PDSLs allow single occupancy vehicles to utilize shoulder lanes during peak hours for a modest fee.
The Washington, DC metro area has implemented two unique programs designed to reduce congestion and encourage alternative forms of transportation. Last month, Washington DC and Arlington County, Virginia launched the largest bike sharing program in the United States. Capital Bikeshare gives members access to over 1,000 bicycles located at 110 different stations at a minimal cost. Registered users are given a key with which they can access any available bicycle, 24 hours a day. Unregistered users can rent a bicycle for the day through an automated kiosk located at every station. The DC metro area boasts hundreds of miles of bicycle lanes, making the bike share program an attractive alternative to driving. Similarly, the city of Arlington, Virginia launched a campaign called the Car-Free Diet this past year. The program is aimed at reducing congestion by appealing to its citizens’ desire to save money and lead healthier lifestyles. The Car-Free Diet’s website offers users a chance to calculate how much money they save, how many calories they burn, and the individual environmental impact of choosing an alternative form of transportation. It also provides extensive information about the region’s available forms of transportation including bicycle routes and trails, bus and rail schedules and fare information, and vanpooling and car share opportunities.
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