Shortchanging Mass Transit Is Short-Sighted–For Drivers

One, of many, idiotic features of most U.S. transportation policy discussions is the pitting of car drivers against mass transit users. It’s stupid, since driving in most metropolitan areas would be awful were mass transit not taking drivers off the roads. Here’s what would happen in D.C. if there were no mass transit (boldface mine):

That is, transit is removed, no new roads are built, but people are allowed to choose to work and shop at different locations as a result of changing congestion. In modeling terminology, we allowed the trip table to change. As a result:

•Vehicle-miles traveled would increase by 7-8%
Congestion would increase by 25% across the region. Some people would notice little change in their commute, but some would spend a lot more time sitting in traffic – but on average, travelers would spend 25% more time in congestion.
The added time and fuel wasted in congestion would cost travelers over $1.5 billion annually
Traffic worsens so that residents make many fewer trips across county and state boundaries, indicating that our regional economy becomes fragmented:
•Workers have fewer job opportunities to choose from because many are too far from home. Employers have a smaller pool of employees to choose from.
•More trips stay local. For example, trips from Maryland and Virginia to DC drop 5-11%, and trips between Maryland and Virginia in the Compact area drop by 12-19%
•We fracture into several smaller regional economies, and lose the competitiveness of our regional economy

In other words, mass transit helps drivers. Of course, it also helps cities (pdf; boldface mine):

Without regional transit (not just Metro), the region would need to add over 1,000 lane-miles of arterials and highways to maintain current travel speeds, assuming people kept choosing the same destinations— this length is equivalent to adding more than 15 lanes to the entire circumference of the Capital Beltway. Many bridges would require 2 or 3 additional lanes in each direction.

710 of those miles would be necessary to directly replace Metro service. Estimated capital cost of those new lanes: $4.7 billion ($2010). The other 300 miles of new highway would be needed to replace other regional transit—transit whose ridership would almost certainly drop significantly without Metro. For example, MARC service to Union Station would lose substantial ridership without Metro, so that even if MARC existed without Metro, many current MARC riders would be on the road.

Those new cars would require parking spaces: roughly double the number of current spaces in the D.C. and Arlington cores. Capital cost of additional parking is $2.9 billion for below-ground parking ($2010). Since the core is essentially built out, new parking would require razing buildings—removing tax base and employment.

If we drill down into the report, new parking would require 2.34 square miles of parking–if the parking were housed in five story parking garages (the entire land area of the District is 62 square miles). This is roughly four times the combined area of the entire National Mall and Capitol Hill (obviously, this parking wouldn’t be concentrated in one place).

The reality is, if you’re a suburbanite who lives in a metropolitan area, even if you never use mass transit, you really do need it. It’s time a lot of people in the D.C. area (let’s be honest, disproportionately white people) stop viewing mass transit as something use by and solely for others, especially ‘urban’ people and the poor (AAAIIIEEE!!), and start realizing how it makes their own lives better, just like fixing roads does.

It’s almost like we’re part of one community or something.

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