Big news is coming out of City Hall…well, maybe not big news, but news. Let’s just go with “news”. City planners (and an unknown number of councillors) want to expand part of the Airport Parkway from two lanes to four lanes, which should, of course, bring a common refrain to everyone’s mind.
Induced demand. Induced demand. Induced demand.
It’s pretty well-established that road expansions don’t really do anything to combat traffic congestion. More space for more cars, unsurprisingly, leads to more cars, despite the Two Lanes Bad Four Lanes Good mantra. So from all we know about traffic, this measure will be counter-productive (yes, traffic congestion will actually increase).
Worse still, the city is now acting really serious about extending the LRT to the airport, so this new road project will work in direct competition with Ottawa’s biggest and most expensive project in a generation. It really seems like a bad idea all over.
That being said, I sometimes worry that some of us (myself included) can break out the Induced Demand chant a little too reflexively whenever road expansion is suggested. Don’t get me wrong; the phenomenon of induced demand is true, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be true for each and every road. Perhaps a little skepticism is in order here, and maybe there really is a good reason to expand the Airport Parkway, and that it won’t just cause even more traffic headaches.
However, if that’s the case, the city really needs to make its case, and, so far, they just aren’t doing that. The main argument seems to be that people and goods need to get to the airport and not all of them can go by LRT, which is true enough, I guess. Make no mistake, LRT isn’t going to suddenly reduce traffic congestion. Similar to road expansion, the cars that LRT takes off the road will just be replaced by other cars that have more space to re-congest the roads.
But so what? Delivery trucks need to get to the airport, and right now, there’s traffic. But if we expand the road, there’ll just be more traffic. Nothing is solved.
LRT does offer a bit of a solution for delivery traffic, though. Traffic is a cost. You pay for traffic with time (and gas, but mainly time). The point of LRT is to move a lot of people quickly. It’ll be cheaper in terms of time. Since delivery trucks can’t use LRT, delivery trucks don’t have another low-“cost” option. The cost (time) stays the same.
For non-delivery traffic, the relative cost of traffic will go up, because now there is a lower “cost” (time) option. So now driving is a higher cost activity. This means that the demand for the road will shift more towards the side of delivery vehicles rather than passenger vehicles. Restricting the road supply (if you will) is better for deliveries.
There’s a second argument that’s being thrown around in favour of expansion. This project has been on the books for a long time, so we might as well do it. Yes, that is the (horrible) argument. If an idea has been talked about for years, but never acted upon, that’s no reason to think it’s a good idea. If anything, the unwillingness of past councils to do it make it more likely to be a bad idea.
So bad ideas and traffic ignorance may be ruling the day at City Hall. It’s quite unfortunate.