The Chainlink

So the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (aka BQE) is falling apart, and the relevant authorities actually recommended *shrinking it* instead of replacing the whole thing.  

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/30/nyregion/bqe-lanes-closed.html

Umm, hubba-hubba!

This seems like a strategy that should be pursued in a lot of urban highways, esp. here in Chicago. While many are perhaps strategic for movement of goods, I'm sure plenty could go on a road diet.  (Obvious candidates to me:  53, Lake Shore Drive, 94 (Edens), Eisenhower, and others I'm sure I don't travel as frequently.)

The obvious candidate is Lake Shore Drive -- it just doesn't need to be as big as it is.

I think a partial justification for tearing down some of this infrastructure is... cost.  We hear constantly how broke Illinois is, how we can't afford more.  While this obviously requires solutions across a number of areas, I just feel like in a lot of areas we could save money if we had less infrastructure rather than more. And this article about the BQE shriking highlights this possibility.  I enjoyed this quote:

“It’s just not in the DNA of most highway agencies to build smaller,” said Samuel I. Schwartz, a transportation consultant who advised the B.Q.E. panel. “We’ve gone through a 70-year period of adding and widening but this is a failing strategy. It’s like solving the obesity problem by loosening your belt.”

 

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"As became obvious by store closings and retail declines after State Street closed, such closings only EXACERBATE the problems.  And do nothing to solve them.  State St didn't magically fill with liberated pedestrians; throngs of happy shoppers didn't crowd Marshall Field's and other stores; expanded sidewalks, landscaping, and new plazas didn't cause suburban malls to empty as folks swarmed into the City!  And three years later, Chicago threw in the towel, ripped up the plazas, and reopened State Street to normal, noisy, polluting traffic.  And retail health returned to State Street!  At least until Amazon came along."

I would dispute this conclusion from the State Street experiment.  It was probably already failing, and the traffic plan didn't really matter much one way or the other. You can't street park on State Street, so assuming the ped mall changed much is very debatable. 

But that's missing the point. 

The idea here, is that instead of raising taxes on property, when we redo infrastructure to be smaller and have less of it. It's a structural change to the tax base:  if we have fewer lanes in roads, we need fewer plows fewer repavers, etc.  You don't have to repair overpasses if you don't have an overpass in the first place.

Ahhh, the myth of the road diet.

Next time you're at the grocery store and it has 8 lanes running and all the self check-out lanes running too, ask the manager to close 3 of the self-check out lanes and 2 of the traditional lanes.  Let us know how much better everything goes? 

If you've ever driven in road construction on a 3 lane highway it it gets necked down to 2, it goes more slowly, not more quickly, and the cars are bunched up - congested. 

Sure, everyone who is into car-hating schadenfreude when this happens gets a smile, but the idea that it helps or ease congestion or is somehow better to have the lane loss is merely a myth. 

Head out to O'Hare and let everybody know about a plan to close runways so that the planes will all run on time, and ease air traffic congestion?  No.

You get the idea... this isn't really an idea.  If it actually worked, we'd go ahead and just cut out some el trains and metra trains and busses and say it speeds up public transportation.  But it doesn't actually work that way, and everyone knows this.  

If your imaginary grocery store reduced the number of checkout lanes available, I believe that what would happen over time would be shoppers going to different stores with shorter waits, thus ultimately reducing congestion (and hurting business) at the original store. Or planning their shopping more carefully so they wouldn't have to go as often. There is no doubt that suddenly reducing capacity creates congestion in both grocery store lines and on roadways, but traffic, like water, adjusts to its own level. 

I believe that vehicular traffic in America, especially in urban areas, rises to gradually equal any extra road capacity built. Anecdotally, I have lived and driven in the city of Chicago proper for over 40 years, and I have never seen one road construction project that led to a permanent reduction in traffic. I remember when the Kennedy reconstruction was completed around 1994. There were a couple of glorious days when you could zip around freely. But very rapidly, traffic built up again until the Kennedy was the same nightmare it had always been. Then it got worse than ever. Look at the Jane Byrne Interchange -- all that money spent, for what? Traffic through there is just as bad as ever, to the point where I rarely even attempt to make it through. Literally, it is just about as fast for me to ride my bike from the south side to the north side on Damen than to take the "expressway". I firmly believe that adding lanes to most expressways in and around cities is futile in terms of reducing congestion. People in America jump in their cars and ride around at their slightest whim. They need to be broken of that habit and acclimated to the concepts of walking, riding, and using public transportation. One way to do that might be road diets and street closures. I don't know, but I do know that building more lanes and reconfiguring highways around Chicago has solved absolutely nothing in the past 40 years. Even as the population has diminished by over 300,000, traffic congestion has increased dramatically.    

Respectfully, I don't think you understand the concept.

The Jane Byrne interchange unfortunately continues to be pressed by regional economic growth in Indiana and Wisconsin, sort of a good problem on the one hand.  Unlike in the south where elevated bypasses are being built, the Kennedy/Dan Ryan continues to funnel through that tunnel.  Trucks traveling through (again, Indiana and Wisconsin) have to shift up the grade both northbound and southbound, so once traffic slows, it stays slow for a while until the trucks can clear.  Add in suburban migration and an improved employment picture, people continue taking it to the streets. 

I recollect those Kennedy construction days, and all of the traffic it pushed to Clybourn, Elston, Ashland, Western, Milwaukee Ave, and LSD.  Finally people got back to the highway and off those city arteries as I think you experienced Jim, but there were those few days before the traffic pattern adjusted. 

On the other hand, the additional capacity west of O'Hare out toward Rockford has helped traffic decongestion there.  Wide lanes, an additional lane in sections, ample shoulders, and now traffic zips (of course not always) compared to the prior configuration.  I'd driven it regularly several years ago and then my patterns too changed, but was out there for a few suburban events recently, and the improved flows with more lanes and wider lanes likewise bust the road diet myth.

Back in the city, the congestion shifts traffic to side streets.  People "add their own lanes" by co-opting residential streets and even alleys.  

Stir in the improved employment picture of late, and people with opportunities for multiple jobs, we have a lot of people out and about.  Sports activities for kids are booming as well, and they all have to get two and fro.  Wage growth, modest inflation, and low interest rates, and people are eager to get out and about and not just to go to and from work. 

There are tipping points of course, and once there is saturation, there is sprawl/migration to where new communities are being built. Northwest of the city is an example. Unfortunately, once an area is established, infrastructure always seems to lag. Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, it happens all over the region. 

I feel we should avoid shrinking Lakeshore Drive.  Right now the drive is free of trucks and actually bikes too.  Close by we have the Lakefront trail where trucks and cars aren not allowed but bikes are.  This separation of vehicle types especially their speeds and weight promotes safety for cars and cyclists.  If we shrink the Drive we will push cars to the west to use La Salle, State Street, Wasbash, Clark, Sheridan, Michigan Ave  Halsted, Wells and others which are important cycling routes. This is similar to what Jim mentions about shoppers going to different stores if someone shuts down check-out lanes in that example.  As cyclists we should understand that keeping Lakeshore Drive flowing for cars is in our best interests so that drivers will want to go there.  Otherwise traffic will adjust as Jim wrote and we do not want that to happen to these roads listed. 

I can't believe I'm agreeing with CLP. Road diets are a good thing. 

https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/road_diets/

Building wider roads, more lanes only makes congestion worse:

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/09/citylab-university-i...

Driving is one of the least efficient ways to get around in Chicago. The city should be looking to the CTA for increasing capacity, decreasing price, and improving the overall experience. In addition, (and CLP will definitely disagree with me here), we should be investing in PBLs (protected bike lanes) and more capacity to ride. 

If we believe the taxes theory, then we're all set.  Let's examine how high they are already, how they've been raised yet again, why that doesn't actually work to get people out of cars. 

https://www.illinoispolicy.org/new-taxes-and-fees-on-illinois-drivi...

https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/new-state-taxes-and-fees-taki...

Add in sales tax on a $40,000 SUV @ $3,500 and on maintenance parts for the the life of the vehicle and if we abide by the tax theory, then we've accomplished the tax strategy and we're all set if we believe it.  (It doesn't work, it just takes money out of peoples' pockets that they can't spend in restaurants, on their house, maybe a new bike, dentistry, clothes, heat, etc.)

If we abide by the statements that building lanes is bad because it causes congestion, then building more PBLs will cause congestion, and building runways causes congestion.  Instead, let me bring it back to what I can vouch for directly having driven all of these roads recently, and, I'll provide the link for a local example in the Illinois Tollway Congestion Relief Program document:

 Customers have benefited from a newly rebuilt and widened South Tri‐State Tollway (I‐294/I‐80) from IL Route 394 to 95th Street, and on the North Tri‐State Tollway (I‐94/I‐294) from Balmoral Avenue to Russell Road.  

 The Reagan Memorial Tollway (I‐88) has been widened and reconstructed from York Road to IL Route 59 and from the Aurora Toll Plaza to Deerpath Road.  The section of I‐88 from US Route 30 to IL Route 251 was rubbilized to make the existing pavement a base to support new full depth asphalt pavement.  

 The section of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I‐90) from the Cherry Valley Interchange to Rockton Road was reconstructed and widened with full depth asphalt pavement.  

(Just to be clear here, we have widening as part of the congestion relief program)

https://www.illinoistollway.com/documents/20184/55375/CONGESTION+RE...

So let's reconcile these dueling links and ideas:  The cityLab assertions set aside their own context of adding the lane.  A highway that is well-sited SHOULD draw drivers from the less-desirable nearby routes if it adds a lane.  More lanes move more traffic, and that traffic doesn't come from outer space, it comes from nearby and less efficient routes. These "alternate" routes are less desirable than a widened highway, but are used when the highway isn't wide enough or narrows during construction. The nearby routes are less desirable because of traffic lights, cars turning on and off, etc.  Again for a local reference, Elston and Clybourn which run along the Kennedy Expressway: 

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1992-04-06-9201310869-st...

This all underscores why that post about Lakeshore Drive is spot-on: Drivers will just go to the Sheridan/Michigan etc. which is exactly what we don't want. To the extent we can, we want to induce demand for Lakeshore Drive to get people off these other streets.

Think people should instead ride CTA (as I often do) all while it loses hundreds of million$ a year? Let's examine why so many people don't:

https://abc7chicago.com/5553420/

Serious Crime has Doubled on Chicago's "L" system... article (you may not be able to get past the tribune's paywall for this link)

https://www.chicagotribune.com/investigations/ct-cta-l-crime-up-arr...

The bus is not a safe alternative either https://wgntv.com/2020/02/05/bus-brawls-on-the-rise-in-chicago-how-...

It's too bad, because transit CAN be much safer than driving (if you blend in drunk driving accidents in rural areas instead of just urban slow speeds) because as I've pointed out elsewhere, buses are big and slow and trains are in fewer (if more dramatic) accidents. 

https://mobilitylab.org/2016/09/08/transit-10-times-safer-driving-m...

It's not always proper to conflate the accident rates with the crime rates, but a mom and daughter will often rather take an SUV than risk what happens on a CTA train or bus.  

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