A little context about my background: I am a Transportation Planner and Engineer. After my graduation with a bachelors in civil engineering, I pursued my masters in Urban Transportation Planning; and worked in an Urban Development Authority where I was involved in drafting the Development Plan (DP) for a city. A DP basically identifies the future growth areas of the city and specifies development regulations for planned and manageable growth. I am now pursuing my Ph.D. in civil engineering. My research focuses on using connected technology in transportation to help make people’s lives better. This blend of planning, and engineering in my background, helps me see the two sides that are very important and crucial in shaping the urban environment. I am using this platform to share some of the lessons that I have come to realize during this time.
Another day on the 101 Freeway. Image Credits: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-la-worst-traffic-20180206-story.html
Cities have a trend of having overly packed downtowns, with the population density thinning as you go farther from the center. People prefer to live outside of the city for various reasons; like- lack of affordable housing in the core, lack of an efficient public transportation system, the dream of owning a bigger home, etc. With the addition of newer and larger homes on the outskirts, the city limits keep expanding. People travel longer distances for work and recreational purposes. To help people get a faster more comfortable commute, we make highways. More and more vehicles keep adding to the highways as the city expands. As a result, we add more lanes to the highway to accommodate the ever-increasing traffic demands; till we come to the point where highways can no longer be expanded. New ways are being explored to accommodate the increasing number of vehicles on the road. With the help of new technologies and advanced vehicles, we are now trying to reduce the spacing between vehicles, to accommodate more and more. But, there is a limit to the benefits offered.
We need to find a better way to optimize this increasing vehicular traffic. Public transport and ride-sharing have been considered as alternatives to tackle this problem; but unfortunately, the uptake of these alternatives is not significant enough to make a substantial difference on traffic congestion. The comfort of owning and traveling by one’s own vehicle is still preferred by many. Additionally, the pandemic has made traveling in a personal vehicle the transportation of choice for many commuters. For the people who are willing to use public transport (PT), providing affordable and convenient PT is not always feasible for the government of a sprawled city. Getting enough ridership to run buses every 10 to 15 mins is also difficult. Other related transportation modes such as cycle/scooter sharing are not as effective if people do not wish to use this public transport. Better planning for shared mobility can be done using connected technology, but again, to what extent?
The problem is, to implement any type of service, there is a minimum amount of ridership that is required to make the system convenient for users, and affordable for both authorities and users. If it is not possible to provide an affordable and convenient system, it’s not going to be sustainable in the longer run. It is very important that we find a balance.
Mixed land use, having more than one urban hub (not just one city center), densification of the cities, making walkable/ cyclable cities, coupled with better public transportation systems, are some of the key solutions that could help us break the status quo.