Traffic congestion and the problems it is causing is the one topic that seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. Nowhere was that more evident than at the last meeting of Santa Monica’s Planning Commission where traffic congestion took center stage during a discussion of a RAND Corporation report on the issue.
During his presentation to the Commission on the RAND Report, “Moving Los Angeles; Short Term Policy Options for Improving Transportation,” RAND Operations Researcher Paul Sorensen noted L.A. traffic congestion is one of the worst in the nation and “traffic congestion exacerbates social and economic issues.” In Los Angeles, $9.2 billion annually is wasted in fuel and time by cars sitting in traffic.
Sorensen at the January 7 meeting also mentioned several key messages from the report, which were that L.A. traffic is likely to worsen, prospects for increasing road supply are limited, managing demand is key for Los Angeles, pricing is the best option for managing demand, Los Angeles needs a set of complementary strategies, and consensus- building will be key to helping policy makers make decisions on reducing traffic congestion.
The report stressed that only pricing strategies often called “congestion pricing” could help provide relief from traffic congestion in the long term. These strategies could charge drivers who use area roads during peak demand times more for using the roads. Improving mass transit options could lessen effects from these strategies on low-income drivers.
Sorensen also noted that the some of the recommendations made in the report would cost money while others would actually raise revenue, so it would be important for policy- makers to implement them together rather than separately. The suggestions to raise revenue in addition to congestion pricing were to implement variable curb-parking charges in busy commercial and retail districts, having tolls to drive into major activity centers, and increase county fuel taxes.
Recommendations to help use existing road capacity in a more efficient manner included improving traffic signal timing and control, restricting peak-hour curbside parking on congested streets, and developing a network of paired one-way streets in highly congested corridors.
Suggestions were also made about how to improve alternative transportation options. These included increasing the number rapid bus transit routes and facilitating their operation by having traffic signals give them priority, having express bus service expedited on the freeway, and having bus-only lanes on congested streets. Also recommended was developing a region-wide bicycle network.
After the presentation, members of the Commission asked questions about the report’s findings and recommendations. More information about the report can be found at rand.org/pubs/monographs/ MG748/.