Los Angeles commuters don’t so much drive to work as creep—slowly, very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that each L.A. driver wasted an average 70 hours stuck in traffic in 2007, which was actually a slight improvement over the 72 hours they squandered in 2006, according to a study released last week by the Texas Transportation Institute.
Despite a lot of huffing and puffing by politicians proclaiming their good intentions to fight global warming, their plans to reduce our dependence on cars are coming up short. A handful of recent reports and analyses reveal Western cities are still plagued by congestion and states’ transportation spending plans won’t do much to alleviate it.
The (sort of) good news from the Texas Transportation Institute is that traffic jams eased up ever so slightly on commuters in many of the West’s urban centers, including San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland and Denver, between 2006 and 2007.
But the report’s co-author, David Schrank, warned that these findings aren’t cause for celebration. "No one should expect to be driving the speed limit on their way to work because of this," he told the Portland Oregonian.
Despite lighter traffic, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Jose, Calif., and Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., still placed among the 15 most congested cities in the nation in terms of both annual delay and wasted fuel per traveler in Schrank’s report.
The slim declines in urban congestion were attributed primarily to the slumping economy. A more recent study in the Bay Area that found congestion continued to wane there in 2008 also credited its results to our economic woes, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The billion dollars in stimulus funding distributed to states for transportation could have gone a long way toward reducing congestion more dramatically by investing in alternative transportation. But according to a recent analysis by Smart Growth America, states’ "commitments to transportation choice fall far short of need."
The study confirms speculation earlier this year that stimulus funding allocated for transportation would be spent disproportionately on new roads rather than on repair and maintenance of existing roads, or on public transit and non-motorized transportation. The group found that a dismal 0.9 percent of stimulus dollars nationwide were slated to fund public transit projects, and only 2.8 percent were committed to non-motorized transportation. The report concluded that these amounts are "grossly inadequate" to meet the demand and need for public transportation.
Based on numbers alone, the worst offenders in the West were New Mexico and Wyoming, which didn’t allocate any of their federal money to public or non-motorized transportation. But California, the epicenter of congested cities, should probably be scolded most heartily. The state has committed only one percent of its stimulus to transit and a scant two percent to non-motorized transportation.
Oregon and Colorado led the West in their commitments to transit and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, allocating 17 and 12 percent of their funds respectively. Nevada and Wyoming topped the charts in terms of percentage of funding going toward preserving existing roads at 91 and 81 percent.
Good job, guys. As for the rest of you, isn't it about time to get with the program?