In the midst of Tropical Storm Harvey, our hearts and thoughts go out to the families whom are affected by this storm. Due to its flat topography, Houston is well-known for its susceptibility for flooding. Many people woke up to find they were trapped inside their flooded homes and waited to be rescued. We wish the affected families the best of luck in their journey to recovery.
I have never been to Houston, but I have heard many stories about Houston’s traffic and planning. In this blog, I will share what I have learned from my perspective and my extended knowledge of transportation.
Houston is known for its sprawl. People tend to complain about the traffic because they drive to most of their destinations. The traffic is usually at a standstill.
Here is a video talking about the Houston’s freeway system.
American Highway Users Alliance published a statement that the Katy freeway in Houston was the second most congested road in America. Drivers spend a combined 25.4 million hours every year sitting in traffic on that road (which is 36 lifetimes worth). That is why the government decided to spend $2.8 billion to expand the road to 28 lanes, making it the widest highway in the world. Many people thought that this extra capacity would surely solve the problem. However, between 2011 and 2014, travel time on Katy freeway went up 55% (Meaning that driving between downtown Houston and Katyland, a 28-minute drive without traffic, takes an average of 64 mins during afternoon rush hour.)
Sounds unbelievable, right?
The video explains that the road expanding solution violated the fundamental law of roads: MORE LANES=MORE TRAFFIC. When the road got extended, more people used it, causing it to reach capacity again.
Here are some solutions for traffic as discussed in the video:
- Take public transit
This is always the long-term way to solve traffic. Taking the bus and light rail can definitely reduce the daily amount of traffic and is also environmentally friendly.
- Ramp meters
Meters on entrance and exit ramps can control the amount flow of traffic entering the highway. It slows down the number of cars merging onto the highway, ensuring traffic stays at its most efficient speed.
Tolls are a direct way to reduce traffic. In New York, which has high roadway tolls, people often prefer to take the train or subway into Manhattan instead of driving.
Roundabouts decrease some of the worst type of collisions and still carry the same amount of traffic, according to study. Traffic tends to be smooth and consistent, albeit having a slower flow.
- Diverging diamond interchange (DDI), also called double crossover diamond interchange (DCD)
- Fewer conflict points (14 for DDI, 26 for conventional)
- Conflict points spread out throughout interchange
- Better sight distance at turns
- Virtually no driver confusion (FHWA study and new DDI observations in Springfield, MO)
- Traffic calming features when desired
- Wrong way entry to ramps extremely difficult
- Shorter pedestrian crossings
In the DC metro area, commuters also face heavy traffic during the rush hours, especially in downtown DC, I-66, I-495, and I-395. After all, traffic is an issue for every major metropolitan area. We all contribute to solve this problem. I highly recommend everyone to take public transit like Metrorail, Metrobus, or the Capital Bikeshare.
Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.