Elasticy of Roadway Demand Illustrated Again

There was a lot of discussion in various media and blogs last week about the traffic jam that didn’t materialize when I-5 was severely limited during construction in the Seattle area. Demonstrating once again that all those drivers apparently do have real choices. Either the trips really weren’t vital, or they have other options. Here’s a column from a Seattle paper, quoted on the Pricelines blog:

The short answer is that this is always what happens….

In 1998, British researchers studied what happened to traffic in more than 100 highway and bridge shutdowns in Europe and the U.S. They found that on average 25 percent of all car trips simply evaporated.

People still went to work. Some commuters drove, some found another way in. Some other trips were just not made.

“Drivers are not stupid,” (Oliver) Downs says. “They change schedules. They don’t take some trips, or they delay them. The net effect of all these little decisions can be dramatic.”

There’s that word again. Is it me, or does “little” keep rearing up when the subject is our big problem, transportation?

Seattle’s primary transit corridor, the downtown bus tunnel, is closed. Gridlock was predicted. We dodged that by doing a “thousand little things,” such as moving bus stops and banning cars from Third Avenue.

Now we have closed part of our largest freeway. Still no gridlock. You drivers made sure of that. You did “fifty thousand little things.”

Yet all the plans for what to do next are big. Build big rail lines. Bigger roads. Paid for by the biggest tax increase.

Maybe some answers to our traffic mess are little ….

This is not limited to the Seattle region. Recent local examples include the diversion of West Burnside for sewer construction and major maintenance on the Interstate Bridges.

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