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This is how Singapore is inspiring cities to solve their traffic problems

Traffic congestion is pictured in Shanghai, China, April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Joe White - RC182C7767B0
Cities around the world have different approaches to dealing with traffic.

Despite efforts to encourage a shift to sustainable transportation, traffic congestion is often the focus of debates over mobility. Global demand for automobiles rose significantly in the 1990s, with annual sales stabilising at close to 80 million vehicles since 2017. Faced with the flood of cars, for decades governments have attempted to improve mobility of citizens – some measures focus on widening existing roads and building new ones, while others encourage a switch to alternatives such as public transportation, cycling and walking.
What lessons can be learnt from experiences of different cities in their attempt to deal with traffic congestion?
Increasing road space – does it solve the problem?
In simple words, congestionoccurs when demand for road space exceeds supply.
Hence, building new roads or adding more lanes to existing ones might seem as obvious solutions. It surely sounds logical enough: as cities grow bigger, roads serving them should follow the same trend. Drivers should have more space to move if they have wider or new roads, which relieves congestion and makes cars go faster. This argument is frequently used by government officials to elaborate on the importance of new and frequently costly infrastructure projects.
However, it hasn’t always turned out this way in practice, and the reasons behind could be found in long-term effects of the induced demand. Induced demand refers to the situation where as supply of a good increases, more of a good is consumed. This implies that new roads essentially create additional traffic which in turn causes them to become congested all over again.
Why does this happen? After a highway is widened, initially there are fewer traffic jams and trips become quicker. However, these improvements change people’s behaviour. Drivers who had previously been avoiding that route because of its congestion now consider it as an attractive choice. Others who previously used public transportation, bicycles or other modes of transportation may shift to using their cars. Some people might change their time of travel – instead of travelling in off-peak times to avoid congestion, they start travelling in peak-times, increasing congestion. Hence, as more people start using the widened highway, initial time-saving effects are reduced and eventually disappear.
I-45, I-10 and US 90 near downtown Houston, Texas.
Image: Dhanix/Wikipedia, CC BY
Katy Freeway in Houston, Texas, illustrates this problem. With its 26 lanes, it is considered as the widest highway in North America. The expansion project was completed in 2011 and costed US$2.8 billion. Shortly after its widening, however, congestion actually worsened. A 2014 analysis by City Observatoryfound that compared to 2011 levels, morning commute times increased by 30%, while afternoon commute times increased by 55%.
Reducing and relocating road space
When looking at top – 10 cities for time lost due to congestion in 2018, eight are European. One common factor impacting congestion in Paris, London, Rome, Milan or Barcelona is their age. Some roads predate advent of cars, which increases complexity of road network operations. In fact, car – centric infrastructure in a sense collides into public transit and walking development patterns.
At the same time, cities in Europe tend to be most progressive when it comes to reducing and relocating road space to make room for other types of transportation. Zurich, for example, deliberately slowed its road traffic down to make it unpopular, while Paris pursues aggressive policy of expanding public spaces, by eliminating traffic from lower docks of the Seine.
Let’s look at solutions of London more closely…
Battle to tackle London congestion continues
In 2003 the city of London implemented a congestion charge in the attempt to turn away motorists from driving to other means of travel. It functions on a fairly simple basis: vehicles entering Congestion Charging Zone of central London from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a weekday are now charged a flat daily fee of 11.50 pounds (13 euros). Coupled with other actions, several important contributions were achieved.
Traffic volume in the charging zone in 2017 remained 22% lower in comparison to a decade earlier. Number of private cars entering inner-city London fell by 39% between 2002 and 2014. Simultaneously, well – established shift toward public transportation is evident. In 2017, 45% of journey stages in London were attributed to travelling by bus, tram, underground, rail and DLR – an increase of 10.5% compared to early 2000s. Additionally, cycling experienced massive growth, with 727,000 trips made per day in 2016 – a jump of 9% in comparison to 2015.
Since early 2000s, overall positive trend toward public transportation and cycling is evident in London.
Image: Travel in London Report 11, 2018
But according to many, London’s congestion charge has been showing signs of its age. Traffic speeds are slower, journey times are longer. With 227 hours lost per driver in 2018, London ranked as the 6th city in the world for time lost in traffic.
Several factors contributed to this. Boom in online shopping increased traffic of delivery vans on the streets. In 2012, vans drove 3.8 billion kilometres on London’s roads, while in 2017 this increased to 4.8 billion kilometres – a 26% rise. Also, private-hire vehicles such as Uber have seen an explosion in the number of registrations – 75% from 2013 to 2017. Another challenge is the road space reduction. Road capacity for motorists is reduced due to temporary construction work in some areas, as well as the road space relocation aimed to improve facilities for cyclists, pedestrians and taxis.
London traffic congestion.
Image: London Assembly
While Londoners can be optimistic when it comes to alternatives to driving being developed, improving driving experience will be a more challenging task to achieve without some major reconsideration of the current charging system.
Currently, two adjustments are introduced which should bring some improvement. Private-hire vehicles will no longer be exempt from paying the congestion charge if they travel within the zone during peak hours. Also, Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is put in place for the same area as the Congestion Charging Zone, aiming to improve air quality. Vehicles entering the zone that don’t meet exhaust emission standards will pay additional 12.50 pounds (14.10 euros). Still, as more electric vehicles hit the streets, the effects of ULEZ will likely decrease over time…


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