Special Report: Transit

Parkway Traffic Study Needs Broader Scope

The motion to study widening the Linc and RHVP must be expanded to include the full range of policy options with their respective costs and benefits.

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 05, 2015

It's always a good idea to study ideas, so the recent Public Works Committee vote to approve Ward 9 Councillor Doug Conley's motion to look at widening the Red Hill Valley Parkway and Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway to six lanes has merit.

Red Hill Valley Parkway (RTH file photo)
Red Hill Valley Parkway (RTH file photo)

However, before the motion is approved by Council next week, its scope needs to expand to include the full range of policy options to address increasing vehicle traffic on the highways and a comprehensive evaluation of the costs and benefits of each option.

It is unfortunate that the Public Works Committee missed the opportunity to take the comprehensive approach when it approved Conley's motion, which predetermines an outcome in the absence of any actual research.

It should trouble everyone who cares about responsible governance that the committee in charge of guiding the city's transportation infrastructure investment is so blindly prejudiced in favour of expanding vehicle lane capacity that it doesn't even occur to them to ask staff to consider other transportation policy options.

Induced Demand

Any discussion of adding lane capacity to address congestion must start with the law of induced demand, which is a fundamental principle of how transportation networks operate. Induced demand is simply an application of the economic law of demand, which states that when the price of a good goes down, all other things being equal, demand for it will go up.

Likewise with induced demand, as the supply of lane capacity increases, more traffic is generated to consume it. This effect has been proven abundantly over decades of robust transportation studies all around the world and is very well understood by transportation engineers and researchers and planners.

To put it bluntly, if adding lane capacity solved congestion, we would not be talking about widening the Linc/RHVP in the first place.

Incidentally, this is true of every transportation mode, not only vehicle lane capacity. If you increase transit service and/or reduce fares, that attracts more people to use transit. (Likewise, walking and cycling increase when the network's capacity to accommodate walking and cycling goes up.)

Unfortunately, a basic understanding of induced demand doesn't seem to have percolated over to policy makers, who continue to respond naively to traffic congestion by calling for extra lanes, which inevitably generate more traffic until they become congested again.

Council was warned about this back in 2007. When the Red Hill Valley Parkway was being built, Council was advised that peak rush-hour service levels would quickly become poor if the City did not increase transit service to accommodate some of the additional trips being generated by all the new suburban development that the highway's completion enabled on the east mountain.

Yet in the past eight years, the City has invested almost no money whatsoever in increasing transit service anywhere, let alone the east mountain.

In fact, we have stagnated or declined in transit funding and service continuously for the past thirty years, during a time when many other cities have increased transit service - and ridership - dramatically.

Improved Transit

The first and most obvious response to increasing congestion on the highway should be to look at accommodating some of those trips with improved transit service.

It has been astonishingly short-sighted for the City to ignore the warning that it needed to increase transit service in order to avoid traffic congestion on its new highway, and then respond to the predictable emergence of traffic congestion by deciding to look at further widening the highway.

Even now, the City has a Ten Year Transit Strategy that invests not one penny of new levy money into increasing service, but instead loads all of the expansion cost onto riders via fares (which will actually deter some people from using transit) and begs the Province for funding to buy new buses, a request the Province has already declined.

The evidence is clear: when cities increase transit service, more people use transit. More convenient stops, frequent service, better connections - these are proven methods to draw some people out of their cars and into transit.

We need only look up the highway to Waterloo Region, a municipality strikingly similar to Hamilton, with similar size, population and polycentric urban form. Starting in 2000, when Waterloo's regional transit system was amalgamated, service levels have grown steadily and ridership has grown in locksteop right along with it. So much for the claim that good transit won't draw people out of cars.

Area Rating and Fragmented Transit

Ironically, Waterloo is still a region of municipalities whereas Hamilton is an amalgamated city, but unlike Waterloo Region, Hamilton's transit system is still fragemented by area rating.

Under area rating, the various former municipalities comprising Hamilton each pay different tax rates toward transit and receive service levels commensurate with what they pay. What this means is that if a former suburb wants a new transit service, its residents must pay 100 percent of the increased cost rather than distributing the cost among all the city's ratepayers.

That is a huge disincentive to expanding transit service and makes it impossible for the City to design a comprehensive transit system - not that we have actually tried to made any significant changes to the design of our transit system in the past 30 years.

Also ironically, the same Hamilton City Councillors who want to spend $100 million to widen our municipal highway are also opposed to ending the area rating balkanization of transit funding and service operation.

The City was supposed to put an end to area rating by 2010, but the 2006-2010 Council punted the decision to the 2011-2014 Council. That Council managed to resolve area rating for recreation and fire services in early 2011, but punted a decision on fixing transit to the 2015-2018 Council.

Now it's almost 2016 and the current Council has already indicated that it will punt a decision yet again out beyond the 2018 election. This is a staggeringly irresponsible abrogation of Council's fundamental role to lead this city.

Congestion Pricing

People respond to incentives and disincentives. This is a fundamental law of economics and it has been demonstrated to a great level of detail and nuance in people's choices through a growing body of research in cognitive and behavioural psychology. One of the findings that has emerged is that people are not entirely rational in how we value things.

For one thing, we weigh losses more strongly than gains, so we will do more to avoid a cost than to achieve a benefit. This is why, for example, a five-cent cost for a plastic bag at the grocery store is much better at getting people to bring their own bags than a five-cent discount.

For another, we tend to value money more than we value time. So a person who is willing to sit, frustrated, in an extra half an hour of traffic congestion will make a different decision to avoid paying a toll.

A number of cities have implemented congestion pricing on their highways: during peak times, people who want to drive have to pay a little bit of money to use the highway.

What invariably happens when the city gets the price right is that some people change their decisions: they drive earlier or later, take transit instead of driving, carpool or otherwise avoid the toll.

It doesn't have to be that many people, either: traffic congestion is a non-linear phenomenon in which a small increase in the total number of vehicles on the road produces a disproportionate increase in congestion. Likewise, a small decrease in the number of vehicles can turn a snarl of stop-and-go traffic into a smooth flow at the speed limit.

Jonas Eliasson, the director of the Centre for Transport Studies at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, explains how congestion pricing works in a lively TED talk from 2012.

The bottom line is that people's choices and options are more elastic and flexible than we normally assume. Not everyone who is driving at a given moment has to be driving - we have choices, and price signals affect the choices we make.

For those who complain that it's not fair to charge people to drive in rush hour, we must note that we are already collectively paying for congestion in lost productivity, stress and disease from long commutes, increased air pollution and various other externalities.

Congestion pricing merely internalizes some of those external costs to the people who are directly causing them.

Comprehensive Approach

An effective, comprehensive solution will likely have to include both increased transit service and some congestion pricing. The good news is that the revenue from the highway tolls can go toward increasing service, which will give more people an alternative to driving.

If we only increase transit without putting a price on congestion, we will only put off the point at which congestion becomes a serious problem.

This is due to the Downs-Thomson Paradox, named after Anthony Downs and J. M. Thomson, which states that the equilibrium speed of car traffic on a street is a function of the comparative speed of an equivalent trip on public transit.

In short, increasing transit service will draw some people out of their cars, and that freed-up lane capacity will in turn draw some people to generate additional car trips until the two systems achieve equilibrium again.

On the other hand, adding lane capacity generates more traffic - including drawing some people out of transit and into cars and making both systems operate less effectively. Holding the line on lane capacity and increasing transit will provide for the maximum overall network carrying capacity at the most effective overall cost.

Of course, putting the right price on congestion to keep traffic volumes free-flowing, as well as increasing transit service at the same time, does have the potential to more or less eliminate congestion.

The absolute worst thing we can do is add lanes and not add transit service or congestion tolls, because we will end up with a system that is still congested, but with one-third more cars stuck in traffic and an even less-utilized transit network.

(Major h/t to Craig Burley for reminding us that the City was warned about service level issues if the City does not invest in increasing transit ridership and other transportation demand management measures.)

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

23 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 10:17:30

One other point is that Council seems to have little problem increasing tolls for some road users ... transit users!

Every transit user needs to pay up to $2.55 per trip ($2.10 with Presto), regardless of length. How would motorists react to paying $2.55 ($2.10 with transponder) to use the Linc or the RHVP? Any outrage would be hypocritical given that this is just what transit users already pay to use the streets (even to go 5km).

All residents pay for municipal roads through property taxes (either directly or via rent), but to use those roads (apart from walking or cycling) non-drivers need to pay an additional toll.

On top of this, currently in Hamilton, transit users tend be less wealthy than drivers.

There therefore is also a fairness argument for tolling at least some streets so that you don't end up having non-drivers subsidize drivers, and the less wealthy subsidize the more wealthy. The other option would be free transit, which might lead to some mode shift, as well as being fairer.

http://raisethehammer.org/article/2661/b...

And the congestion reducing way tolls allow our infrastructure to be used more effectively is yet another bonus.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-11-05 11:21:02

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 10:20:04

not expecting any decent scope, discussion or common sense from city hall. But I digress.

Some great reading here for anyone interested in the clear and direct link between great transit/cycling and traffic congestion. When you hear of a city that now has 50% mode share using transit everyday, does nobody stop to wonder how the road would look if that transit system was shut down and that 50% were back on the roads??

Great info here:

http://www.citylab.com/commute/2013/04/p...

http://www.transportworks.org/about-tran...

Comment edited by JasonL on 2015-11-05 11:20:18

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By TheXGuy (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 11:19:33

As I mentioned in the other article I’m hoping the city studies the effectiveness of Ramp Metering to manage traffic flow. Yes, eventually the capacity/space recovered will be consumed in the future, but it is a short term inexpensive solution compared to the Jump-Right-In solution of a $100 Million expressway expansion.

Transit only helps if there is a destination available to a user. Has there been any stats collected to determine where all this Expressway traffic is going. (How many trips start and end within the city expressways versus using the Expressways to get to the QEW Toronto bound, for example). Maybe Hamilton is too much of a bedroom community. Perhaps widen the scope of the study and find more ways to attract employers to Hamilton, thus reducing the need for using expressways to leave the city and increase the likelihood of using city transit.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 05, 2015 at 11:44:10 in reply to Comment 114644

Hamilton is not a bedroom community, despite the common stereotype. 70 percent of Hamiltonians work in Hamilton. (And the single biggest employment cluster in the city is the downtown core, with 25,000 jobs and steadily growing over the past decade.) Currently, more people commute out of the city to work than into the city (most of those outbound commuters are going to nearby municipalities like Burlington and Oakville), but the rate of outbound commuting has been stable over the past couple of census periods so we are not trending toward becoming a bedroom community.

Also, as I tried to point out in the article, the point is not to get everyone to choose alternatives to driving at rush hour. A minimum viable solution merely gets enough people to shift away from rush-hour driving to alleviate congestion. Any solution that includes congestion pricing will reach a lower-traffic equilibrium than a solution that does not involve congestion pricing.

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 06, 2015 at 01:25:22 in reply to Comment 114646

I should point to readers it can go both ways. Over the long term, all-day 2-way GO service can make everybody else become equally a "bedroom community" (if one was to use that term) to Hamilton.

Even today, we also have inbound commuters; e.g. outside coming to McMaster.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By KevinLove (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 12:55:56

Induced demand can be summed up in one sentence:

People will tend to use the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of travelling from A to B.

If you build a city where car driving is the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of travelling from A to B, then care to guess what will happen?

There are alternatives. Here is a video of one of them.

As shown in the video, Groningen used to be like Hamilton: A car-dominated urban disaster. They changed. We can too.

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 06, 2015 at 01:01:19 in reply to Comment 114651

I like this one:

Amsterdam, 1972.

Less bikes than today's Hamilton.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY6PQAI4...

Imgur                                 Amsterdam, circa 1972. (#1 of 6)

Imgur                                 Amsterdam, circa 1972. (#2 of 6)

Imgur                                 Amsterdam, circa 1972. (#3 of 6)

Imgur                                 Amsterdam, circa 1972. (#4 of 6)

Imgur                                 Amsterdam, circa 1972. (#5 of 6)

Imgur                                 Amsterdam, circa 1972. (#6 of 6)

Amsterdam, before I was born.

Amsterdam, less walkable than Hamilton.

Amsterdam, less greenery than Hamilton.

Amsterdam, more downtown car-congestion than today.

Amsterdam, circa 1972.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-11-06 02:26:38

Permalink | Context

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 08, 2015 at 22:30:52 in reply to Comment 114673

This video is absolutely amazing!!

Permalink | Context

By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 15:12:31 in reply to Comment 114651

"People will tend to use the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of travelling from A to B."

You left out Cheapest and/or efficient.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2015-11-05 16:12:58

Permalink | Context

By KevinLove (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 21:43:50 in reply to Comment 114658

That is a question of price elasticity of demand. I note that the cost of car driving to the car driver is approximately 10 times as expensive as transit use, so conclude that cost is not a significant factor.

Annual cost of an HSR pass is $1,135 less the 15% tax credit gives $965.

Even CAA admits that annual car ownership costs for typical car drivers is north of $10,000 per year. And the somewhat pro-car CAA omits a whole bunch of costs, most notably car parking. Even in farthest-flung surburbia, the cost of building and maintaining garages and driveways is not zero.

And those are just the costs to the private car driver.

Hard working taxpayers, such as myself, also are compelled to contribute a roughly equal amount of money to subsidize car driving.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2015-11-05 22:45:16

Permalink | Context

By Value (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 23:24:34 in reply to Comment 114668

How elastic is the value of not getting influenza from a bus ride?

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 06, 2015 at 01:18:31 in reply to Comment 114670

Well, I own a car, and I also do transit.

I have to call you out on that.

The health improvements of the extra exercise caused by taking public transit, actually more than compensates for that. Urban populations tend to be, on average, skinnier than suburban populations.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 14:36:34

Don't know if anyone caught the 70's show on CHML today. The bellbottoms and mullets were pretty awesome. Terry Whitehead said, and I quote: "the future is NOW".

Referring to widening the expressways. Apparently we need 5 decades of studies and delays before we invest a cent into transit or cycling, but a city councillor with zero city-building expertise can simply declare that it's time for a $100 million project with zero studies, data, info or possible solutions.

The metered entry ramp suggestion above is a great one, and I've long wondered why we don't do this here. When I lived in the U.S. in the 90's they were all over the place on busy freeways. And by busy, I mean busy. Not these free flowing roadways our 70's show call congested.

Even Mississauga has metered entry ramps. Much simpler short term solution instead of blowing more money we don't have.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 16:00:21

Roughly 243,000 employed workers live in Hamilton, and around 170,000 of those work somewhere within the city’s borders. Roughly 25,000 (15%) of those jobs are located in an area bounded by Hunter, Cannon, Queen & Victoria (plus James south to St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and north to LIUNA Station/CN). Not sure where the other key nodes are located.

investinhamilton.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/2014-Downtown-Urban-Employment-Survey.pdf

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 05, 2015 at 16:33:45

In his giant wave of whaargaarbl, Cclr Whitehead did make a good point: Tolling the Red Hill/Linc will result in a spillover of traffic onto the local streets. It's reasonable to be worried about that.

However, I worry about that either way - more traffic on the Linc/RedHill will still back up as they arrive at the narrower expressways at their endpoints - the 403 escarpment access is only 2 lanes, and the Red Hill / QEW ramp is long and narrow. So even beyond concerns about induced demand and the environment, the constraints that already exist on the Linc/Red Hill may actually make this whole upgrade completely pointless.

Permalink | Context

By KevinLove (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 21:24:26 in reply to Comment 114661

The solution is simple: use concrete and steel bollards to eliminate cut-through car driving on local streets. Retractable bollards allow HSR or emergency vehicles through.

Here is a rather hilarious video of car drivers trying to "beat" retractable bollards. Spoiler alert: solid steel always wins. We need these in Hamilton!

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 05, 2015 at 21:29:48 in reply to Comment 114666

That's completely silly overkill. Reformatting Garth into a complete street would reduce the speeding traffic just fine without completely choking off access to the Beckett Drive hill. Garth and Aberdeen are two sides of the same coin, and could both be fixed with the same TLC.

Permalink | Context

By KevinLove (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 22:02:24 in reply to Comment 114667

The problem is that as long as car driving is the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of going from A to B we are not going to discourage car drivers from launching their lethal cancer poison attacks upon ourselves and our children.

It is, of course, fairly simple to eliminate cut-through car driving on residential streets. This was done on a systematic basis in an entire country, The Netherlands.

Key quote from the above link:

"Residential streets in the Netherlands rarely work as through roads for cars, even if they were originally designed to do so."

They changed. We can too.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2015-11-05 23:05:18

Permalink | Context

By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 05, 2015 at 18:03:40 in reply to Comment 114661

more lanes always equals more traffic. I don't think someone is going to get off the Linc and start figuring out how to get down to Mohawk and all the way across to the 403 instead of paying a few bucks.
I love the whining all the time from people who buy these grand homes and have 2-3 cars, but complain about paying 50 cents in a parking meter or 3$ toll on a road. The convenience offered should be worth far more than that. People pay $3 to sit on a dirty, crowded, bumpy, slow bus that turns a 15 minute car trip into an hour-long sardine can with walking on both ends. Really, drivers can't pay a few bucks into the system too???

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 05, 2015 at 21:22:06 in reply to Comment 114663

People aren't rational actors. People will not accurately price their own time and make a rational decision about tolls. This isn't a trait specific to drivers.

And Whitehead himself has mentioned both Garth and the Linc as his own personal commute, implying he takes the Linc to Garth and then drives down to City Hall through town instead of taking the QEW around. In other words, he does exactly what he complains about others doing in his area - getting off the highway to drive through residential neighborhoods and use them as a thoroughfare. With 3 lanes of Linc feeding into the same crowded QEW, that kind of behavior would only worsen with his plan.

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted November 13, 2015 at 23:57:22 in reply to Comment 114665

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 14, 2015 at 10:59:14 in reply to Comment 114832

if they ever tolled the RHVP or the Linc, all the traffic for mountain commuters who use it to keep other streets less busy and get to their destinations faster will go back to the pre-Linc days where Mohawk, Stone Church and Fennell turn into parking lots from the extra volume.

No it wouldn't. Check out the traffic on those streets the one Sunday a year the Linc is closed for a charity event. Each of them are literal parking lots. On Sunday. During the work-week it would be exponentially worse. People would pay the couple bucks for a speedy trip.

I'm not on board yet with the idea of tolling local residents on these highways. Trucks, certainly.
But the above suggestion regarding Mohawk, Stonechurch etc.... isn't accurate.

As for the broader discussion, if tolls didn't fix anything, the rest of planet earth wouldn't use them so extensively. Is there a nation anywhere with as few road tolls as Canada?? Not anywhere I've been.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 14, 2015 at 09:57:51 in reply to Comment 114832

Yes, that's why I don't like the tolling the linc idea. The province policy on tolls is to only toll/HOV newly-built infrastructure because anything else is political suicide... which is actually a shame in some spots, because the 401 could absolutely use an HOV lane but the 401 is already quite wide enough, thankyou. I'd absolutely want to see an HOT/HOV approach taken if the Linc/Red-Hill were widened, though.

I'm surprised to learn that Whitehead lives so far South, I'd always assumed he lived in the older part of his ward.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds