More Americans are hitting the road than ever before. And the result — to the annoyance of many urban commuters — is increasingly congested roadways.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. driving increased by 12.2 billion miles in 2018, as motorists logged a record 3.225 trillion miles. In February 2019 alone, Americans drove nearly 267 billion miles.
As more people make cars their main mode of transportation and move into and around major urban areas, cities must contend with how to maintain quality of life for residents. A big part of this is dealing with traffic congestion. While traditional solutions like building and adding more lanes to roads and highways may have worked in the past, several cities are trying innovative, technology-driven approaches to unclog their highways and byways. Here's an overview of some of the congestion management trends we're seeing across the country:
According to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), congestion pricing is common in Europe and is slowly now making its way to the United States at a larger scale. Several major cities either have implemented it or are considering it.
Congestion pricing involves charging vehicles a toll to enter an area during peak traffic times. By charging a premium, cities hope to discourage people from traveling by car during certain times of day, which could ease traffic congestion by diverting people to public transportation, carpooling or bike-shares. One European city that introduced congestion pricing reduced traffic congestion by 30% and carbon emissions by 12% in its first year of implementation.
This approach also has another added benefit: raising revenue for much needed infrastructure improvements. Technology, like Conduent Transportation's electronic tolling, road usage and congestion management solutions, automate the toll collection process. This makes it easier for cities that are considering congestion pricing to collect tolls and use the revenue to fund much-needed transportation and infrastructure improvements.
Several cities are experimenting with smart parking technology that gives drivers real-time information on parking availability to reduce congestion caused by vehicle cruising. Others are using data-driven, sensor-based solutions to adjust parking rates throughout the day based on demand, so that drivers can take advantage of low parking rates when demand is low or avoid making trips when rates are high. Demand-based parking could ease traffic concerns because it opens up more parking spaces, makes them easier to find and reduces pollution and congestion.
Cities are expanding smart parking into curbside management that provides strict management and enforcement of available curb space for vehicle parking, but more importantly for freight loading and deliveries. Other concepts include integration into ATMS and TOC for advance route planning and prioritized intersection signaling for commercial and freight delivery. This includes on-the-fly rerouting and revised delivery schedules in the event of a traffic incident or during congested periods, and predesignated and highly enforced freight delivery and loading zones.
Cities are trying to encourage residents to trade four wheels for two by launching more micro-mobility solutions such as bike-sharing and scooter sharing programs.
Visit most major cities and you'll see bike stations scattered throughout different neighborhoods, making it easy for people to rent a bike, traverse several miles and drop it off at their intended destination. To improve safety for cyclists, several cities have created central transit lanes and dedicated bike lanes, many of which are on main streets.
In parts of the country, micro-transit is even becoming analog, as areas introduce electric scooters that you can dock or leave anywhere thanks to a GPS-enabled mobile app.
Flex Lanes and Flex Zones
With ride-sharing becoming a mainstay in public transportation, cities are adopting flex lanes and flex zones to reduce traffic.
With this approach, curbs that were formerly dedicated to parking become flexible areas with designated pick up and drop off zones, protected bike lanes, commercial loading zones, streetcar lanes and short-term parking.
With flex zones, cities are redefining every part of the road and making it usable and accessible for a variety of urban uses.
Cities and states are also using lane rental fees to minimize lane closure effects and monetarily incentivize contractors to be innovative to minimize the duration of lane closures. By charging a contractor a fee to rent a lane in order to close it, agencies are effectively transferring the roadway user costs back to the contractor in an effort to minimize congestion.
All these trends highlight how cities are rethinking urban transportation. Adopting these innovative approaches could encourage more people to trade their cars for more economical ways of commuting that get rid of gridlock and ease the flow of traffic on our nation's increasingly busy roads.
Read more content on congestion management trends and solutions at https://transportation.conduent.com/solutions/