City planners around the world have adopted a broad range of measures for addressing the problem of traffic congestion in high-density urban areas.
Levels of traffic congestion in Australia’s major cities are worsening as a result of the additional burden placed on existing transportation infrastructure by rising populations.
The most recent traffic index report issued by satnav company TomTom, which examined a range of countries during the full year 2013, found that Sydney was the seventh-worst city in the western world for road congestion, coming in just behind Los Angeles.
TomTom found during peak-hours Sydneysiders incurred an additional 40 minutes in their cars for each hour spent driving on the city’s traffic-crammed roadways.
Given that traffic congestion is an endemic problem for high-density cities around the world, Australia’s urban planners can make reference to a broad range of international remedies for dealing with this issue.
The Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires provides an outstanding example of the adoption of bold measures to alleviate traffic congestion.
Buenos Aires received the 2014 Sustainable Transport Award for its broad-based plan to reduce vehicle congestion and associated pollution by raising city-wide levels of urban mobility.
The Buenos Aires Plan for Sustainable Mobility encompassed a range of measures, including the creation of a Bus Rapid Transit system, the introduction of articulated buses that are better capable of negotiating difficult roadways, and expansion of the metro network.
In addition to improving the city’s motorized transport system, the Buenos Aires plan also encompasses initiatives for fostering bicycle usage with the launch of Argentina’s first bike sharing program and the extension of bike paths.
Pedestrian zones and footpaths were also dramatically expanded in order to facilitate journeys made on foot, while intelligent traffic management and information systems were deployed in order to further improve vehicle flows.
Moscow, listed by the TomTom Traffic Index as the most congested city in the world, has also launched an ambitious transportation reform plan to remedy its traffic woes.
The plan launched by Moscow Mayor Sergai Sobyanin envisages the transformation of urban transportation by 2020 via a range of measures including suburban rail development, road construction, and the creation of 300 kilometres of bike lanes.
Deputy Mayor Maxim Liksutov expects the plan to save drivers as many as 88 hours per year in time on the city’s roads.
A key measure is increasing the cost of car usage by increasing paid-parking requirements and expanding toll roads.
Moscow will also better enforce parking regulations by enlisting a fleet of tow trucks to take away any cars which double-park adjacent to sidewalks and worsen traffic by constricting road space.
In the Chinese capital and megalopolis of Beijing, which is ranked by TomTom as the ninth-worst city in the world for road congestion, the municipal government is striving to deal with traffic problems with urban planning amendments.
These include a dramatic expansion of its freeway system to encompass a total of seven ring roads, as well as situating the major business centres on the second and third ring roads to facilitate traffic dispersal.
Another measure implemented by the Beijing municipal government is road space rationing in the form of restrictions on license plate issuance, which curbs the number of vehicles on the roads.
Despite the huge disparity in terms of scale and economic conditions between these cities and those of Australia, some of these measures may be still applicable to our own urban centres.
The bike sharing programs and expansion of bike lanes and pedestrian zones implemented to varying extents by Buenos Aires and Moscow can be applied wherever space permits, and in addition to cutting down on traffic congestion, can also help to ameliorate the health of local residents.
Transport and urban development consultant Alan Davies points out that simply building more freeways is unlikely to be the panacea for bad traffic – a viewpoint also shared by Victoria's Public Transport Users Association, as expanded capacity results in increased road usage without an attendant reduction in congestion levels.
Davies instead advocates road space rationing by significantly raising the cost of vehicle usage during peak periods in order to incentivize the usage of alternatives such as public transportation.