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The problem with the “reckless driver” narrative.  Strong Towns Chuck Marohn eloquently points out the deflection and denial inherent in the emerging “reckless driver” explanation for increasing car crashes and injuries.  Blaming a few reckless drivers for the deep-seated systemic biases in our road system is really a convenient way to avoid asking hard questions about the carnage we accept as routine.  Many drivers routinely engage in risky behaviors, from speeding to texting, to other distractions.  What’s changed during the pandemic, is that their are more opportunities for these risks to turn catastrophic, because there’s less traffic.  Ironically, traffic congestion holds down speeds and forces drivers to pay attention, diminishing possible crashes.  The problem isn’t the recklessness, it’s all the driving.

Focusing on reckless driving is obsessing over the smallest fraction of the underlying cause, but it fits a narrative that engineers, transportation planners, and traffic safety officials are more comfortable with, one that puts the blame on others, primarily the Reckless Driver.

Where college students want to live after graduation.  Axios has a new poll asking an important, post-pandemic (we hope) question:  Where will young workers want to live.  If remote work is as popular and prevalent as some think, young adults seemingly have more choice than ever about where to live and pursue their careers.  The Axios survey shows that the new hotspots are . . . the same as the old hotspots:  big vibrant cities, chiefly on the coasts.

The great tech-hub exodus that didn’t actually happen.  In theory, the advent of work-at-home ought to have undermined the need to be located in an expensive, superstar tech-hub.  Finally, it was supposed to be the opportunity to flourish for second-tier cities that had been bypassed by the continuing concentration of firms and talent in a relative handful of established tech centers.  But according to this article from WIRED, the theory isn’t panning out:  for the most part, tech jobs remain concentrated in the long-established tech hubs.  Drawing on data from the Brookings Institution, they report that:

The tech sector grew by 47 percent in the 2010s, and in the latter half of that decade, nearly half of tech job creation occurred in eight “superstar” metro areas: San Jose, New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles, and Austin. By the end of the decade, those eight cities comprised 38.2 percent of tech jobs.

A key factor underlying the persistent success of these tech centers is knowledge spillovers.  WIRED quotes UC Berkeley’s Enrico Moretti, whose research points out the tech centers serve as force multipliers for idea creation and dissemination:  scientists are more productive when they’re embedded in an environment with others, than when they are widely scattered.

New knowledge

Why highway widening is inherently inequitable.  Who benefits when highways are widened? Urban traffic congestion is predominantly a “peak hour” problem, affecting those who travel by car during travel peaks, particularly those coinciding with morning and afternoon commute trips.  A new study from the University of Montreal looks at the socioeconomic characteristics of those who travel by car on congested roadways to discover who really benefits from highway widening.   The authors use a travel survey covering more than 300,000 trips in Montreal, disaggregated by household income, trip time and trip mode to compare the equity implications of highway expansion projects designed to reduce peak hour travel times.  They find an unequivocal result:
. . . investments in roadways made to reduce traffic congestion lead to inequitable benefits. . .  . because fewer low-income workers and low-income travelers travel by car and at peak times due to their job scheduling and activities. Also, travelled distances of low-income workers are generally shorter so that benefits of flow improvements are more modest. As such, congestion mitigation disproportionally advantages higher-income groups in terms of travel speed and time.
There are four key reasons why highway expansions disproportionately benefit higher income households relative to lower income households.
First, lower income households are far less likely to travel by car.  In Montreal, only 50.4% of trips by low income households are made using a car (compared to 69% for the entire sample, 75.3% for the wealthiest group).
Second, lower income households are far less likely to travel at the peak hour, during congested travel times.  In Montreal, only about 40 percent of low income households commute during the AM and PM peak hours, compared to about 58 percent of high income households.
Third, lower income households take shorter trips than higher income households, which means that even when they do travel by car at the peak hour, the time savings for them are smaller than for higher income households.  In Montreal, low-income car drivers travel shorter distances by car during the morning peak period. Highest income car drivers travel on average distances that are nearly 60% greater (median of 5.3 vs. 8.4 km).  Even low income households in suburban areas take shorter trips.
Fourth , low income households are less affected by traffic congestion, and therefore have less to gain from its reduction.  The authors estimate that low income households experience a travel time index (ratio of peak hour travel times to free flow travel times) of 1.3 (a peak hour trip takes 30 percent longer than a free flow trip.  This compares to higher income travelers, who experience a travel time index of 1.5.  Higher income households disproportionately benefit from congestion reduction.
As an aside, we note that this study doesn’t consider the fact that highway expansion projects generally fail as a means of reducing travel times, due to the well-established fundamental law of road congestion—which means that effectively no one benefits from highway expansion projects.  But even then, as the author’s note, highway expansions tend to lead to further decentralization of economic activity and longer trips, which itself works to the relative disadvantage of those without cars.
There’s an unfortunate excess of glib and empty rhetoric about the importance of equity considerations in transportation projects. This study shows that the highway expansion projects by their very nature are intrinsically inequitable.  No amount of PR whitewash should be allowed to obscure this fundamental fact.
Ugo Lachapelle &  Geneviève Boisjoly, The Equity Implications of Highway Development and Expansion: Four Indicators, Université du Québec à Montréal, March 11, 2022,