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Congestion Pricing

Tuesday Metro Meeting: Adoption of the 2010 Congestion Management Plan

Screen shot 2010-09-12 at 8.55.30 PM

In 1992, a new state law required that every county, through its transportation authority, submit something called a "Congestion Management Plan" (CMP) so that the state could see the impact the transportation dollars dolled out from the new gas tax would have around the state.  The CMP would set baselines, analyze the state of transportation, and set out the plan for dealing with transportation.

For Los Angeles County, Metro is the agency responsible for putting together the local plan, and omorrow, the Metro Board will meet to consider adoption of the 2010 CMP, a mammoth 265 page document that's available on their website.  Metro is also charged with insuring that every city is in compliance with the plan, or cities could lose their share of the gas tax revenue.

The content of the local CMP has changed dramatically over the decades.  Back in the 1990's, Metro and its member cities, especially the City of Los Angeles, seemed most concerned with reducing car trips to reduce congestion.  This 1996 story from the Daily News quotes a City Manager for Westlake Village explaining their plan to come into compliance:

``The Congestion Management Program is an attempt to reduce congestion in Los Angeles County by reducing the total number of vehicle trips,'' explained City Manager Ray Taylor

To be fair, there is some talk of using carpool programs and work from home programs to reduce congestion, there is a far greater focus on "road improvements" such as some of the new freeways that have been added to the network since 1992 and the 480 miles of new carpool lanes.

As for new strategies, to fight congestion; the plan focuses on densifying development and charging developers a fee for congestion created by new development.   This "Congestion Mitigation Fee" shouldn't be confused with "Congestion Pricing."  The former applies to developers and development.  The latter allows agencies to collect money for use of less congested lanes on freeways.  For a more detailed explanation of "Congestion Mitigation Fees" visit the Streetsblog story when from 2008 when Metro first proposed and studied the fees.

While the report can be a bit dense, there are some highlights and surprising information that can be gleaned.  For example, the Level of Service, i.e. the amount of cars that can be moved on a street, on major arterial streets has actually improved throughout the county between 1992 and 2007.  I think most Angelenos would be surprised by that.

However, the report gives the "credit" for this congestion reduction to traffic light synchronization.  Of course, a faster commute is hardly a sign that the city is becoming more livable or a better place to live.  However, even as Metro daily promotes and publicizes the 405 widening project, it releases a document stating that fixing traffic light timing can do more for local congestion that the multi-billion highway projects that it so proudly trumpets.  From page 21:

While some of this improvement can be attributed to roadway and intersection improvements to increase capacity and improve traffic flow, much of it is due to ITS arterial operational efficiency improvements that have been widely implemented throughout the county in recent years, in particular, the substantial county-wide program of traffic signal synchronization that has been promoted and funded by MTA and implemented by local jurisdictions.

Of course, the freeway system, despite over 500 miles of widenings, isn't seeing an improvement.  Despite some cheery language that 2009 "approached baseline levels" of congestion, caused of course by the national trend of reduced v.m.t. caused by the recession and higher gas prices, our freeways remain congested more often than not.  From page 19 of the report:

Between 1992 and 2009, about half of the system has consistently operated at the two most congested levels, LOS E and F, during both the morning and afternoon rush hours. 2001 marked the first year, since monitoring began in 1992, that LOS E and F accounted for greater than fifty percent of the morning peak period LOS. LOS E and F accounted for fifty percent or greater of the afternoon peak period LOS in seven of the ten monitoring years, including each of the last five CMP years

Other surprises?  Both the speed and frequency of transit services have improved.  Doubtless some of that is caused by the expansion of the rail and rapid bus programs, but an overall speed improvement for transit of 6% over sixteen years, especially when congestion is growing on the highways, is of note.

Streetsblog will be listening to the hearing.  If there's any surprises, we'll let you know.

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