Suppressed Demand

The concept of “induced demand” is gradually becoming known in the transportation planning world. It describes the corner we’ve painted ourselves into with planning access facilities around the car: the more roads you provide, to make room for motor traffic, the more motor traffic you create. Urban roads in some parts of Los Angeles have eight lanes; freeways in places approach fourteen lanes or even more…yet congestion always gets worse!

This is in part because we typically offer roads to motorists in a way that lets them be perceived as “free.”

When they are not free, they tend to fail, as toll road projects competing with public roads in the Western US have shown.

Of course, public roads aren’t “free” either, but the cost is hidden—and subsidized. They are financed by various mixes of sales, property, and income taxes paid by everyone, no matter how much or how little roadway they use.

In fact, motorists, who demand the most lane space and parking acreage, pay far less towards road building and maintenance than they cost us all, seeing how much room they need and how fast they wear out the asphalt. Those of us who use roads more efficiently—and that includes transit users as well as bicyclists—overpay in taxes to support the motoring public’s predilection for roaring about in big tin boxes.

This provision of subsidized road space creates traffic just as surely as displays of free cake on every streetcorner would create a diabetes epidemic. (Big agra subsidies have done that anyway!)

Meanwhile, the use of transit and cycling has been artificially suppressed by the restriction of service (in the case of transit) and the denial of safe travel and parking facilities for cyclists. Self-entitled motorists and shortsighted merchants rail against giving up even the slightest sliver of asphalt to bicycle users, or a dime of transportation funds to accommodate transit passengers, often employing extremely violent language and imagery, as well as a comprehensive disregard of facts.

Just today I read of how shopkeepers along Polk Street in San Francisco browbeat that city’s MTA into scaling back the bike lanes along that corridor to mere sharrows in order to preserve parking—though actual real-life surveys showed that only 15% of the people on the street drove there. Yes, Polk Street merchants are backhanding a potential 85% of their clientele out of their zealous worship of the car!

By pandering to the car, we are quashing the very consumer culture our economy is presently built upon.

But when you free the roads from cars, and open them to people on bikes, the suppressed demand for cycling in LA bursts forth—and joy flows into the street, while cash flows into the shops along the street.

Yes, even here in LA. Take a look at these snapshots I made during CicLAvia a week and a half ago….

Local market on Alvarado near Downtown

Famous Cuban restaurant packed with cyclists

Cafe Brasil on Venice Boulevard

Kiosks and brick-and-mortars rake it in at Venice Beach’s Windward Circle

Santa Monica’s Main Street merchants, though over a mile from the CicLAvia route, also benefited

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One Comment

  1. Frank Peters
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    We’re all dealing with resistance to change. If the merchants on Polk Street only knew; this compromise sounds like it will help neither party. As Newport Beach begins its Bicycle Master Plan I think few realize the same kinds of parking and sharing the space on our roads issues will come to the forefront. Merchants will make the same uninformed arguments, but let’s hope our elected officials have more backbone. It’s a leap of faith for many and it takes courage to try something new. In many cases, the leap is worth the risks. Nice post.

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