The Urban Mobility Report (UMR) is an important reminder that too many Americans are stuck without good options for efficient, safe and affordable travel in our cities and towns. It is especially timely as Congress prepares to reset priorities for investing our transportation trust fund. However, we must note that flaws in the UMR’s analysis could lead to faulty conclusions about what the report indicates.
It assumes, for example, that everyone should be able to speed as rapidly down the highway during rush hour as they could in the middle of the night. American taxpayers will never stand for being asked to turn over their wallets and their neighborhoods in order to build that kind of highway capacity.
They would much rather see Congress make more efficient use of their money by fixing crumbling roads and bridges; investing in technology to manage existing freeway traffic better; providing rail and rapid bus service in congested corridors; and linking transportation funding to smarter planning and development.
The economist Joe Cortright, in a study for CEOs for Cities, showed how the UMR obscures the fact that people who live in cities with transportation options and less urban sprawl generally have shorter commutes. That means a lower proportion of the population is subjected to highway congestion than is true in places where long automobile commutes are the predominant option.
In the upcoming transportation authorization, Congress can fix the system that has left too many with no alternative but to sit in traffic, by giving communities the tools they need to provide more and better choices in living locations and travel options.