Why did the Congestion Commission Fail?

Is it possible to solve a problem, if you do not care to understand the problem?
No matter how you read the formal objectives of the Commission, the governing paradigm of congestion in media, and in the part of the commission, who had their way and will. The assignment was perceived to be, how to reduce the “time loss” and directly associated value of that number of person hours.The value of an hour is based on standard values defined in the Ministry of Transportation, an hour of spare time has a certain value, an hour of work has another certain value, all used to define societal benefit of investments in infrastructure etc.

Congestion rumming late. Photo: Lars Barfred
If we accept that problem as a valid summary of the commission, which we should not, but which the commission did, how would we solve that challenge?

First of all must educated people would try to deconstruct the problem of the “time loss” cost, to understand what it is, the magnitude, the dynamics of the loss. Those questions were asked! By a minority of the green NGO´s and ignored in the commission as a whole, making any of the subsequent work futile.
The “time loss” cost is a very dubious assumption for a number of reasons. Here are a few reasons why the commission should have cared more about the core of the problem they perceived they had to solve.

The loss compared to free flow is absurd, in its own right. It is like calculating the societal loss of grocery shopping, based on the time it will take the shopper to fine the groceries, in stead of picking up a pre-picked basket of groceries, and adding the time the shopper must wait in line to pay, multiplied by number of shoppers. It is nonsense.
Imagine the number of cash registers a Supermarket must have to eliminating any customers needing to wait in line. The same way, imagine the the number of buildings that would have to be torn down to increase car lanes in your city, knowing that each time you add a car lane car traffic increases distances in the city become to great to walk and bike, adding even more cars.


To my knowledge Dubai is the city in the world, which from the get go was designed to be ultimately car friendly, ask anybody there who commutes in rush hour, if they experience congestion and “time loss”!
The commission did visit many cities, like Paris, London, Singapore and were presented to the concept of defining and planning traffic to meet acceptable service levels, in stead basing strategies on unobtainable car-nirvana free flow service levels. These presentations were quickly ignored.The “time loss” cost is a direct product of delay in car traffic in hours compared to free flow, as such it’s a personal loss, not a societal, as it is treated by the commission.

If you want to lift the loss to societal level, you would have to deduct the cost of the remedy. For example if the “time loss” annually is worth 1 billion, and the cost of eliminating the “time loss” would be half a billion annually, then the societal loss of doing nothing to relieve the “time loss” is half a billion, not a billion. If it is more expensive to remedy the time loss, than the value of the “lost time”, there is no societal loss!

This calculation has to my knowledge never been done, why, because there is no societal loss. it is not possible to design a city in such a way, that car traffic in unlimited amounts, can drive in free flow around the clock, accordingly the price of eliminating the “time loss” is infinite, accordingly it is absurd to base any assumptions on a societal “time loss”, it can only be calculated individually. The commuter must compare the time, health and monetary cost of his transport alternatives, and choose what is the best solution for him.

Second though a trip to work may take 15 minutes on a Sunday morning and 45 minutes in rush hour, is 30 minutes lost? I personally know a lot of motorists who claim they love to drive their car, they love the break between being a parent and being an employee, they have 45 minutes or whatever of alone time. Others are right at work, when entering the car, calling their employees or colleagues and having conference calls, listening to an audiobook or the news on the radio, however appropriate all that is in a traffic safety context.

The same way as the bicyclist use his commute to get some degree of physical activity integrated into a fast paced modern life schedule, and the mass transit commuter maybe work on his iPad, watch a movie or read a book.

Finally the big joke about the assumed “time loss” is; Ask any member of the commission, what the “time loss” is of the majority of commuters, namely those who do not commute by car in, to or from Copenhagen.
No one will be able to answer that question, no one knows –it is only the time of the car commuter they bothered to care about!

In my mind the challenge car congestion externalizes to the city;

·      Are the disproportionate amounts of area, the car lanes and massive parking demands of the city.
·      It’s the pollution, Copenhagen can not and have no plan to meet EU pollution maximum standards.
·      The noise, 70% of residences, offices and class rooms are plagued by above 58 dB levels of noise, which is the recommended maximum. Imagine the productivity loss, not to mention the loss of life. The Ministry of environment estimates more than 200 lifes are cut short due to noise related premature fatalities, a majority of which are in Copenhagen.
·      The productivity loss, a sedentary life style reduces average employee productivity 13% and cuts life expectancy by 4 years.
·      The CO2 emissions, today 30% stems from transport, the congestion commission plan fully implemented, will increase car modality, two-thirds of traffic growth will be by car. 

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