Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An End to Bogotá's Traffic Jams?

Nowhere to turn: Gridlock on Carrera 4.
You've seen them, often twice a day and much of the time in between, sitting motionless inside expensive metal boxes just as tho their purpose was to clog Bogotá's streets and avenues.

Better abandon your cars and walk. 
They're called car drivers, and they do it pretty well. According to El Tiempo, the average velocity on Bogotá streets has dropped to 23 kilometers/hour - and only 11 or 12 kms/hr on some corridors. That's little more than double an average walking speed and much less than a typical cyclist on Bogotá's flat terrain. In 2003, the paper reports, Bogotá's average traffic speed was 32 km/hr, meaning that traffic is slowing at a rate of almost one km/hr each year. And with hundreds of thousands of new cars entering the city, the congestion will only get worse.

The solutions proposed by politicians - a subway or urban freeways - would be either very expensive, far in the future or cause more pollution - or all these things. And they would only be stopgap measures, since experiences across the globe show that creating more space for cars only lures more vehicles onto the roads.

Visionary: Vicemin Felip Targa.
Enter Transport Viceminister Felipe Targa, who tells El Tiempo that Colombia might limit private car sales in Bogotá and create a congestion charge like London's. Targa points out that "when you drive during rush hour you're adding several seconds of delay to everybody else" and says that drivers should pay for that. The income would be used for road and public transit improvements.

Traffic jams are a perfect illustration of the tragedy of the commons, in which an individual benefits (or thinks he does) by driving a private car, but community in general suffers. "The best way to avoid" this trap, says Targa, is "thru tarification." Every car would carry a chip which would be used to charge the owner for entering the city center during congested times. Hopefully, that will push some people onto buses, TransMilenio or bicycles, or cause them to avoid unecessary driving.

The result: a less polluted, less congested, less stress-out city with a healthy population and better public transit. And everybody wins, including even those people who pay the congestion fee, because they'll get where they're going faster. After all, even if they don't know it, they're already paying a congestion fee in time wasted in traffic jams.

Green doesn't mean go. A few gridlocked cars block hundreds of TM passengers. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Woolly Yarmouth said...

I spent 1h 30m in a traffic jam the other day, only going from calle 45 to La Candelaria. That's not even that bad!

Hopefully something like this would improve the situation, it gets my support.

(Although I won't enjoy all those people joining me on the Transmilenio...)


Miguel said...

Yes, it's insane. And it'll only get worse unless the city takes strong measures, such as charging for congestion.

Mind-boggling, isn't it, that a transport system which steals time from everybody involved just gets perpetuated interminably.

Hopefully, Bogotá will face the reality that dependance on the private car is a dead end.