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Vol. 12, No. 5 - September/October 2001

Travel Habits and Demographic Trends at the Turn of the Century
Facts are beginning to catch up with the preconceptions - much to the consternation of anti-automobile warriors and smart growth advocates. Newly released Census figures show that, despite concerted efforts in the past decade to wean people from the automobile, Americans remain stubbornly attached to their cars. Driving is still perceived as the most convenient mode of commuting to work, with more than three-quarters of all workers driving alone, up three percent from 1990. In the meantime, the proportion of people using public transportation has remained essentially unchanged, despite massive investments in transit systems in the last decade. Efforts to promote ridesharing aren't working either, with the number of people in carpools declining compared with 1990. Nor have "Smart Growth" policies had a noticeable impact on America's development patterns or location decisions. A study by the Brookings Institution based on Census 2000 data, reveals that metropolitan densities have been falling throughout the nation during the decade of the '90s.. People are putting up with longer commutes, preferring to live on the metropolitan fringe in less crowded, more livable suburbs.

A Transportation Agenda for the 21st Century
Congestion Relief Should Become an Explicit Objective of the Federal Surface Transportation Program - Commentary
A rash of recent reports and news stories suggests that traffic congestion is increasing in severity. Traffic jams, formerly a phenomenon associated with crowded downtowns, have spread to the suburbs and now affect vast portions of metropolitan areas. According to the latest Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Study, the length of the combined morning and evening "rush hour" has doubled, from under three hours in 1982 to almost six hours today. The time Americans spend in traffic has jumped 236 percent since 1982 and the average annual delay per person has climbed from 11 hours in 1982 to 36 hours currently. Whether these facts alone justify elevating the issue of highway congestion to the national level and calling upon the federal government to solve the problem, is a question on which opinions may differ. There is much to be said against "federalizing" every new problem that confronts the nation. Recent experience, however, suggests that when travel delays reach an unacceptable level, Congress will not hesitate to intervene.

The Prospects for Rail Transit
The latest FTA Annual Report on New Starts, issued on May 25, 2001, indicates that the currently authorized funds for New Starts are almost fully committed. These funds are sufficient to fulfil the commitments to 28 rail projects with existing and pending "full funding grant agreements" and most likely to five other projects that have been proposed for full funding agreements. There remain 41 projects in the project development pipeline with a total requested federal share of $9 billion. Their future, as well as the future directions of the entire New Starts program, are in the hands of the Congress, to be decided as part of the next reauthorization.

The Suburbanization of the Paris Region
Guest Commentary by Christian Gerondeau
In a past issue of Innovation Briefs ("The Culture of Low Density," May/June 2001) we observed that urban sprawl is not confined to America. We wrote, "The compact European city with clearly delineated boundaries is an illusion. The charming and vibrant city centers we, the tourists, see as we step out of our hotel are pockets of urbanity inhabited largely by fellow tourists and the very rich. Europe's middle class has moved to the suburbs - where they shop in malls, live in auto-oriented subdivisions and drive on traffic-clogged roads..." This observation has prompted one of our readers, Christian Gerondeau, distinguished French transportation authority, chairman of the French Road Federation and author of the 1997 book, "Transport in Europe," to offer the following commentary.

Streamlining the Highway Approval Process
Guest Commentary by Ray Barnhart, former FHWA Administrator
Our brief on the streamlining of the environmental review process has elicited reactions and clarifications from several readers. Cindy Burbank, Program Manager for Planning and Environment at the Federal Highway Administration notes that of the 89 projects still awaiting approval after five or more years of Federal review, almost half have been delayed because of lack of funding, low State priority or local controversy. Other reasons for delays include project complexity, reviews by resource agencies, changing or expanding scope of the project, and wetlands issues. More than one-half of the 89 projects, Burbank reports, have been in the pipeline 5-7 years , 28% are 8-10 years old, and 15% are more than 10 years old. Ray Barnhart, former Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, thinks a partial solution lies in delegating the approval responsibility for certain projects to the states. Mr. Barnhart's commentary follows.

 



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