Study: Chicago Should Use Pay-For-Play Fast Lanes To Cut Congestion

July 21, 2010

We all deal with it on a daily basis: traffic. It's the bane of our existence, yet we contribute to the problem by our very presence. So what can be done to solve it without packing us all into buses and forgoing our individually-mobile lifestyles? A federally-funded study by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Illinois Tollway conducted on Chicago's road system says: make us pay for fast-lane use.

The concept isn't new; it's a subset of congestion taxation--charging drivers based on their use in certain geographical zones and/or during certain time periods. It's a free-market way of reducing congestion, at least in the pay-for-play lanes.

In Europe, congestion pricing is old hat. London has been at it for years, and the Netherlands is looking to take it to the next level, charging road users for each mile (well, kilometer) traveled.

Beyond simply charging a flat fee for access to the fast lane, the study recommends variable pricing and managed lane usage of one or more lanes to maximize traffic flow at peak demand. Exact ranges for the fees aren't set, but they need to be expensive enough to reduce volume during peak periods yet affordable enough that those who can't shift their travel to off-peak times will pay them.

The ultimate goal is to make traffic flow predictable, increasing efficiency--both in terms of commute times and overall road usage. A nice side effect for the environment is that less time spent idling, accelerating, then slowing again in bumper-to-bumper traffic means fewer emissions spewed into the air--though that claim has been drawn into doubt by at least one study in London.

Not provided by the study, however, is a timeline, an implementation strategy, or a method to calm the panic that's sure to set in once Chicagoans hear they're going to be charged to drive to work in the morning.

[Chicago Tribune]

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