Commentary

The Real Lesson From “Carmageddon”

The much ballyhooed closure of the I-405 over the Sepulveda Pass in Los Angeles ignited a national discussion and debate over cars, infrastructure, and funding. (See, for example, the New York Times “debate” hosted on Room for Debate here.) Of course, now Carmageddon reminds many of like the Y2K scare: Much ado about nothing.

Not surprisingly perhaps, some have begun to wonder if the “success” of getting Angelinos to abandon their cars for the weekend might be translated into broader policies that permanently reduce driving. Steve Lafleur, a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, cautions against this reaction. The real lessons are two fold. First, people will adjust their behavior over the short term when faced with extraordinary circumstances. Second, and perhaps more importantly, people respond to incentives. In a piece written for the Frontier Center and reprinted at newgeography.com, Lafleur writes:

“The most important lesson, though, is that people respond to incentives. Since the city obviously doesn’t want people to “stay the Hell away” forever, they’re going to have to come up with another way to use incentives if they want to tackle gridlock. LA drivers spend over half a billion hours per year stuck in excess traffic delays, which costs the economy roughly $12 billion dollars. Adding more freeway lanes seems like an obvious solution, except for the fact that it doesn’t work. Studies have shown that every percentage increase in roads leads to an equal percentage increase in driving. In other words, more roads mean more driving. There are certainly exceptions to this, since the optimal level of roads isn’t zero, but it does illustrate the fact that we can’t just build our way out of traffic congestion. Instead, we need to introduce strong incentives other than fear to reduce congestion. That incentive is congestion pricing.”

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.

Staley is the author of several books, most recently co-authoring Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry aid Staley and Moore "get it right" and world bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

He is also co-author, with Ted Balaker, of The Road More Traveled: Why The Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It (Rowman and Littlefield, September, 2006). Author Joel Kotkin said, "The Road More Traveled should be required reading not only for planners and their students, but anyone who loves cities and wants them to thrive as real places, not merely as museums, in the 21st Century." Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said, "Balaker and Staley clearly debunk the myth that there is nothing we can do about congestion."

Staley's previous book, Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century (Greenwood Press, 2001), was called the "most thorough challenge yet to regional land-use plans" by Planning magazine.

In addition to these books, he is the author of Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities (Transaction Publishers, 1992) and Planning Rules and Urban Economic Performance: The Case of Hong Kong (Chinese University Press, 1994).

His more than 100 professional articles, studies, and reports have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Investor's Business Daily, Journal of the American Planning Association, Planning magazine, Reason magazine, National Review and many others.

Staley's approach to urban development, transportation and public policy blends more than 20 years of experience as an economic development consultant, academic researcher, urban policy analyst, and community leader.

Staley is a former chair for his local planning board in his hometown of Bellbrook, Ohio. He is also a former member of its Board of Zoning Appeals and Property Review Commission, vice chair of his local park district's open space master plan committee, and chair of its Charter Review Commission.

Staley received his B.A. in Economics and Public Policy from Colby College, M.S. in Social and Applied Economics from Wright State University, and Ph.D. in Public Administration, with concentrations in urban planning and public finance from Ohio State University.