This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
…maybe they’ll just find another route:
OAKLAND, Calif., April 30 — A day after a fiery tanker crash melted and collapsed a critical highway interchange near the Bay Bridge, rush hour commuters in the Bay Area enjoyed a relatively painless morning, as drivers avoided the roads and the expected nightmare largely failed to materialize.
Free and more frequent trains were running on Bay Area Rapid Transit lines, the region’s light rail system, and additional ferries plowed the waters between San Francisco and the cities on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. But by and large, vehicle traffic around the site of the collapse was light and fluid during the morning commute, as the combination of telecommuting, absenteeism and mass transit apparently combined to keep many workers off the roads.
“This morning was one of the easiest commutes I’ve ever had,” said Jared Hirsch, associate production manager for American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, who drives to work from Oakland. “I think people assuming that this evening’s would be one of the worst commutes ever everyone elected to either take public or stay at home.”
I’ve never lived in San Francisco, but I’ve visited enough to know that knocking out I-580 and I-880 in Oakland is a fairly big deal.
It turns out, though, that demand for roads is very elastic: if you build more roads, people will drive more. If you take away roads, people will figure out alternatives and drive less. Seattle found this out when we expanded I-90: as soon as the new lanes were added, traffic doubled.
This would seem to lend credence to Erica Barnett’s thoughtfully reasoned argument for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a surface boulevard:
The day before the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, 110,000 vehicles used the viaduct every day. After it reopened later that year, only 80,000 vehicles did. More recently, a WSDOT study found that if the state charged a $1 toll on the viaduct, 40,000 trips would disappear, indicating that “demand” is a very flexible concept; conversely, a recent UC Berkeley study found that for every 1 percent of new road capacity, traffic increased by 0.9 percent.
To be sure, it’s unclear how many Bay Area residents just stayed home today, something they certainly can’t do forever:
It seemed that many people, however, opted not to even try to come into office. Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., executive director of the Municipal Transportation Agency in San Francisco, said that anecdotal accounts were that trains, buses, and ferries were all only lightly used.
But in the long run, people look for alternatives when they’re forced to. We may grumble for a while, but eventually we adapt and incorporate it into our routines. The key, though, is that we have to force ourselves to a decision. That’s human nature.