Travel smart in future cities: why adding more lanes and more speed is not the answer

Adding more lanes? In theory that makes sense, but unfortunately reality works a bit differently.

Anyone who has ever had to venture into the bowels of a big city has encountered traffic jams. To many people, this is part of their daily routine, one that is bad for all parties involved: it is bad for commuters – who waste precious time and fuel on getting themselves from point A to point B, it is bad for the environment – as emissions contribute to more than one form of pollution, and it is bad for people – who face the risk of respiratory disease, an increase in stress, and noise pollution, that can exacerbate a wide array of conditions, from blood pressure to heart disease.  

What seems to be the most immediate solution, is actually not more than a band-aid used to treat an open wound. Most people, it would seem, consider adding more lanes to congested roadways to clear up traffic. It seems logical, if the cars pile up in 3 lanes, if there was another lane, the same amount of traffic would become less dense. In theory that makes sense, but unfortunately reality works a bit differently.

It’s the roads themselves that cause traffic. 

The concept is called induced demand, which is economist-speak for when increasing the supply of something (like roads) makes people want that thing even more. 

Both the University of California and the University of Pennsylvania researched the topic. 

Their research points to the fact, that adding extra lanes will not solve the problem of traffic jams. The explanation is simple: if an extra lane is added to a particularly congestion-riddled section, drivers will take notice and they will think that due to the new extra lane, the given road will become free of traffic jams. This will result in more drivers converging on that particular part of the road network which in turn will clog up the newly expanded, multi-lane roadway.

A fundamental paradigm shift is required 

Instead of crisscrossing cities with multilane roads and highways in many cases, a fundamental paradigm shift is required to enable bigger settlements to become more pedestrian-friendly. A possible solution to this is the so-called car-free city that has quite a few examples in Europe – from the Slovenian capital (and 2016 green capital of the EU) Ljubljana to Brussels or Copenhagen.  

“Hold up! I’ve been to all of those cities, and I’ve seen cars moving around” – some might say. The truth is the expression car-free city is a bit misleading, as it usually refers to a city center that is a no-go zone for vehicles.

Paris also launched the initiative Paris respire sans voiture (Paris breathes without vehicles), that saw the French capital designate pedestrian zones where cars are not permitted (or heavily limited), while also introducing the idea of car-free Sundays, with similar rules enforced over the last days of the week.  

New French legislation 

While the carless days in Paris are a result of this year, France saw some significant legislation passed last year that  entered into force on March 1st, 2023. The amendment to the French transport code requires digital travel assistance services – essentially navigation providers – to offer alternative travel options to discourage the use of cars and facilitate travel in more sustainable ways. This essentially means that digital travel assistance services- have to be outfitted with pedestrian as well as bicycle modes, with the pedestrian mode including routing via public transport. This legislation aims to drive down the number of cars moving around in cities on any given day, thereby supporting sustainability goals. 

Public services around transportation hubs and lower speed limits support the concept of car free cities 

A number of factors are required for a city center to become truly car free: pedestrian zones, biking lanes, bicycle, and scooter sharing services, not to mention good quality public transport. However, more might be needed, as the true solution would be another concept, the concept of the slow city. This is a more comprehensive approach to urban planning, one that essentially concentrates public services around main transportation hubs to facilitate access without the use of further vehicles. In an ideal slow city citizens can find all basic services, such as healthcare, education, financial services, and the like, within a 10–15-minute walk of a transport hub. This concept is partly based on research that found that no matter how fast cars go in a city, their transport time will rarely decrease if traffic jams are common. Conversely, if the maximum allowed speed in a city center is decreased to 30 km/h, this will have a significant impact on the number as well as the severity of accidents, while combating the various forms of pollution as well.

Navigation has an important role in achieving the ideal city concept

At NNG we believe that sustainability isn’t just a buzzword. Instead, it’s now a driving force for change.  In 2010, we introduced GREEN routing, and in 2015 developed ECO route planning to help reduce traffic congestion and decrease fuel consumption. Both algorithms aim to reduce CO2 emissions on the target route without significantly increasing travel time.  As vehicles evolve, we will continue to provide the software innovation that will ensure a greener, safer, and healthier future. Join us on our journey!


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