Tuesday, May 08, 2001

Tristate ranks in middle for traffic tie-ups


But congestion getting worse, researchers find

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A national study released Monday quantified what most Tristate motorists probably already knew: We spend too much time idling in traffic.

        And it's getting worse, costing us in time, money and inevitably, aggravation.

        The study, conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Surface Transportation Policy Project, ranked Greater Cincinnati 26th among 68 metro regions for the burden of congestion. It did slightly better for rush-hour congestion.

        The solution, STPP analyst Michelle Garland said Monday, is alternatives to driving, including mass transit and carpooling. According to figures from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), 91.5 percent of Greater Cincinnati commuters drive to work daily.

        Only 5.4 percent take mass transit to work, 3 percent walk, 2.1 percent work at home, and 0.1 percent ride bicycles.

        Regionally, Cincinnati has a higher percentage of its workers driving than Columbus, Louisville and Indianapolis, but lower than Cleveland.

        The nation's most congested highways are in Los Angeles, the study shows. The reason: few alternatives, which was cited in Cincinnati as well. New York City had the best alterna tives to driving, due largely to its expansive subway system.

        “Actually, Cincinnati was pretty much in the middle group for congestion,” Ms. Garland said, “but dropped in terms of the number of people who can avoid traffic by other means. ... Certainly, more investment in transit is needed.”

        None of this surprised Faith Jackson, 24, of Price Hill, who drives to the West End each day, then picks up the No. 1 Metro bus to her banking job downtown. She must drive because she drops her son off at day care on her way to work.

        “It's bad traffic downtown,” Ms. Jackson said Monday, as she got out of her car on Fourth Street. “In rush hour, I'm not on the interstates but I hear on the radio how bad it gets.”

        Greater Cincinnati ranked 24th in rush-hour congestion, based on 1999 statistics, with the average Tristate driver spending 32 hours annually stuck in traffic. Those figures reflect the significant growth in the outlying counties of Butler, Warren, Clermont and Boone, where mass transit is less available.

        If at all.

        The STPP's findings were embraced by the environmental group Sierra Club, which supports mass transit use and has opposed new road construction such as the proposed Eastern Corridor, with a highway connecting Hamilton and Clermont counties along the Little Miami River. A light-rail system is also being considered locally.

        “This report shows the best route to providing commuters with congestion relief is to provide more choices, not more roads,” said Glen Brand, national Sierra's Midwest organizer.

        According to the study, Greater Cincinnati has added highway lanes faster (16.6 percent since 1990) than licensed drivers (12.3 percent.)

        Yet, congestion worsened in that time.

        The study was the first of its kind by STPP, a non-profit coalition of over 1,000 groups nationwide. Many are environmental groups, such as Sierra Club, but the coalition also includes groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). It used formulas provided by TTI, which conducted an earlier study on the data and found similar results.

        When asked why more roads wouldn't alleviate traffic, Ms. Garland said, “That's a great question. Building new roads tends to induce new travel. When driving becomes cheaper, and it's faster to get where you're going, more will use it.”

        Kim Patton, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said the best solution is a combination of expanded roads and improved mass transit.

        “You can't keep widening roads, and the cost is so high,” Ms. Patton said. “But with the I-71 widening, congestion has decreased considerably north of 275. We certainly encourage people to use alternatives to driving.”

        In March, Metro unveiled plans for an ambitious expansion of its bus service, at a cost of between $108 million and $192 million. Currently, 85 percent of its service is within the city limits of Cincinnati, at a time when the population is shifting to the suburbs.

        “All of us are frustrated,” said Metro spokeswoman Sallie Hilvers, “but it's something that weintuitively knew.”

        Reached on her car phone, Ms. Hilvers was returning to Cincinnati from Dayton, on Interstate 75.

        She reported heavy congestion.

       



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