Op-ED. A Blueprint from Israel to Eliminate Traffic Jams

PREFACE: It is always a good idea, no matter how hard and even smart we may be working  on our project, concept or dream, if we are able to have the benefit of the comments and suggestions of some bright and inventive outsider, someone who has not spent all their time 24/7 staring at the challenges in front of us transportation guys.  Let’s have a look at this fresh commentary from one Israeli entrepreneur, Uri Levine, who says he hates traffic jams —  and then take some time to ponder a bit on his vision, ideas  and hopes before we turn back to the tasks at hand. Thanks Uri for your fresh vision.  Let’ see if we can in our next big project — the Five Percent Challenge — respond to your challenge.

I hate traffic jams. Don’t you too?

  • By Uri Levine, Start-Up Nation Central. With full text, graphics and references available in the original Jan 27, 2019 Forbes article at http://bit.ly/2FUnIeq

When we founded Waze we had the dream of helping people avoid traffic jams and we genuinely believed there would be fewer traffic jams because of Waze. That was back in 2007-8 and here we are today, 10 years later, and traffic jams are more severe than ever before.

So how do we eliminate traffic jams?

If you’re living in the US, then I want you to imagine everything that we’ve built that covers the land – houses, buildings, roads, malls, factories etc. In fact, one-third of what we’ve built is buildings, one-third is roads and one-third is parking garages. In other words, one-third for us, one-third for our cars to move and one-third for our cars to rest.

Now, I want you to imagine the major highway that you are using on a daily basis driving to work, and imagine a one mile one lane stretch during rush hour. In this one mile there are approximately 70 vehicles, and in those vehicles there are approximately 80 people – that’s it! 80 people are occupying one mile of length of lane – so the nature of the beast is that we as people are occupying too much space on the road and there are simply not enough roads to serve us. Just to make sure you understand, a compact car is 15’ in length and during rush hour traffic is moving at about 15 MP/H which results in keeping a distance of about 50-60’, so about 75 feet per vehicle. In addition, the average number of people per vehicle is just 1.1 so this results in 80 people per one mile of lane during rush hour.

That translates into very lousy throughput; a 5 lanes highway during rush hour is equal to about 100 people moving one mile a minute.

Once we understand the nature of the beast, it becomes clear how we can eliminate traffic jams, we simply (well not that simply) need to do (at least) one of the following:

  1. Increase the ratio of people per vehicle
  2. Reduce the size of the vehicle
  3. Reduce the distance between vehicles
  4. Increase the speed of the vehicles

[And here a slight ;-) . . . . ]

Let’s examine each one of them and figure out if it can actually do that.

Increase speed and reduce distance between vehicles – as long as we are still driving – we will simply have more accidents, but if we think of autonomous vehicles – they can drive faster, and do not need to keep such long distances from the car ahead of them, provided that there are no other drivers on that road –in other words there are DEDICATED LANES.

Reduce the size of the vehicles – like scooters, or bikes. Actually, my bicycle is my main means of transport in Tel Aviv, and in many cases I ride it in conjunction with other means of transport. For example, I take it on the train or even in the trunk of my car and then park outside the city. This can be a good solution for downtown MTAs and last mile solutions but they require some major prerequisites: first critical mass of bikes/scooters (the general rule of thumb is that when my need for a bike/scooter arises, there must be one available within 300’).

Second, DEDICATED LANES, we can’t have them taking over the sidewalks nor the roads and third, this is not for everyone – if you’re not a rider, you won’t become one overnight.

Increase the ratio of people per vehicle – this can be done by two major methods:

  •  Public transportation
  •  Car pool/sharing

One more thought, if the ratio of person per vehicle today is 1.1:1, autonomous vehicles for private use actually decreases the ratio instead of increases the ratio, as there will be empty vehicles roaming around, the ratio might even be less than 1 passengers per vehicle.

Carpool (like the one Waze is offering) – this will be amazingly impactful once successful. 2 passengers in a vehicle instead of 1 will dramatically reduce traffic jams, though the challenge here is critical mass (matchmaking for origin, destination and time while our willingness to wait/deviate from our original route is small).

Public transportation systems that actually work – that would be amazing and would mean the end of traffic jams. we can certainly imagine NYC’s subway as a model that works, but then when it comes to our home town it simply doesn’t work (or is too expensive).

Now, what is it in the NYC subway system that that makes it work – anywhere to anywhere, high frequency, fast and affordable. In fact, when we choose a means of transport, we care about 3 things: time, convenience and cost. What if we could build a public transport system in any major city that meets these 3 critical requirements: fast, convenient and free (or at least affordable), and what if we could build it this year, without billions in infrastructure investment?

In fact, we can – just imagine a road grid-based system (anywhere to anywhere), small vehicles – high frequency, DEDICATED LANES, and subsidized. This is fairly simple. Every other street or avenue (or every third street/avenue) becomes a public transport ONLY street/avenue that has right of way (long green lights). Every vehicle (van or minibus size) travels on the same street/avenue back and forth and there are many of them, demand is answered by high frequency which can be 30 seconds to 5 minutes apart. These rides are either free or offered to the public at a very low cost (our inefficient public transport systems today are subsidized anyhow).

This model could work but it has two major issues that require addressing:

1. Cost of drivers – when you start to figure out the cost of such vehicle, you realize that the cost of operation of electric vehicles can be as low as $2-3 per hour of operation, but a driver’s wages might be 10 fold that. For a quick back of an envelope calculation we can assume that a dedicated public transport street/avenue will require a vehicle every minute during rush hour. So, 60 per hour and a single driver runs up and down the street/avenue twice during the busy(rush?) hour, so 30 drivers per street/avenue. If you want this to work on 100 streets and avenues, a city grid on every other street is required – this means 3,000 driver shifts or about 15,000 drivers to operate such system and this incurs about a $1B cost for drivers on an annual basis. Now think again of autonomous vehicles as a solution to this –it is exactly what we need.

2. Suburban areas – how would people travel into the central area where the public transport system works like this? A collector model would work like VIA or Uber Pool, moving people from their homes to the area where a public transport system can serve them better. In fact, in many cases, we could implement this model independently in suburban areas where trains to the city already exist. This would reduce traffic jams significantly. Just imagine the LIRR going from multiple townships in Long Island into NYC and think of persons living 2 miles away from the train station, you would expect them to drive to the train station, park their car there and take the train to the city – right? Well, when you trace the actual GPS route of such people, you see that they often did drive from their homes to the train station, and then they drove through the entire parking lot, and then subsequently they drove to the city. Why? They simply didn’t find a parking a space. For that reason alone, if a subsidized collector service was offered within a 3-4 miles radius of every suburban train station the total number of cars traveling into the city would be dramatically reduced.

So, what…?

• If you imagine a driverless Uber-like service, then implement into the reality – without the driver cost – cities will be totally overwhelmed by these vehicles and it will be nearly impossible to move about the city. Indeed, while you’re right that the perception of the service is better because it is much cheaper, the supply will be much higher than demand, meaning the traffic jams will be unbearable.

• If, however, AVs will be used for small vehicle based public transport with DEDICATED LANES – then we should expect much more efficient, time saving mobility ecosystems in our cities.

tel aviv israel traffic cyclist

Cyclist in dedicated cycling lane in Tel-Aviv

# # #

Editor: What do you think about all this? Particularly interested in his proposed four point strategy, Namely:

  1. Increase ratio of people per vehicle
  2. Reduce size of the vehicle
  3. Reduce distance between vehicles
  4. Increase speed of vehicles

Comments and discussion on this broad strategic goal, welcome here.  Also to climate@ecoplan.org.

# # #

Forbes Magazine:

With thanks to Forbes from World Streets and our readers, whose work is right up the alley of this outside the box vision of .  Again for the full text of the original article along with graphics and additional references –    Click here to subscribe to Forbes or manage existing subscriptions

About the author:

Uri Levine is in his own words a passionate serial entrepreneur and disruptor. He was the co-founder and former chairman of Waze. He is Co-founder/Chairman or Board Member at Feex, Zeek, Fairfly, Engie,Moovit, HERE, and SeeTree. He’s always working on his next idea. More  on Uri at http://urilevine.com/

About the editor: 

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, mediator and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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