Suburban Sprawl: When Cities Expand


bottleneck1aHave you noticed that traffic seems to be getting worse every year? These days, you can’t drive through a major metropolitan area without allowing an extra hour for traffic, if you happen to be going through there at peak rush-hour times. Many drivers will route themselves through major cities at times when traffic is low, just to save themselves this aggravation. Many drivers prefer to drive at night, for this very reason and who can blame them?

Some people try to relate big city traffic jams to urban sprawl and that is sometimes the case. However, many cities haven’t grown much in the last ten or twenty years and some have even gotten smaller. Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, New Orleans, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit have all went down in population according to Census figures. There have been some huge booms though. Las Vegas has grown by a whopping 85% over the same ten years. Austin, Mesa, Charlotte, and Colorado Springs, have all grown at phenomenal rates. But most other cities only went up a few percentage points over ten years, if that.

So why is traffic so bad in these cities that haven’t grown?

The answer is found in the suburbs. Suburban sprawl consumes more than 500,000 acres of forest and farmland each year, according to a Seattle Post-Intelligence article by John Flicker. If the population in the United States continues to grow at it’s current rate (2,000,000 each year), it can only get worse.

If you think that’s bad, I should warn you that some other countries have it much worse than we do and we should count ourselves as some of the lucky ones. So, before you go packing your bags, you better find out how bad it is elsewhere. The worlds worst traffic jam occurs during the summer on the road from Paris to Toulouse, France where you can expect a back-up for over 600 kilometers, or in American terms, over 373 miles long! Tokyo also claims to have the worlds worst traffic jams, as does Singapore, Tailand and Lagos, Nigeria. I don’t know how to determine who really has the worst traffic jam anyway. I mean, what’s worse, 10 miles at 1 mph, or 10 blocks at 1 block per hour?

Truck traffic has increased at a greater rate than cars too.

According to a Polk Automotive Intelligence study, in 1994, 35% of the vehicles on U.S. roads were trucks. And in the year 2000, 40% where trucks. It is now about 45%. This rate is expected to grow in the future. After all, all those suburbanites are going to need stuff.

Many people think the answer is always more lanes on the highways, or upper and lower levels, or maybe even separate lanes for cars and trucks. I’m sure that is one solution. More space is always the answer. But most States simply don’t have the money for all that elaborate roadwork. So, we need to learn to deal with it ourselves. I think that truckers are the key. They can do something about it now. I will explain later.

Have you seen these rolling roadblocks?

I have been seeing them an awful lot lately. If you haven’t, I’ll tell you. When a road construction job needs to block one lane, or even the whole road, for (hopefully) a short time, the police will “help” them and create a rolling roadblock. Usually two patrol cars will stop traffic a few miles away, one blocking each lane. Then, they will (very slowly) drive toward the construction area. Of course, this creates a traffic jam behind the patrol cars. But only because everybody lines up so close to the vehicle in front of them. Then, when all these vehicles reach the job-site, they usually have to merge into one lane, which causes a worse jam. Then all the truckers are cussing out the cops on the CB.

Well, here’s what I did only a few weeks ago and it really worked. I was cruising along when I saw a rolling road block ahead and everybody was stacking up behind the police cars. I was about a block behind them. Although they (the police) were rolling, I noticed that some of the vehicles between me and them were stopping periodically. I got on my CB and told all the truckers to create more rolling roadblocks. That way, we could bring some space to this equation. I got next to a truck and we stayed back about fifty feet and were able to keep rolling. Several others created their own rolling roadblocks too. We had a rolling roadblock about every block or so. Then, when we reached the lane closure, everybody merged smoothly. There were a few truckers who tried to argue with me when I suggested it, but enough of them agreed and we made believers out of the doubters.

So, the next time you see a rolling roadblock, don’t tailgate and ruin it- create another rolling roadblock a few hundred feet behind them. That way, you are helping the situation. The cops get it and are trying to show us how it’s done. Don’t let them do all that for nothing. Help make sure it works.

Google+Ken Skaggs is a 30-year veteran trucker and safety professional, who has always been a writer, and an entrepreneur at heart. Since 2000, he’s had 150+ articles published by Ten-Four Magazine, Careers in Gear, Driver Story Magazine, and dozens of websites.


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