Dealing with traffic is a lot like watching a really bad improv show you can't leave: Everyone's trapped, no one is having fun and any attempts to make it better in the moment end up making it a lot worse.
That said, solving some of the world's most immovable bumper-to-bumper logjams might be easier said than done. From expanded public transportation to game-changing construction, many cities are trying to clear their streets for people and cars alike.
Here are four innovative projects that either have been completed, are in the process of being completed or still in the works to help reduce traffic.
1. Cheonggyecheon Stream Restoration Project
Seoul, South Korea
What it did: Uncovered a stream, tore down a freeway and reduced traffic
The Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul was covered by a 16-lane freeway frequently choked with traffic — the gridlock was so bad that an entire economy of people selling things to trapped drivers formed around it. As part of an ongoing mission to make Seoul a more livable place for its residents, the city government started tearing the freeway down in 2002.
So what happens when you rip a main traffic artery from the heart of a major city? You reduce traffic, of course.
When the freeway that covered the stream was converted to two, two-lane roads on either side of the river traffic spiked at first, then started to decrease below pre-construction levels.
The reason? Braess' paradox, which claims that adding more capacity to a network where movement is conducted selfishly won't actually make travel time along that network smoother.
In other words, giving people more space to be selfish will only redistribute the problem and allow more people to add to it. The behavior that causes the problem doesn't change — only ways in which it's manifested.
So when the pathway reopened in 2005, the citizens of Seoul adapted, taking different driving routes to work and hopping on the new bus and subway lines the city built to handle the spillover. After the city had adjusted, traffic decreased, public transportation increased and a slew of environmental improvements cleaned up an area previously choked with exhaust and congestion.
2. Union Station Redevelopment
What it does: Adds a slew of new — and some free — public transportation options
The city of Denver is finishing up a massive, expensive and lengthy redevelopment of its central transportation hub. The plan passed by referendum in 2004 with a $4.7 billion price tag, and a few of the biggest expansions of public transit were unveiled over the past few months.
In May, the Free Metroride — a bus route that takes commuters along stops from Union Station to the Civic Center Station 18 blocks away — started running during morning and evening rush hours. Union Station has also replaced another station as the main hub for several bus routes.
Over the next four years, the city will open more than 70 miles of commuter rail along three new lines, taking even more cars off the road and reducing traffic all the while.
3. Southern California Housing Bubble
What it's doing: Pushing young Californians out of the suburbs and into the city
From an economic standpoint, any bubble — when prices in a specific market are inflated beyond actual value — is dangerous and potentially devastating when it pops. A national housing bubble helped bring the American economy to its knees in 2008, and a smaller version of that is happening now in Southern California.
But while bubbles are economically dangerous, the inflated values of homes in Southern California are encouraging more young Californians to opt for urban condos instead of suburban homes. Between January and October 2013, condo sales represented 22% of home sales in Southern California.
That said, public transportation use in SoCal was increasing even before the bubble began to inflate. In 2010, residents drove 2.9 billion fewer miles than they did in 2006, a 2.9% decrease, according to an analysis of federal data by the Frontier Group and the U.S. PIRG Education.
As more SoCal residents opt for an urban life with more walking and public transportation, traffic should continue to tail off. But when that bubble pops, let's hope the economic repercussions aren't too severe.
4. BART Expansion
Warm Springs and San Jose, California
What it will do: Add 5.4 miles of commuter rail, connecting San Jose to San Francisco and Oakland
The Bay Area Rapid Transit system is already the fifth-busiest in the world, but it's slated to bring on a whole new batch of customers, taking almost 12,000 cars off South Bay freeways, according to the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority.
By 2017, the project will add 5.4 miles of track between the Warm Springs district of Fremont and the Berryessa neighborhood of San Jose, which is roughly 50 miles from the heart of San Francisco. While the project is expected to breach its $3.2 billion budget, droughts have made construction easier, putting it well within its late-2017 target opening.
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