Category Archives: Media

Pent up demand vs. “induced demand”

Misrepresenting “induced demand”

We need more roads, bridges, and transportation corridors

Anti-car people often deceive, when using the words “induced demand”.

In reality, in both Seattle and Portland, they have REFUSED to build new vehicle infrastructure. But as population grows, so does “demand” for more car lanes and transportation corridors. In Portland, regional population has DOUBLED since the 1982 opening of the I-205 transportation corridor. Because they did NOT build vehicle capacity when needed, you really have “deferred demand”, or “pent up demand” not being satisfied.

So when a new lane for cars is finally built, it fills up quickly because of the “pent up demand” from decades of refusing to build vehicle infrastructure.

Think about it. During the decades of refusing to build new vehicle infrastructure, where did all the new people drive? Many became stuck in the horrible traffic congestion on the freeways. But many others filled the side roads and arterial streets. When those got full, they deviated off the main roads and began driving in neighborhoods and on to side streets.

When a new freeway lane is added, people stop using the neighborhood streets and leave the crowded arterials, going back to the freeways. That’s a good thing!

Here’s a great Reason column addressing the issue.

Examining Claims About Induced Demand, Adding Road Capacity and Traffic Congestion

The “iron law of roadway congestion” isn’t.


Is adding freeway capacity foolish?

Many of those who oppose adding lanes to congested freeways argue that doing this is futile because the new lanes quickly fill up with cars and traffic congestion is soon back to what it was before. They increasingly cite an academic study, which they claim proved this theory, and have taken to calling it the “iron law of roadway congestion.”

In my book, Rethinking America’s Highways (University of Chicago Press, 2018), I analyzed that academic paper and found that what the researchers did prove was actually far less than highway opponents claim. Let’s take a closer look.

The paper appeared in the American Economic Review in 2011. Economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner titled the paper “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from U.S. Cities.”

Here is what they did: Using federal highway data plus data from the National Household Travel Survey, their econometric analysis found evidence that vehicle miles of travel (VMT) on urban Interstates increases proportionally to highway capacity. In effect, they claimed, highway supply creates its own demand.

But some people opposed to adding capacity to highways are claiming stronger results than Duranton and Turner’s analysis produced—a purported one-for-one correlation (always and everywhere) between highway capacity growth and VMT growth.

Here are some of the limitations with what Duranton and Turner did. First, their detailed analysis deals only with urban Interstates. Analytically, they treat parallel arterials and all other roadways in the metro area as a large blob. That leaves them unable to analyze (as opposed to only speculating about) the extent to which drivers shift trips from parallel arterials to the newly expanded urban Interstate (which would not represent new driving, but simply a re-allocation of existing driving).

Second, the authors’ premise that all such freeways have a “natural level of saturation” implies that all urban Interstates should fill up to the point of serious peak-period congestion. But in fact, actual congestion levels (in both extent and duration) vary considerably among the set of a metro area’s freeways. And the extent of congestion also varies enormously among large metro areas overall. In 2014, Randal O’Toole’s Antiplanner blog provided data on daily VMT per lane-mile on urban freeways around the country, finding a range from as low as 9,000 to a high of 22,000.

Third, since most metro areas in recent decades have added relatively little freeway capacity, the authors’ analytical results, even if correct, would tell us only that making marginal increases in freeway capacity produces little in the way of freeway congestion reduction. In fact, the relatively small number of urban areas that have made much larger than average capacity additions have had considerably less congestion thereafter than the majority that has done so only in incremental additions. Exhibit 13 in the 2012 Urban Mobility Report from the Texas AandM Transportation Institute is a graph showing that, compared to the 84 urban areas that have made only modest capacity additions, the 17 that have kept capacity growth to within 10 percent of VMT growth have (on average) experienced decreasing congestion since 1997. Duranton and Turner’s methodology does not capture differences of this kind.

O’Toole also provided data showing significant differences among the 30 largest metro areas (for the same time periods Duranton and Turner cover) in the relationship between capacity expansion and VMT growth. If the contention that the elasticity between capacity increase and VMT increase is always close to 1.0, those large elasticity variations among congested urban areas would not exist.

Commuting expert Alan Pisarski provided some additional perspective in a 2014 presentation on this subject. Supposing that some version of Duranton and Turner’s “fundamental law” were correct, does the “futility” conclusion of the anti-highway people follow?

Pisarski suggests looking at why more motorists show up on the expanded freeway: some switch from parallel routes because they find the expanded freeway an improvement over their former route. Those who shift from other travel times do this because it increases their utility to be able to drive at that hour. And the same goes for those who shift from other modes, such as transit. Hence, the expanded freeway “improves and expands choice for both previous and new users.”

This gets back to the question of how a highway provider should respond to increased demand from its customers. Should it tell the customers they are wrong to prefer personal mobility? Should an electric utility tell its customers they should switch to wood-burning stoves, rather than adding generating capacity? Should a school district not add schools to serve a growing population of families with kids?

Infrastructure providers are supposed to provide the vital facilities that people are willing to pay for, not tell them their preferences are wrong.

To be sure, there are locations where the cost of adding freeway capacity may significantly exceed the benefits to highway customers. When that is the case, I agree with Duranton and Turner that the solution is to implement congestion pricing. And in some of those cases, the additional revenue from pricing may be high enough to make the capacity addition feasible.

Most recently, the “iron law” claim is being raised in opposition to plans to add priced express toll lanes to congested freeways, such as the Maryland half of the I-495 Beltway around the Washington, DC, metro area. This kind of capacity addition is the kind the authors of the “iron law” would very likely approve, so it is especially misleading to invoke their study to argue against such projects. 

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation.

Two new bridges and corridors needed

RTC’s 2008 Visioning Study highlights the need for two new transportation corridors and bridges across the Columbia

My comments to the RTC Board meeting can be viewed on CVTV here. Their main agenda item was reviewing their 2008 “Visioning Study”, which identified the need for TWO new transportation corridors, one west of I-5 and one east of I-205. They also identified other needed Clark County transportation corridors.

“The Portland metro area has the nation’s 10th worst traffic congestion.  The main reason for that sad reality, is we have failed to add new transportation corridors in 40 years. The I-205 corridor and Glenn Jackson Bridge opened in 1982. Regional population has DOUBLED since then.

Last year’s PEMCO transportation survey indicates 94% of people prefer to use their cars. You need to respond to the reality on the ground, and actually serve the people.

Mass transit won’t solve the problem. In Seattle, Uber and Lyft carry over 17% MORE people each day than Sound Transit’s light rail. TriMet buses carry 9 million fewer passengers today, compared to 2009.

Your 2008 “Visioning Study” highlighted the need for TWO new bridges across the Columbia River, and the construction of two new transportation corridors – one WEST of I-5 and the other EAST of I-205.

Your goal AFTER today’s review of this 2008 study must be to not only plan for both 3rd and 4th bridges and transportation corridors, but actually be seeking funding and taking action!

In a 2003 Portland/Vancouver I-5 Transportation & Trade Partnership, ODOT Director Bruce Warner offered the following comparison of river crossings.

Portland had two highway crossings and one rail crossing.

Norfolk had 4 highway crossings & zero rail crossings. Cincinnati had SEVEN highway crossings and 2 rail crossings. Kansas City had TEN highway crossings and 3 rail crossings. Pittsburgh had over 30 highway crossings and 3 rail crossings. St. Louis had 8 highway crossings and 2 rail crossings.

By any measure, the Portland metro area was behind 16 years ago. We’re further behind today.

The CRC demonstrated why “focusing on I-5” will not solve traffic congestion problems. With Portland’s refusal to add new through lanes to I-5 at the Rose Quarter, the CRC provided only a ONE-minute improvement in the morning, southbound commute.  It simply got people to the traffic jam slightly faster.

I-5 is a FUNNEL. Widening the mouth of the funnel does nothing with only 2 through lanes at the Rose Quarter.

Washington County is BEGGING for a new transportation corridor. Commissioner Roy Rogers tells us Washington County is gridlocked. Here you will find eager partners in discussing a western bypass.

Several years ago, the Mayors of Troutdale, Fairview, and Wood Village signed a letter supporting an eastern bridge and crossing.

Portland doesn’t want more cars and trucks in the downtown area. It makes sense to build bypasses, allowing cars and trucks to go around the congestion.

When I-205 opened, it provided a DECADE of congestion relief to I-5. New corridors and bridges work!

Portland has a dozen bridges across the Willamette. We need more than two bridges across the Columbia!



The 2008 RTC “Visioning Study” identified the need for two new transportation corridors across the Columbia River, one WEST of I-5 and one EAST of I-205. It provided two options for each bridge and corridor. Here’s their map.

A new transportation corridor and bridge (I-205) created TEN years of traffic congestion relief on I-5. Here are the numbers.

In the fall of 2018, WSDOT Regional Manager Kris Strickler told the RTC we now have 310,000 vehicle crossings on an average day.

Uber & Lyft carry more people than Sound Transit’s light rail in Seattle. The Seattle Times reports the reality here.

PEMCO’s 2018 survey indicates 94% of people prefer their cars.

The 2003 Portland/Vancouver I-5 Transportation & Trade Partnership, ODOT Director Bruce Warner offered the following comparison of river crossings.

2015 letter from Mayors of Troutdale, Fairview, and Wood Village supporting an east county bridge.

TriMet ridership is down. Bus ridership peaked in 2009. From their 2018 annual report.

Transportation architect Kevin Peterson scrutinized all the CRC traffic projection data. He indicated more lanes on a replacement I-5 bridge would only be effective if 3-4 additional lanes were added to I-5 at the Rose Quarter.


A $2 Billion light rail tunnel serves whom?

TriMet pushes for a $2 Billion (or more) tunnel under the Willamette River

In the battle for more bridges and transportation corridors across the Columbia River, we often hear “experts” and politicians say, “there isn’t enough money” to do two bridges. They insist we must fix the Interstate Bridge first.

The newest bridge in the region is the $1.5 Billion Tillikum Crossing Bridge for light rail, bikes and pedestrians. Now, TriMet and Metro are putting a $2 Billion plus light rail tunnel on the table, in addition to the $2.9 Billion Tigard/Tualatin light rail extension.

TriMet’s MAX light rail system has two huge weaknesses. One is the Achilles heel – all MAX light rail trains use the 117-year-old Steel Bridge. The other – they can only put two cars in a train, due to the length of a downtown Portland city block. Both weaknesses were known and ignored in the original creation of Portland’s light rail system.

Metro and TriMet are now pushing for two tunnels under the Willamette River and under downtown Portland. It is one of four possible solutions under consideration, but by far the most expensive. At a Metro “open house” in July, a TriMet staffer told me the $2 billion price tag would be significantly higher.

The alleged “need” is saving time. Current MAX trains cross the Steel Bridge every 90 seconds during rush hour, 40 trains per hour. TriMet can’t expand current service and meet their 2040 expected demand of 64 trains every hour, using the current Steel Bridge.

One rightly should question the underlying assumptions – is there a legitimate need for a 60% increase in the number of MAX trains crossing the river?

TriMet reports bus passenger boarding’s peaked in 2009 and are down 14%, a decline of over 9 million boarding’s by 2018. Furthermore, light rail ridership peaked in 2012 with 35.2 million originating riders, losing 11% or 4.2 million originating riders by 2018.

More importantly, the decline in MAX ridership has occurred in spite of TriMet starting the Green Line in Sept 2009 and the Orange Line in Sept 2015.  Today, ridership numbers are below the Sept 2009 level according to a Federal Transit Administration graphic, demonstrating that the addition of TWO new light rail lines added no new passengers.

The bottom line – will there be a need for 60% more trains crossing the Willamette River in 2040, given that MAX ridership has declined by over 10% in the last half decade? Probably not.

Time saved by eliminating stops

One of TriMet’s selling points for the expensive tunnel option is it will save “about 15 minutes” for riders using the tunnel. But how does the tunnel save time when it follows a similar winding route through downtown as the street-level MAX? By eliminating a dozen light rail stops in downtown Portland! How does that serve the people? MAX passengers with a downtown destination between Lloyd Center and Goose Hollow, will have to get off the “express” train and transfer to the “local” light rail train, adding time to their travel.

An honest, unanswered question is how much time would passengers save if TriMet eliminated those same stops on their surface light rail system? More importantly, is TriMet being truthful to taxpayers about “all” their future plans? The tunnel following existing MAX routing suggests future plans will add back stops (and travel time) at various downtown locations. How much more will that cost?

If TriMet had originally created a subway, or an elevated rail system like Chicago, they would not be limited to just two cars in a train. They would be able to expand passenger capacity by simply adding new cars to each train. Now that roughly $5 Billion has been expended on light rail, they hope citizens won’t mind doubling down. $2 billion or more for two light rail tunnels under the Willamette, and $2.9 billion for the Tigard/Tualatin light rail expansion.

Taxpayers should put this in context. Last fall PEMCO reported 94% of Northwest citizens desire to use their privately-owned vehicles.

An April Oregon Transportation Commission survey found 51 percent of citizens want to “expand and improve interstates and interstate bridges;” another 14 percent want expanded arterials.

A January 2019 Metro poll showed the number one priority was roads and highways. They reported 31 percent of citizens want “widening roads and highways” as their top priority. The Portland Tribune summarized: “On its own, improving public transit is a lower priority than making road improvements and the more overarching goal of easing traffic — voters still overwhelmingly rely on driving alone to get around,” reads the poll’s conclusions.

The $2 billion tunnel dollars would pay for widening I-205’s Abernethy Bridge and adding 6 miles of freeway lanes to Stafford Rd – $500 million. It would rehab the Morrison Bridge – $48 million, the Hawthorne Bridge $24 million, rehab the Burnside Bridge – $80 million, The funds would pay to widen US 26 from 4 to 6 lanes (Brookwood to Cornelius Pass) $26.5 million, and add auxiliary lanes to Hwy 217 in Beaverton $152.5 million. It would pay from an east country bridge crossing the Columbia River — $800 million, and add a lift-span to the BNSF rail bridge, eliminating 95% of Interstate Bridge lifts –$35.5 million. It would pay for a separate bridge from Delta Park to Hayden Island – $80 million; and much more in needed road and bridge repairs. (Data from Metro 2018 RTP).

The full $5 billion for the two projects would cover a significant part of a much needed westside bypass. Commissioner Roy Rogers says Washington County is “gridlocked” and needs a western bypass, first identified in 1970’s transportation plans.

Citizens want point-to-point service in either privately owned vehicles or Lyft/Uber vehicles. Regional transportation planners have failed to change citizens behavior with mass transit service, which continues its national decline.

Use the $2 Billion MAX tunnel money to expand metro area roads and freeways; use it to build new transportation corridors including new bridges across the Columbia River. It’s been 40 years since a new transportation corridor was built – I-205. Serve the people and their transportation needs and desires.



TriMet graphic showing the 14 light rail stops from Lloyd Center to Goose Hollow

The Tunnel proposal eliminates the 12 stops between Lloyd Center and Goose Hollow, saving about 14 minutes.

TriMet Bus ridership drops.

Uber and Lyft carry a significant number of people in Seattle. Much more than taxis and Sound Transit’s light rail. People “vote” with their money for point-to-point, convenient transportation service.

The Seattle Times reports in this Nov. 2018 story:

“Every day in the Seattle region, Uber and Lyft provide more rides than:

  • Sound Transit light rail (77,576 rides on a typical weekday).
  • The population of Bellingham (89,045).

“The ride-hailing giants provided more than 91,000 rides on an average day in the second quarter of this year, according to ridership reports the companies filed with the city of Seattle. They are on pace to provide more than 31 million trips this year.”

Addressing yesterday’s congestion today

Addressing yesterday’s congestion today


Addressing yesterday’s congestion today
Regional transportation planners say it may take another 40 years to add a third crossing over the Columbia River from Washington into the Portland metro area. However, one former legislative candidate says the region can’t wait that long. Photo:

As a new interstate work group continues to look at replacing the century-old I-5 bridge spanning the Columbia River from Vancouver to Portland, some residents and former political candidates are emphasizing the urgent need for additional crossings previously recommended in a 2008 study that regional transportation planning staff say is another 40 years down the road.

“Citizens are begging for a third bridge and traffic congestion relief,” former District 18 legislator candidate John Ley said at the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council (RTC) July 4 meeting.

The RTC acts as the metropolitan planning organization for Clark County, which aside from Vancouver includes Camas-Washougal, Ridgefield and Battle Ground. The RTC’s 2018 Congestion Management Process concludes that the region needs to “address strong demand for bi‐state travel” and lists recommended corridor improvements such as intersections and interchange improvements.

However, at the RTC’s July 2 meeting Ley told the council that a regional solution to congestion requires more crossings.

“Portland’s got a dozen bridges across the Willamette river,” he said. “We need more than two bridges across the Columbia.”

The RTC’s Transportation Corridor Visioning Study recommends four possible locations for two new, non-tolled “parkway” crossings located west of I-5 and east of I-205 that would have four to six lanes. At the RTC’s June 4 meeting, Senior Transportation Planner Dale Robins said that a new bridge is “probably 40 years out. It’s really probably something that we have discussed in the past as a land use issue that the county needs to tackle.”

Clark County Councilor and RTC councilmember Gary Medvigy said “if we look to a future planning, look at another 40 years down the road, today’s the day. We need to get another corridor as one of your long-term strategies to encompass the future of congestion in this region and add that as a planning guideline. Hopefully it won’t take another 40 years to build another corridor.”

At the July 4 meeting, Ley argued that crossings can’t wait another 40 years. “In Milwaukie, the I-35 bridge was replaced in one year. What’s it going to take for this Board to show some leadership? When will the RTC take action on a 3rd bridge?”

He also argued that the problem has been identified for decades. A 1988 state legislative study noted that “the increase in traffic volumes are causing major congestion problems on I-5 during the morning and evening peak travel hours. The traffic volumes on I-205 are not causing immediate congestion problems but are increasing at a very rapid pace. Depending on the travel forecasting technique, traffic volumes on the I-5 bridge will reach or exceed capacity within the next 3 to 10 years” (page 50).

Ley told Lens that “for 40 years, they’ve kicked the can down the road.”

Limited corridor capacity is one of the chief reasons that stakeholders are eager to replace the I-5 Bridge. The bridge now has three northbound lanes and three southbound lanes that as of 2018 has 138,374 daily crossings. Interstate 205 crossing the Columbia River east of I-5 in 2018 had 165,097 daily crossings – a figure that has increased from 145,927 in 2005. The Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee is tasked with coming up with a process to examine the future of the bridge. One of the challenges are conflicting priorities regarding the bridge and whether it should be tolled and include a light rail line from Portland into Vancouver.

One thing that has changed since the 1980s is that “inside Portland they’ve hardened their mindset against cars.”

If agreement can be reached on a new bridge, Ley says one option is to simply leave the current bridge intact as a crossing for local traffic and use the new bridge for cargo freight. Two years ago he notedthat the bridge remains safe, despite concerns about its age.

“That makes huge sense to me,” he said. “Why not make I-5 the current I-205…and get the interstate travel off it?”

Rose Quarter plan is boondoggle

Letter: Rose Quarter plan is boondoggle

My response to a Columbian editorial, here. They say the Rose Quarter plan is no boondoggle.

By John Ley, Camas

Published: July 1, 2019 (here).

If you actually look at the details of Oregon’s proposed $500 million spending on the Rose Quarter project, it truly is a “boondoggle.”

Fully half the spending will go to creating real estate — building two concrete lids over Interstate 5. They will do nothing to significantly improve traffic congestion or safety. An additional $30 million to $50 million will be wasted building a bike/pedestrian bridge over I-5 the bicycle community does not want.

Question: How much will the expenditure of a half-billion transportation dollars improve traffic flow? ODOT reports: “the auxiliary lanes will not provide long-term capacity relief to congestion problems.”

How many of the FOUR bottlenecks ODOT reports for I-5 in the region will be eliminated? As The Columbian quoted: “the three miles from Rosa Parks Way to the Rose Quarter mimics a parking lot much of the day, when you calculate for the morning and evening commute, for a grand total of 9 hours, 15 minutes.”

Transportation architect Kevin Peterson scrutinized the traffic projection data of the failed and flawed Columbia River Crossing. Peterson reported the new lanes across the Columbia River are “valuable only if three to four lanes are added into downtown Portland. This is a 12- to 14-lane freeway passing thru the Rose Quarter by 2060.”

The Rose Quarter project is a waste of scarce transportation dollars.



An ODOT graphic showing the Rose Quarter plan, including the two concrete lids over I-5.

Transportation architect Kevin Peterson’s analysis of the CRC traffic data, showing the lanes needed on I-5 through 2060.

Metro President Lynn Peterson (former WSDOT Secretary), says the Rose Quarter project is necessary to “revitalize” the northeast Portland community here.

Former Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman says the Rose Quarter project is necessary “redevelopment project” here.