Special Report: Light Rail

Induced Demand, Transit Investment and Congestion

Improved transit doesn't necessarily permanently eliminate congestion on the roads, but it does enable a greater number of people to move around more efficiently at a given level of congestion.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published June 19, 2014

An article posted recently in Wired does a good job of explaining induced demand:

The concept is called induced demand, which is economist-speak for when increasing the supply of something (like roads) makes people want that thing even more. Though some traffic engineers made note of this phenomenon at least as early as the 1960s, it is only in recent years that social scientists have collected enough data to show how this happens pretty much every time we build new roads.

When a city makes it easier to drive by adding lanes, more people choose to drive and those lanes fill up with additional cars.

Induced demand does not just apply to automobile lanes, however. It also applies to other transportation modes, like pedestrian infrastructure or bike lanes or public transit.

It is important to be careful about the "reducing congestion" argument for investment in new public transit. Improved transit doesn't necessarily lead to less traffic congestion, due to the induced demand effect:

You might think that increasing investment in public transit could ease this mess. Many railway and bus projects are sold on this basis, with politicians promising that traffic will decrease once ridership grows. But the data showed that even in cities that expanded public transit, road congestion stayed exactly the same. Add a new subway line and some drivers will switch to transit. But new drivers replace them. It's the same effect as adding a new lane to the highway: congestion remains constant. (That's not to say that public transit doesn't do good, it also allows more people to move around. These projects just shouldn't be hyped up as traffic decongestants, say Turner and Duranton.)

Improved transit doesn't necessarily permanently eliminate congestion on the roads, but it does enable a greater number of people to move around more efficiently at a given level of congestion.

If there was no transit and everyone had to drive an automobile, there is no way the roads could handle the total demand. Cities with insufficient transit inevitably end up with essentially non-functioning road networks because there is no feasible alternative.

That is what has been happening on Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) roads, where travel times have been increasing dramatically as the region has fallen behind on transit improvements.

There are also many people, especially in Hamilton, who are unable to work at optimal jobs because of the lack of transit options. The opportunity cost of a transportation system that doesn't allow people to match themselves with the best jobs has been estimated to cost the GTHA between $1.5 and $5 billion a year in lost productivity.

A counter-example is Vancouver, which has demonstrated that congestion goes down if you improve transit, cycling and walking options and change land use to higher density mixed use so that more people can live in a way such that driving doesn't make sense.

But the article is probably right if all you do is improve transit but leave everything else the same - especially if the city is relatively low density - then traffic won't necessarily decrease.

This is the case in dense cities like New York and Paris, which have both heavy traffic and good transit, but where (as we see during strikes) the city would be entirely non-functional without transit since only a small portion of the population can drive at any given time.

Luckily, Hamilton has been developing a land use plan together with its LRT plan, which should maximize our advantage.

See also:

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By Cyclical (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2014 at 12:23:24

Congestion results as not easy to reach destinations by other means. 'Smart centres' killed walkability. LRT definitely good for small business and vice versa.

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2014 at 13:46:04

"estimated to cost the GTHA between $1.5 and $5 billion a year in lost productivity." I thought that was the cost of congestion on the GTA roads? If you use reality to look at this you would know that there are no empty workspaces not producing things because there are no workers. employers don't pay you if your not at work, that means employers aren't losing, there is no loss. The loss is personal time. time spent waiting in traffic. but according to the article if more busses and trains were added the roads would be as slow, just more people would be making the trip. I did not know there was such a worker shortage!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 19, 2014 at 15:11:34 in reply to Comment 102692

"It's okay, we're only wasting billions of dollars in unpaid time, not paid time!"

I am embarrassed on behalf of whatever causes you hope to represent.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 19, 2014 at 20:21:06 in reply to Comment 102703

Ryan wrote: "If you turn down a better job because it's too hard to get there and accept a job to which you are less well-suited, your productivity is lower than it could be."

Kevin's comment: The converse is also true. An employer's business productivity is lower than it could be if the pool of employees is reduced because potential employees cannot get to that workplace.

In other words, the employer has to hire the second-best employee because the best one cannot get to that workplace.

A good match between employer and employee benefits both sides.

One measure of excellence for a transportation system is the percentage of people that use it by travelling daily. This most vividly demonstrates itself in the excellent transportation network in The Netherlands. Out of all the EU countries, "Holland has, at 92%, the highest percentage of the total population traveling daily."

One key success factor for The Netherlands is the excellent cycling infrastructure which has resulted in 27% of all trips being by bicycle and more women cycling than men.

If people are not travelling daily, that means they are not travelling to places such as workplaces. Not good for the economy!

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2014 at 21:56:04

A few years old, but this Metrolinx report gives you a sense of the temporal and economic impact of congestion.

metrolinx.com/en/regionalplanning/costsofcongestion/ISP_08-015_Cost_of_Congestion_report_1128081.pdf

Examples...

Table 1: Extent of Excess Travel delay in the GTHA, 2006

Minutes Per Day, Per Commuter

City of Hamilton: 4.8
Halton Region: 7.8
Peel Region: 11.1
City of Toronto: 15.6
Region of York: 12.9
Durham Region: 8.8
GTHA Avg: 11.5

Figure 6: Regional Distribution of the Total Annual Cost of Excess Congestion Experienced by Commuters, 2006 ($ million)

City of Hamilton: 94
Halton Region: 249
Peel Region: 845
City of Toronto: 1,389
Region of York: 623
Durham Region: 309

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 19, 2014 at 22:59:19

Hamilton has tons of gridlock and congestion. I hit a red light once.

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 04:03:00

Yeah, once I had to drive from Dundas to the East End and I had to stop twice. I was so p*ssed off > I felt like my rights as a driver were under attack.

Twenty minute city, b*tches!

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 08:06:08 in reply to Comment 102714

As of 2006, Hamilton congestion represented 2.68% of total annual GTHA congestion costs.

2.68% of $15B = ~$402,000,000
2.68% of $34B = ~$911,000,000

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 08:35:01 in reply to Comment 102721

You should try driving on the Mountain. You'll have to stop for lots of red lights. Funny thing though. No one ever complains about that.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 08:48:59 in reply to Comment 102721

I posted about my first trip down King a few weeks ago. I had another on Wednesday at 12:36. Did it just to see if it was an anomaly the last time.

14.7 minutes between Wellington and Margaret on King. Less buses in the left lane between John and James but most of the delay was between the "International Village" and Bay St.

Once again bus lanes largely empty. Lots of taxi traffic stuck as well as me.

Maybe moving the taxis into the bus lanes would help a little.

Don't know why it is attractive to potential residents or businesses to have cars lined up and spewing exhaust all day in front of their homes and businesses. Can't see the current arrangement as a long term solution.

I like the idea of elimination passenger cars from Wellington to James. Just let Buses, Deliveries, and Taxis on King.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2014-06-20 08:55:56

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 08:53:52 in reply to Comment 102727

No, we need more speed bumps, all way stops and stupid alternating stop lights like the one at Dundurn and Aberdeen, to drive people crazy, increase pollution and wear and tear on automobiles and waste more of their time for no good reason.

(It is not an "indignity" to have stop. It is nonsensical, illogical and wasteful to sit stopped when there are logical, easy and cost effective ways of keeping traffic moving.)

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2014-06-20 08:55:21

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 09:11:15 in reply to Comment 102731

"This city has spent the past 5+ decades decimating its streets to "keeping traffic moving" at all costs"


Fixed.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 09:23:39 in reply to Comment 102728

Ever heard of Cannon Street? If you want to go Downtown, King makes perfect sense. If you want to go THROUGH Downtown; not so much. Nor should it.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 09:28:51 in reply to Comment 102730

I wasn't driving across town. I was driving from King and Sanford Ave, to Dundurn. That is hardly across town. I know the best route now is Cannon. I purposely went down King again because the last time I did it was the first time I did it and I wanted to see if the very slow and blocked up traffic it was a one off. I am thinking it is not.

I am going to do it again when the opportunity arises (because science says you need at least three tests)

If the lane realignemnt is not the solution, why bother? Just close the road to private vehicles and get on with it. Otherwise wait until the long term solution is agreed upon, otherwise you re just wasting people's time unjustifiably.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2014-06-20 09:43:22

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 09:39:45 in reply to Comment 102731

The city may have wasted 5+ years or more. They wasted 40 years not building the Linc and Red Hill (but that might not have been the City's fault) That is irrelevant to the issue of creating gridlock on purpose for no good reason. If there is a better master plan, get on with it. It is not justifiable to keep the "experiment" at Dundurn an Aberdeen going where traffic, including pedestrians, all sit while nothing moves.

There were two other lights like this that I know of. One was on West Fith and one on Garth. People up there went apoplectic about them They re-arranged the road at great expense for one and eliminated the light, and the other is still there (near the Linc) continuing to drive people crazy.

It does the advocacy of Complete Streets no service by supporting poor traffic design that I think is there largely to make a point. And sadly, that includes the bus lanes on King.

Personally I think dedicated bus lanes on King are a good idea. I have been told that my support of closing King to through traffic through the downtown is a non-starter. But the current lane alignments between John and Bay are just causing traffic jams.

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 09:45:58 in reply to Comment 102703

What Troll. I am right you are wrong.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 09:47:13 in reply to Comment 102734

"I was driving from King and Sanford Ave, to Dundurn. That is hardly across town"

It's not across town, but it's through the core. If we had LRT, this is exactly the trip length that could be moved from car to transit.

We need more people in this city to share the tax burden. That means more people living here and more people moving around. We HAVE TO make transit and other alternatives more convenient for more trips.

When buildings like the connaught are filled with residents, we need them to have alternatives other than cars, otherwise it won't matter how many lanes are open on King, it will be congested.

The bus lane has problems for sure - but the problem isn't the loss of a car lane. The problem is a lack of proper bus movement amenities such as advanced turns etc to reduce merging. John Street buses should have their own dedicated turn signal into the bus lane, and buses on King should have dedicated signals to turn up James South and into the MacNab terminal.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 09:54:16 in reply to Comment 102737

This Picture ignores the traffic flow at rush hour into the City between Dundurn and James. That portion of this same road does not support two way streets at this time given the volumes of traffic at rush hour and the alignments of the 403 interchanges. I am not sure it ever will as in the morning people are coming in from Ancaster, Dundas, Burlington and Waterdown, and in the evening people who commute out of the city in the morning are returning.

Also, one way streets are known to create "waves" of traffic. So you can take the picture at another instant and show the street completely full. (I know your argument about wasted infrastructure, but you have no problem with bus lanes sitting empty the majority of the time, and I am sure you support theaters and sports facilities that sit empty the majority of the time.)

Point is that if Main and King were reduced to two way from the 403 to the downtown, we would have permanently snarled traffic.

I have pictures of Main I have taken between Dundurn and Queen that show the entire street full at 4:00 pm. Don't know how to post them here though.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2014-06-20 10:05:02

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 09:58:39 in reply to Comment 102741

If they had have built the Linc int the 60's, we would have saved a fortune on the cross town roads on the Mountain that are now largely underutilized.

Sorry, should not have said gridlock. Should have said traffic jams. Or very slow moving or stop and go or "snarled" traffic.

"No good reason" was specifically aimed at the light on Aberdeen and Dundurn and the "experimentation" aspect of the bus lanes (dedicated bus lanes that I support BTW)

You're right about that light. My kids walk that way every day and it drives them nuts.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2014-06-20 10:06:32

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2014 at 10:05:31 in reply to Comment 102734

For the record, the big snarl is leading into the city core, which is exactly where there should be a snarl. King and James should have thick traffic. That's normal and healthy for the core of a city. Maintaining traffic flow around king and james seems reasonable, but maintaining traffic flow through King and James is counterproductive.

Once you get past Bay Street, King opens up and runs smooth as butter, bus lane or no bus lane. And honestly, half the reason people have to go through King and James is the fact that Bay is %&$*#ing 1-way and so the only other Northbound route on the West side is to head all the way to Queen.

I want a 2-way conversion of Main eventually. I want a 2-way conversion of Bay yesterday.

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 10:11:55 in reply to Comment 102714

70% of Hamiltonians (ie. 139,470 commuters) work somewhere within Hamilton 23,400 of those (ie. 17% of intra-Hamilton commuters), worked downtown (ie. Downtown Community Improvement Project Area, or Queen/Victoria/Cannon/Hunter plus James from LIUNA Station to St. Joe's) as of the summer of 2010. The remaining 116,070 (ie. 83% of intra-Hamilton commuters) work somewhere other than the Downtown CIPA. StatsCan indicates that 23,445 Hamilton workers commute to Burlington and another 21,880 Hamilton workers commute west to Oakville, Mississauga, Brampton and Toronto.

communitystudy.ca/pdfs/Where_Hamilton_Works.pdf
hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/D328256F-C312-462E-8D43-86D0E9478081/0/CPDHRDowntownHamiltonEmploymentAnalysis.pdf

94million loss / 27880 commuters @ 4.8 min per commuter that $895. per minute. wow ! that's some productive business we are missing out on!

I can use stats too. most are meaningless.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2014 at 10:12:50 in reply to Comment 102741

Honestly, I'm going to dissent and say that the city did need some kind of improvement in the automobile connection between the East Mountain and the QEW. The Red Hill wasn't the right form of this improvement, but it was absolutely needed. There was a tremendous amount of suburban development on the East Mountain that was completely cut off from the rest of the city, Red Hill or no Red Hill.

And while the research says the expressways will fill up eventually, I'm surprised that it still hasn't gotten as bad as pre-Linc days. The 403 west of Aldershot isn't half as bad as it used to be.

The problem was (a) the Red Hill was the most excessive approach to the problem - a million-interchange expressway blasted through nature, and (b) the city did nothing to influence the Red-hill based sprawl development to be sustainable and controlled to avoid filling the Linc all over again.

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 10:20:21

I just love it when people move next to a factory and complain about the noise and smell and demand it gets shut down. I Love it when people move to the end of the runway at an airport and complain about the noise and smell and demand flights are restricted. I love when people move to a highway and complain about the traffic. Hwy 8 cut through the village of Hamilton to link Niagara with Gault.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 10:28:03 in reply to Comment 102738

Ooh, the Allan Taylor is strong with this one.

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By Tell us More Granddad... (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 11:02:14 in reply to Comment 102748

And the highway numbers for Bay, Cannon, Queen, Hunter, Bold, Duke, Herkimer, Charlton.........ahh, forget it.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 11:23:14 in reply to Comment 102733

Cannon is also downtown, FYI.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 11:34:30 in reply to Comment 102747

I think the point still stands that as a way of reducing congestion the Red Hill and Linc are not necessarily doing that (I mean, maybe they are but are we sure?). They clearly provide a value in that they are reliable arterial roads that allow congestion to happen on a freeway and make room for smaller roads to be used for more local trips - in that sense the are a good thing. But do they reduce congestion? Are other roads emptier, or are they just being used for different trips?

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By N1 (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 15:30:27 in reply to Comment 102746

As of 2011: 200,865 commuters in the Hamilton Census Subdivision, 139,470 of whom are most directly impacted by Hamilton congestion. To that we can add the 38,340 workers commuting from other communities to work in Hamilton. To each of those 177,810 commuters you can assign varying congestion costs and time expenditure, since depending upon where they live they may encounter congestion outside of Hamilton during their commute. It's all relative.

communitystudy.ca/pdfs/Where_Hamilton_Works.pdf

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 17:52:24 in reply to Comment 102749

Doubt it. His comments always end in a hanging sentence (no punctuation at the end - always a dead giveaway).

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 17:56:56 in reply to Comment 102753

The red hill/Linc has certainly moved all truck traffic off of the King/Main corridor. When I first moved downtown that was a bit of a nightmare, now it is almost exclusively cars, trucks, and buses. Much safer, and quieter (no more squealing brakes, air and engine brakes, smashing sounds from empty truck loads, etc)

I also see that the Linc and Red Hill are constantly backed up - don't remember the Linc being that way prior to the Red Hill opening up. But that's a good thing.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 20, 2014 at 18:00:45 in reply to Comment 102721

I hit a red light once.

Did it hurt?

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 21, 2014 at 00:07:46 in reply to Comment 102730

Here's an idea: if you want to drive across the city, don't drive through the downtown core. Operating Main and King as de facto expressways for the past 50 years has been a disaster from which we are just barely starting to recover.

Hi Ryan, I carpool with a coworker to work 4 days a week. I live in the core, he lives in Stoney Creek. How should I best get to his home? He's past Eastgate square.

Remember that the bus lane carries more people than all the other lanes combined. It is by far the most efficient, effective use of the roadway.

I drove past the bus lanes yesterday. The curb lane (at least from where it begins to about John st) are horribly damaged from the increased bus traffic on the roads. So bad htat I can see where the bus tires are as they have pushed down the asphalt that far. A very similar thing happened on John st. at Jackson, and was only corrected within the past year. Is this effective?

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 21, 2014 at 00:10:18 in reply to Comment 102731

the speed bumps on Stanley and Charlton between Queen and Locke would not be necessary if those streets were narrow-laned two-way streets with bulb-outs and crosswalks at intersections, instead of wide-laned one-way streets.

How on earth would you fit 2 way traffic along there without removing the curb parking? Very few of those homes have on-property parking.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 21, 2014 at 04:18:39 in reply to Comment 102775

Sounds good to me. An important way of reducing car use is to ensure that walking, cycling or public transit are the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of safely travelling from A to B. Eliminating car parking is one way to achieve that goal.

Medical Officer of Health data shows that right now, 93 people are killed in Hamilton every year because they are poisoned by the lethal air pollution put out by car drivers. An additional 395 people in Hamilton are poisoned by car drivers every year and injured so seriously they have to be hospitalized.

Children, the elderly and hospital patients are particularly vulnerable to being poisoned by car drivers. Every year in Hamilton children suffer 15,510 asthma symptom days and an additional 279 children suffer acute bronchitis attacks due to being poisoned by car drivers. Health care costs due to people being poisoned by car drivers are $511 million every year in Hamilton.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2014-06-21 04:27:09

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2014 at 08:22:29 in reply to Comment 102775

It fits, no problem. Visit erie ave to see how: http://goo.gl/maps/v6Uah

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted June 22, 2014 at 22:50:58 in reply to Comment 102778

I have to disagree that Erie, Emerald, Tisdale or West work well as two way streets. Folks just drive up the centre too fast and it's a pretty common site for one car to have to pull off to let another pass, or drive on the sidewalk. There's too much cut-over traffic from Stinson (which is why Wentworth should be two way all the way to Burlington). This is a place where I think it would be better served to make it a one way grid and parking on both sides, or extend one sidewalk with trees/grass/bike lanes/planters. 30 Km/h speed limits, street furniture and even interlocking brick roadways, there should be virtually no non-local traffic on these streets. Stinson should become a "Victorian Village" as it's already the poster child for adaptive reuse having kept much of it's amazing architecture (even though many are triplexes now). Of course there's much higher density than there is parking, so the neighbourhood could really benefit from 24hr parking increase while protecting the sidewalks from traffic.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 23, 2014 at 10:01:15 in reply to Comment 102789

Pulling over to let the oncoming car pass is perfectly normal behavior here in Westdale and nobody would want to convert our streets into 1-way.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 23, 2014 at 10:08:12 in reply to Comment 102775

I'll admit that there are many short stretches in Kirkendall/Durand that are narrow-enough to demand 1-way traffic, but this is not the case for the vast majority of roads there. 2-way should be the default, and 1-way only used in rare exceptions where two normal cars can't pass each other even when driving incredibly politely.

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