How to Reduce Traffic By 30 Percent: Strike Fear Into Motorists

Roadway and transit congestion actually dropped during the London Olympics, thanks to transportation demand management, and the Big Scare. Photo: ##http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2181313/Deserted-London-2012-Shops-theatres-businesses-visitor-levels-fall-THIRD-fears-Games-travel-chaos.html##Daily Mail##
Roadway and transit congestion actually dropped during the London Olympics, thanks to transportation demand management, and the Big Scare. Photo: ##http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2181313/Deserted-London-2012-Shops-theatres-businesses-visitor-levels-fall-THIRD-fears-Games-travel-chaos.html##Daily Mail##

Organizers of major sporting events, from this weekend’s “Mass Transit Super Bowl” to the Sochi Olympics a week from now, may benefit from a lesson learned during the 2012 London Olympics: a tactic transportation planners secretly call “the Big Scare.”

They don’t like to talk about it in public. But Graham Currie, a professor of public transport at Australia’s Monash University and a consultant to London’s Olympic transportation designers in 2012, divulged this secret at the Transportation Research Board earlier this month. In a panel on reducing vehicle miles driven through transportation demand management, Currie acknowledged that the Big Scare is “extremely unpalatable to talk about publicly, but it’s extremely powerful.”

In London, the presence of 14,000 athletes, 21,000 members of the media, and 800,000 spectators for the 2012 summer Olympic games was expected to increase daily travel by about 20 million trips, or about 30 percent over a normal day. And a normal day in London is already pretty congested.

“This is really the best example in all of world history of demand management,” Currie said. “And that works through what we call ‘lowering service quality expectations.’”

So planners employed the biggest Olympic lane network in history to restrict road use. They adjusted traffic signals and boosted transit capacity, even ticketing Olympic events jointly with the rail system.

But the real key to their success was the Big Scare. Without it, they wouldn’t have had the cooperation of Londoners to reduce their impact on the transportation network. And that step is essential. “You cannot do it without less travel by local residents,” Currie said.

Olympic transportation planners reached out to tens of thousands of employers, encouraging them to get their workers to “reduce their overall need to travel, or re-time, re-route or revise their mode of travel.” Their key message was “public transport is king — you’re not going to drive there.” When possible, employers were asked to allow workers to work from home.

The media was only too happy to contribute to the Big Scare by publishing sensationalized stories of the transportation “chaos” expected to ensue. And indeed, there was a lot of confusion in the days leading up to the Olympics, as well as protests by taxi drivers. All of that was happening in the days before the games, when the international media was there with nothing else to cover.

Planners made information available on when and where the expected hotspots were, timed with the various events, utilizing models that could forecast how congested the Tube would be. (They also made sure to time major events on weekends as much as possible, when baseload demand is lower.) They installed jumbotrons around London where people could watch events live, which dispersed travel.

In the end, the hotspots weren’t hotspots. During the games, the transportation network worked well and congestion levels actually dropped. Some “complained” about getting to work too early. Transit riders were tweeting things like this:

olympic tweetRegular summer tourism was reduced, due to fears of transportation chaos. Merchants were furious that business was slower than usual, with Londoners staying home and tourists staying away.

“The Big Scare has a great effect in reducing baseload demand,” Currie said. “It’s about managing expectations. It’s enshrined in a phrase developed just after Atlanta: ‘under-promising and over-delivering.’”

Maybe Olympic planners had taken notes during LA’s Big Scare experiment: the 2011 “Carmageddon” episode, when the 405 freeway was temporarily closed for construction. When traffic ended up not being so bad, some people thought the hype had been overdone — but if it weren’t for the hype, the roads likely would have been gridlocked. People just internalized the scare tactics, took warnings seriously, and adapted their plans.

In London, 35 percent of regular travelers changed their routine during the games. Road travel was reduced somewhere in the 10- to 30-percent range. Traffic disruption fell 20 percent. Ridership on the Tube increased 35 percent, bus ridership rose 100 percent — and transit still felt quiet. Olympic “family” members — people authorized to use the Olympic lanes — experienced trip times 30 percent faster than a normal day.

“This is the most amazing story in transport history,” Currie said. “We should be doing it every day. But we do the exact opposite. We get political people standing up there telling us how perfect everything’s going to be. It’s time we actually were honest and said that congestion is getting worse. It’s going to get worse. It’s time to start changing our expectations and changing our travel habits.”

  • Dr. Frasier Crane

    So you’re advocating that we crush the local economy by scaring/bullying people into not driving?

  • ohsweetnothing

    What?

    “We should be doing it every day. But we do the exact opposite. We get political people standing up there telling us how perfect everything’s going to be. It’s time we actually were honest and said that congestion is getting worse. It’s going to get worse. It’s time to start changing our expectations and changing our travel habits.”

  • Gary Fisher

    When a car has 1.3 passengers per, it is impossible to fit the travelers wanting passage. What we have here is some math challenged people. Grow up and face the music! We need to redesign!

  • baklazhan

    “We should be doing it every day” meet “Boy Who Cried Wolf”.

  • oooBooo

    Road traffic is often reduced because people stay home and watch sports on TV. This sunday the roads will have considerably less traffic from the kick off of the superbowl to sometime in or after the fourth quarter depending on if its blow out or not. So, have a superbowl or critical playoff game every day.

  • TomD

    According to the Census Bureau (American Community Survey), the average vehicle (“car, truck, or van”) used to take people to work in the US has only 1.07 people in it. (Data for 2008 thru 2012.)

  • We’re advocating people bike to boost their local economy. It’s simple math. Fewer clogged roads=more people get to your shops. It takes me 10 minutes by bike and park on a Saturday to get from my home to my nearest grocery store and my favorite shopping area on Lincoln; my neighbors drive and complain it takes them 30 to 45 minutes to find parking there. My trusty Amsterdam bike holds as much groceries and junk as their trunk.

  • Does it also state how much average space is used for that transports 1.07 people?

  • OlavTorvund

    Maybe i should start to suppoert Olympics in Oslo 2022 after all.

  • Mike Mills

    This is not the most amazing story in transport history. It happened in 1996 in Atlanta. This happened repeatedly during the rebuil of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. It happens regularly on Metro in DC every weekend. Do some research!

  • jennacatlin4

    Traffic can be reduced in a great way by setting traffic rules and making people aware of traffic rules and regulations, especially when there are Olympics. In doing so, people coming form the world don’t get congested. Car parking Birmingham

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