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Congestion Pricing: The Antidote to Gridlock Traffic?

Congestion Pricing: The Antidote to Gridlock Traffic?

It’s Friday afternoon in Chicago. Michigan Avenue is buzzing with the excited throngs of shoppers, loving couples glide around the ice rink in Millennium Park, and annoyed motorists sluggishly make their way through the sea of vehicles on the Kennedy Expressway.  Rush hour traffic has plagued Chicago motorists for decades, and the problem seems to

Kennedy ExpresswayIt’s Friday afternoon in Chicago. Michigan Avenue is buzzing with the excited throngs of shoppers, loving couples glide around the ice rink in Millennium Park, and annoyed motorists sluggishly make their way through the sea of vehicles on the Kennedy Expressway.  Rush hour traffic has plagued Chicago motorists for decades, and the problem seems to only get worse with each passing year.  The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the official regional urban planning organization for northeastern Illinois, thinks that they may have found a way to combat this issue – congestion pricing.

Congestion pricing allows motorists to pay extra to ensure faster travel times by riding in a separate lane from the rest of traffic.  According to CMAP, “With congestion pricing, toll rates in express lanes rise at times when more drivers wanCMAP Map of Congestion Pricing Locationst to use the highway, then tolls fall when demand is low.  The toll rate can be finely calibrated to manage demand at a level that leads to faster, more reliable travel times. Higher prices during peak periods may also reduce congestion by encouraging travelers to carpool, take transit, or consider alternative routes and times for their trips.”

Congestion pricing has been implemented in several cities across the United States, giving CMAP plenty of data to analyze when attempting to determine how to adapt the system to the Chicago landscape.  One of these cities, Minneapolis, MN, instituted its congestion pricing system, MnPass, in 2005.  Under this system, motorists pay anywhere from $1-$4 to use the express lanes (depending on the speed of traffic), while “transit buses, carpools with two or more people and motorcycles can use the express lanes for free.”

Using an array of data, CMAP conducted an analysis of how congestion pricing would impact five proposed highway facilities.  The results were encouraging, as  CMAP found that congestion pricing would decrease travel times by 31-66% for motorists using the pay express lanes, and decrease by 24-33% on existing lanes.

Has congestion pricing been implemented in your city?  Do you think that this system is a sustainable way to handle automobile traffic?

Credits: Images by Sean Glowacz and CMAP. Data linked to sources.

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Sean Glowacz holds a Masters of Urban Planning and Public Policy degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sean spent two years at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning as a Research Assistant. His work focused on various tasks relate...

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