Nov. 29 (UPI) -- New housing developments often come with plans for parking decks and expanded highways, but the authors of a new report argue increases in capacity only encourage people to drive, making congestion problems worse.
"There's sort of a vicious cycle: We widen roads, people drive more; we widen roads, people drive more," Eric Sundquist, managing director of the State Smart Transportation Initiative, a think tank at the University of Wisconsin, said in a news release.
The problem is similar to the one highlighted by a recent survey of water policies in the West, where researchers found increasing water supply capacity through dams and reservoirs only encourages unsustainable water usage, worsening the problem.
The solution, according to Sundquist and his colleagues, is to build fewer roads and offer alternative transportation options.
Instead of planning for and accommodating an increasing number of cars, cities and developers should fund public transportation, limit parking space and enhance the walkability of neighborhoods.
But even cities with the right approach are sometimes thwarted by outdated city planning rules calling for a parking space for every new unit.
"Often you have great policy goals, and then you have a bunch of rules of thumb that are still basically what was set in the 50s during the interstate era," Sundquist said.
According to report authors, cities should work with developers and employers to pursue sustainable transportation policy goals. For example, employers stationed in a new mixed-use development could subsidize bus fares to encourage their employees to use public transportation.
Most city planning rules demand that developers plan for and accommodate an influx of vehicles as part of their development, but the new reports argues rules should be altered to encourage the opposite. Developers should be made to reduce car use, not encourage it.
It will take time for urban planners, developers and city officials to craft better rules and policies. In the mean time, Sundquist hopes cities will simply stop building and expanding roads.
"We're dealing with problems set in motion decades ago," he said. "When you're in a hole, quit digging."