Ben Wear complains about the congestion on South Congress. What's notable is that he seems to accuse the city of intentionally fostering it:
SoCo has become SoSlo.
This is no accident. In fact, no accidents are part of the plan, from the city's point of view. That, and creating a "walkable" environment for the ever more popular dining and shopping district.
But at rush hour, for South Austinites heading into and out of downtown, the recent addition of three more traffic lights, bike lanes and copious reverse-angle parking from Live Oak Street to near the river has turned the area into the Mutter Mile. As in, muttering curses. And based on anecdotal accounts, it could be diverting traffic to other thoroughfares leading from the city's core to the south and southwest.
Two of the three "causes" he cites -- bike lanes and reverse-angle parking -- are likely reducing congestion rather than increasing it. Bike lanes really serve drivers because they encourage bikers to stick to the edge of the street rather than take up a whole lane. And drivers probably give cyclists in a bike lane less room than a bicyclist on an unmarked street. Reverse-angle parking is no worse than forward-angle parking -- they both require traffic to halt for a car going in reverse. The maneuver is more predictable with reverse-angle parking, though.
The real culprit is poor synchronization of the traffic lights, which is fixable. The purpose of the traffic lights is not to slow traffic, but to make it more convenient for pedestrians to cross the street in an area where there is high pedestrian demand for crossing the street.
This kind of article highlights some of the problems with the occasionally extreme rhetoric of "shared space" advocates, though. It encourages drivers to view any increase in congestion as the product of a radical, anti-driver conspiracy. And "congestion is a good thing" rhetoric is wrong, since the purpose of designing streets for pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars is not to increase congestion. On the contrary, there is some evidence that shared spaces reduce congestion. (The linked article by Tom Vanderbilt is worth reading in full.) Moreoer, congestion is bad for pedestrians as well as drivers because cars idling in traffic produce obnoxious fumes and pedestrians do not like to breathe obnoxious fumes.
"Shared space" principles, properly applied, make streets safer. Encouraging pedestrians and bicyclists to use the roads freely makes drivers more cautious, which makes the streets safer, which enourages more pedestrians and cyclists in a virtuous circle. At least I think think it's a virtuous cycle. Wear apparently disagrees:
The whole effect [of the changes to South Congress] is to make the area visually busy. As a driver, South Congress' formerly free-and-easy feel has given way to a more frenetic, video game mode, like something problematic could pop up at any second. It produces a low-level anxiety, twitchy eyes — and slower speeds.
I personally believe that drivers should be made to pay close attention when piloting a two-ton hunk of metal and plastic down a street at 60 feet per second. "Visually busy" and "low-level anxiety" are good things. If this makes me a radical, so be it.
NB. Wear complains about a 45-second wait at the Gibson Street light. Give me a break. I live off South Lamar and routinely wait a minute and a half to turn onto South Lamar from Bluebonnet. The lights on South Lamar are tuned for the commuters always. I don't object to the wait during rush hour, but it is awfully irritating on a Sunday afternoon when the road is lightly traveled.