Monday, August 15, 2011

Noticing the Naked Emperor: Traffic Projections are BS

Harry Truman used to say that "A statistician is someone who can draw a straight line from a prior assumption to a foregone conclusion." Nowhere is this more true than in the hocus-pocus field of traffic forecasting to justify new construction projects, which is to real statistics what homeopathy is to medicine (you can get whatever result you want just by wishing!)

Here in Salem, the Highway Lobby and its pet politicians have been pushing to waste millions to see if they can push through a third auto bridge at the cost of hundreds of millions ($600 million and up), even as usage is declining on the existing bridges and peak oil means that vehicle travel is on a permanent downward trend.

Luckily, we are so broke in Oregon that Portland area folks are starting to choke on the absurd proposal to spend $10 - $15 billion (with interest and completely predictable overruns included) on a monstrous highway megabridge, the big brother of the same kind of absurd thinking here in Salem.

Best of all, there are enough people appalled by this fantasy that they are starting to notice reality before it's too late. Like the reality that the numbers being used to justify all this spending are total bunk.

Even more important, it absolutely wouldn't even matter if they were using honest numbers, because the end of the auto era is upon us. The only thing building a few last highway megaprojects would do is speed us up right at the moment of impact at the other end. In other words, spending more money trying to deny that the auto era is ending is like, as Bill Cosby put it, "leaning into a left hook."

For a great primer on where we are, the estimable Gail ("Gail the Actuary") Tverberg's "Our Finite World" blog can't be beat. All her stuff is worthwhile, but see especially her posts here, and here, and here, and here, and here. Locally, the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog has started to do a good job on the whole insane disconnect between what Salem says it wants for itself and what we actually plan to spend money on (money we're not going to have anyway). I stole the photo above from Breakfast on Bikes blog.
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