What Strategies Would You Use To Reduce Traffic Congestion?

A car gives you the freedom to go anywhere you want — until everyone else decides to go the same way and you end up in a massive traffic jam. Motorists’ association the NRMA has proposed a 10-point plan for reducing congestion in Sydney, which suggests some interesting strategies that could be applied in any Australian city.

Here’s the NRMA’s proposed approach (taken direct from its press release announcing the report):

1. The appointment of an anti-congestion Director to keep Sydney moving 2. Development of a motorway management team designed to pro-actively manage delays and/or incidents on a daily basis 3. Appointment of more traffic signal staff to proactively respond to delays or incidents on the road network 4. Review parking restrictions on major roads – the last major review was undertaken in the lead up to the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 5. Faster clearance of traffic incidents – creating time limits to clear incidents 6. Provision of reliable and up to date information through the use of a dedicated traffic and transport radio network, proactively using variable messaging systems, providing live traffic leads via mobile and or email notifications daily 7. Promote flexible working hours to reduce demand during peak hours 8. Improve the forgotten transit lanes and highlight them using orange 9. Remove traffic signs that give motorists the wrong information 10. Adopt challenging performance measures to avoid motorists having to endure lengthy delays such as those experienced on the F3 freeway

Here are some of my immediate reactions to that list, which does contain many sensible suggestions:

  • I appreciate that the NRMA is an advocate for drivers, but I can’t help thinking that “improved public transport” should be one of the priority suggestions. Similarly, different approaches by drivers themselves (such as casually renting a car when you need one) don’t rate a mention.
  • There’s not much mention of technology (rather than extra people) to improve traffic management (though real-time information obviously does fall in this category).
  • Is it really realistic to propose a time limit for clearing accidents? I never got the impression that wrecked vehicles were being left on the road just for the pleasure of it.
  • Flexible working hours are a great idea but require major cultural change.

What ideas do you think are missing from this list? Which ones would you see as the highest priority? Park your best thoughts in the comments.


  • I tend to agree that the NRMA has really missed the point on simple ways to very effectively reduce congestion.

    Improved public transport infrastructure has to be a major goal for any congestion plan. I’d add alternative transport methods to that as well.

    I started commuting by bike a little over 2 years ago and would never go back to using a car. Riding a push bike has in that time consistently been the fastest way for me to get to work (in 2 different Sydney locations).

  • What about encouraging alternative methods of transport, like push bikes, Mopeds, motorbikes, trams, Trains, buses etc, that reduce the number of CARS on the road. Mopeds and Motorbikes reduce the size of the traffic, but not necessarily the volume, and so can improve traffic flow. Push bikes reduce the volume but are not for everyone. Public Transport would be used if it was more reliable.

  • The previous NSW government granted the rights to various companies to build tunnels and other tollroads. And then promptly shut or narrowed existing roads to force traffic onto the new toll roads. Which most then went bankrupt due to lack of traffic (or at least inflated traffic forecasts).

    Oh, and the “winners” of the rights to build these tollroads were the ones who paid the most to the NSW Govt, and not necessarily the bidder who offered the best for the NSW motorist.

    I live in Melbourne these days and adbhor driving around Sydney when I am up visiting family and friends.

    Solution – fix some of the road closures. Prevent trucks from driving on roads during peak AM and PM times. Variable tolls.

    And perhaps start a website whereby people can trade jobs for one closer to home.

    • show how congestion is a problem to the geography of space and time. can it be said that the search for a solution to congetion has been more in urbanised areas

  • I agree with faster clearing of traffic incidents. There is not enough capacity to lose a lane to an accident or breakdown. A single incident can ruin traffic for the rest of the morning (or evening). Accidents and breakdowns need to be cleared in 15-20 minutes.

    I would also suggest:
    – Changing traffic light timing to optimise traffic flow. There are quite a lot of bottlenecks that exist entirely because traffic light timing is wrong. It would be an easy fix.
    – Banning trucks over a certain size during peak periods. They are too slow to accelerate and completely wreck traffic flow.
    – Banning/limiting police operations. When people see police they slow down and traffic gets back up for km’s… all to catch a handful of people waiting too late to merge. It’s not worth it.

    • “Banning/limiting police operations. When people see police they slow down and traffic gets back up for km’s”

      This isn’t the fault of the police. It’s the drivers either driving faster than the limit or, quite often, not having a clue what the current speed limit is so they default to slowing down.

      Adopt the simple concept of not driving above the limit and the problem is solved. The biggest issue remains that although the concept is simple, it seems to be almost impossible for huge numbers of people to put into practise.

  • I think the NRMA’s suggestions are largely pretty sound. I’m not going to speculate on or criticise them directly, as I haven’t had to commute in Sydney since around April last year.
    I will however, respond with my thoughts about Gus’ reactions.

    “• I appreciate that the NRMA is an advocate for drivers, but I can’t help thinking that “improved public transport” should be one of the priority suggestions. Similarly, different approaches by drivers themselves (such as casually renting a car when you need one) don’t rate a mention.”

    Firstly, of course NRMA has a vested interest in keeping motorists on the road. I don’t think they’re black-and-white biased, but I do think this needs to be kept in mind.
    I think additional efforts in getting people onto public transport have numerous benefits, both to the motoring public and in many other areas. However for the NRMA to suggest trying to get more people onto busses and trains feels a bit too much like “passing the buck”. With CityRail already at or near bursting point for capacity, the system can’t handle too much more patronage. Similarly, the bus system in the north-west was under much flak when I left Sydney – I don’t imaging this would have changed much since. Fixing the public transport problems are not the NRMA’s areas of expertise. Fixing the roads is. I commend them for attempting to directly address these problems, rather than suggest they’re fixed by sending the volume elsewhere.

    “• There’s not much mention of technology (rather than extra people) to improve traffic management (though real-time information obviously does fall in this category).”

    I’m not entirely sure how technology really comes into it. As far as “traffic management” is concerned, I would not imagine it to be an easy process to try and direct traffic through other routes – people generally want to go the most direct route to their destination. Maybe improved communication between traffic lights could be of assistance to promote more of a smooth flow of traffic, rather than segregating it.

    “• Is it really realistic to propose a time limit for clearing accidents? I never got the impression that wrecked vehicles were being left on the road just for the pleasure of it.”

    While I think it’s naive to believe anyone would choose to leave their car stranded on the side of the road; I think this is more about assigning responsibility, and ensuring accountability to have any such incidents sorted out. Assigning responsibility of various roadways to 3rd parties (be it the private consortium who owns a motorway, or a contracted towing service), with penalties in place where response times are not sufficient – would be a good way to ensure efficiency in dealing with these problems.

    While obviously a different transport medium, similar systems have been used within British Rail for private operators – both the consortiums who operate the infrastructure, tracks and signalling, and those who operate the rolling-stock and trains themselves. If either of these parties is responsible for delays incurred by the other, fines are issued to the offending operator. As a result, both parties work hard to keep their own noses clean, so to speak.

    “• Flexible working hours are a great idea but require major cultural change.”

    Probably the weakest point out of NRMA’s list. As Gus pointed out, major cultural change would be required for this, as well as mass change to the way businesses operate and base themselves. While flexible working hours is a valid suggestion, it isn’t a practical one.

  • I cycle every day to work. So I am definitely saying, yes, to bicycles. However, it comes with a lot more than that. You have to educate people that they have to share the bike lines. This is for pedestrians, drivers, riders,… But they also have to improve the infrastructure. From extra cycle lanes to extra lock facilities.
    An other major point to me, please, adjust the traffic lights. Put research in how frequent they should change, where they should stand,… It will safe the country a lot of aggression from the drivers, fuel,…. Get the trafic under the ground sounds nice.

  • Oh yes, they should put a lot of traffic cameras in place! It helps a lot for people’s behaviour -read, lately I have seen so many people accelerating for orange and going trough red lights-

  • Move the bus stops further apart (so the buses don’t stop every few hundred yards). NFC for bus tickets. Fewer stops and quicker loading/unloading times

    • I think trying to get drivers to make chages is the wrong approach. I think the idea is to encentivise/penalise companies who have offices in the cbd for their head count. The rate is determined like so.

      Allow companies to make tax deductions if one or more of the following conditions are met.

      – You allow your workers to start/finish work outside of peak traffic times.

      – You increase the amout of staff using public transport (maybe by paying for it or offering bonuses to staff who use PT).

      – You allow staff to telecommute (the more days of the week they telecommute the better). Additionally, offering a tax deduction to companies for the cost of ensuring their staff meet/exceed OH&S standards at home would help especially smaller companies make the switch.

      – You offer sattelite offices (out of the city) for staff to work from.

      My only other alternative is that we all travel using tube technology… Get the scientists working on that immidiately.

  • Bikes, High Speed Rail, not building stupid toll roads that just push people onto suburban streets instead of using them (Military Road exit ramp).

    While we’re on the topic of bikes, those in Sydney who want to see the cycle network expanded should send an email to the roads minister to get the City West Cycle link off the ground: http://bikesydney.org/new10/?p=1447

  • More bikes only works if there are bike lanes for them to ride on. Putting more bikes on the roads would be a disaster. They take up an entire lane and all the cars are forced to merge to get around them.

    • You can fit up to 6 bicycles in the space required for one car on the road. Most cars have one occupant. So therefore by promoting cycling, we not only help the environment, have a healthier population, and reduce parking requirements…..
      We REDUCE the congestion on the roads! That is counter-intuitive, I know, but it needs to be seriously considered as a solution to our traffic issues.

  • Even though public transport seems like an obvious inclusion in the list, i dont think it solves the problem. If the problem was getting people to their destinations fastre/cheaper/less carbon emissions, then public transport would be key.

    However, to improve congestion, the solution is not about moving the drivers to another form of transport. Yes, if half the drivers took one for the team and used public transport, the rest would benefit. I think the main point here was tackling the issues around what causes delays and congestion and tackling those head on.

    On another note, all those suggestions are very realistic goals. Improving public transport is opening a whole new can of worms.

  • Actually figuring out why people are traveling would be a start.
    1. In all possible situations remove the reason that people are compelled to commute to work, especially in peak hour. Some jobs do require a person to physically be at a specific location eg a front counter employee. There is a really big chunk of the work force (particularly CBD) that can work from anywhere other than a comfy CBD desk. Eg I work in a web role with no need for any physical presence other than being at a computer somewhere. Beats me why I am still required to make the daily commute.
    2. Change the tax rulings etc that encourage the use of car parks and cars. Implement rules around being required to travel a minimum number of logged business km’s a year to determine eligibility to have a car and or a car park (particularly CBD). There are a lot of people that drive to the CBD and park for the working day just because it’s part of their package and they can. This shouldn’t be the case.
    3. The impact of school/ uni / whatever study your doing related traffic is huge. I’m sure there are creative ways to manage this eg consider pushing the school day back an hour? Why do uni lectures start at 8am forcing students to travel in peak times. The education sector would work extremely well on more flexible hours, flexible methods of attendance (eg video conference your lecture). Easy to implement too.
    4. Re-evaluate primary and high school students public transport usage. The bus I catch to work is 3/4 full of these students and as a result people trying to get to work miss the bus as it is full and drives straight on past the stops. School only buses would enable the commute work possible for a lot more people.

  • Nothing in there about reducing demand for something that has a limited supply? Put a price on it and see what happens.

    Make road pricing more transparent and directly payable by people who use the roads, based on how much they use them. GPS obvious technical solution, but politically.

    • Good point. Congestion charge in London has done wonders there. We have a pseudo congestion charge in Sydney with Bridge/Tunnel, but that only covers one way in to the city.

  • Working in a close to CBD Brisbane suburb a surprising number of colleagues have mentioned that by their calculation driving to work is cheaper than public transport. It only crosses over when parking costs are considered but this job comes with ample available parking spaces. Transport outcomes are an aggregate of hundreds of daily micro decisions by commuters. Make the bus/train less costly than driving and you take people off the road. Then you don’t have to spend squillions on tunnels etc.
    Personally, I should care, I walk.

  • To Nick above (1) who is going to pay for your clearing of accidents/breakdowns in 20 minutes? a fleet of government-run tow trucks on standby? not to mention that accidents involving injuries to humans require police investigation (forensics, photographs etc). funnily enough their biggest concern is not your inconvenience when they are doing so (2) I have worked in a major road traffic light centre in another Australian city and I would bet it is similar to Sydney’s – the lights ARE set for optimum traffic flow – and they are monitored via cameras to make adjustments based on live happenings (accidents, stupid drivers doing the wrong thing, unusual amount of traffic etc) – it’s not an easy fix – unless you get rid of 75% of drivers who simply don’t know or choose not to follow the rules of the road.

    As for fixing the problem – quadruple the price of petrol – the problem will fix itself – all those things which seem impossible now will suddenly become viable (e.g. changing the culture to accept more working from home, have kids do more study from home). Necessity is the mother of invention and all.

    • How come, as a cyclist, to be legal, you have to wait until a car comes next to you standing at a red light. Otherwise it will never turn green! -I do know the little trick to get a light green as a cyclist, but still.- They can do a lot of optimisation.

      “… the lights ARE set for optimum traffic flow – and they are monitored via cameras to make adjustments based on live happenings…”

  • Public transport and/or alternative transport funding (cycleways etc.) are a priority.

    Also, either efficiently police/monitor transit lanes, or get rid of them.

    I sometimes drive in from Manly, and when the transit lanes are policed the traffic flows so much better.

    It’s infuriating to sit in traffic for 20 mins while arrogant dickheads (with no passengers) cruise up the T3 lane, especially when you see them pushing in to the normal lanes further ahead, disrupting the traffic flow.

    Shooting is too good for these [email protected]

  • How about and educational ad campaign about the benefits of courtesy on the road and merging techniques.

    Things tend to work better if everyone work together!

    Just saying


  • If people are mad about driving in traffic then just don’t drive. Use a bike or catch a train. I think the transit lanes are a good idea and should be policed. There should be a law that you’re not allowed to commute in a 5 person car with less than 2 people. London’s congestion tax is a good idea also.

  • – more breakdown bays along all main motorways. This would enable faster clearance of impediment to other drivers. Also, known accident black spots should have a small squad on call nearby during AM and PM peaks so that they’re easily accessed and dealth with when there’s a traffic jam.

    – Better public transport. Specifically, more comfortable and frequent buses and trains, and definitely further development of railway lines on the fringes of Sydney, mainly the West where the population is exploding. Pat on the back for the Metrobuses, though – it’s honestly made a big difference for me personally! 🙂

  • Allow multiple routes between destinations – let the people work things out for themselves with google traffic stats – if a route is congested, they’ll work out what to do for themselves.

  • Better public transport.. More bike lanes.. Denser inner city development that isn’t overpriced & is still of a decent standard.

    Or higgh speed trains to encourage development of regional towns?

    All I know is what we have now isn’t working

  • Easy, put a high tax or levy going to the city. Especially the selfish people who drive in one car one person to work. Or 4wd mums clog up the roads, have you notice how smooth the roads are when its school holidays?

    Try walking, cycling or car pooling. Especially people who live within 15kms of their work place, try get off your ass and cycle! pedal power is awesome! you’ll be suprise how many bike tracks their are.

  • It’s been a while since I lived in Sydney, but I noticed traffic snarls are asymmetric – that is worse in the mornings than in the afternoons.

    This is because of schools. Many kids get driven to school. Schools start at more or less the same time as business in the morning, but finish earlier in the afternoon. Staggering school start and finish times would help enormously.

  • Let’s analyse what the NRMA are proposing:

    1. Pointless – why would we need someone to tell us something that every motorist in Sydney already knows – that we as taxpayers then have to pay for?

    2. Isn’t the RTA already supposed to be doing this?

    3. Again, RTA – what are you doing now?

    4. Sure, but be careful not to lose too many parking spaces – lack of parking spaces keeps cars in lanes longer than they need to be.

    5. Do you honestly think the emergency services purposely leave accidents blocking traffic any longer than they need to?

    6. Finally a good idea – information is power. Let people know what’s happening and they’ll make better decisions about their route.

    7. Good – spread the load! Of course not all industries can do this, but some certainly could.

    8. Sure, and encourage more motorcycle use by making tolls, CTP and registration more equitable for two-wheeled traffic (who, incidentally, are permitted use transit lanes, reducing load on the other lanes)

    9. Reduction of driver confusion should make roads flow more freely.

    10. But does this actually fix anything, or just give a politician ammunition in an argument. We need solutions, not statistics.

  • The solution is simple. Employ people like me who actually use our infrastructure and Id fix it immediately.
    Instead they employ a former Premier who has a driver, never caught trains or buses and has no idea. How about employing the people who use the system to fix the system. I have many many ideas,but when i e-mail Governments and the RTA Management centre, they reply they are monitoring it. WHAT A LOAD OF SHIT.

  • I agree – we need to make other transport options more viable.
    I’d love to bike to work – I’m all for green energy and getting exercise and fresh air – but with the amount of road works and near hits I’ve seen and heard of, it’s just too dangerous. If there were more cycle lanes I’d be happy to … erm, get on my bike.
    I currently have the privilege (HA!) of using public transport because of an idiot driver not paying attention in traffic congestion (“oh, there’s a red light ahead, lots of traffic and everyone is stopped?!… I’ll just continue on at 60 km/h” – but I must say, we were cleared within 20mins and this was on the Story Bridge during peak hour).
    So while my car is being repaired, I have to catch public transport. Instead of the 35min drive to work, I now have to walk 1km to train station, catch Train 1, transfer to Train 2, walk 2.5km from train station to work. (Yes, I work in the outer suburbs). Buses are no better, and none run at appropriate times. So instead of my 70min daily commute, I now have a 3.5hr round trip. (I can handle the daily 7km walk, yay for exercise! but not losing so many hours of my day).
    It’s also expensive to use public transport – fuel vs ticket price i’m averaging about what I’d spend on fuel a week anyway.
    Instead of having time limits to clear incidents, why don’t we get repeat idiots off the road. (Yes, I’m a little bitter :P) the guy who hit me will get away with driving like an d***head, and will continue to be on the road, causing accidents with his careless driving and unnecessary lane changes (not to mention nearly running into a bus for failing to give way to it, just minutes before hitting me). No, I don’t think it’s enough that his insurance premiums might go up next year, people like that shouldn’t be on the road.

    9. Remove traffic signs that give motorists the wrong information – What?! Shouldn’t this be done anyway? Why are there signs like this? Is it every day April Fool joke or something?

  • Another simplistic and childish set of solutions from the NRMA – basically it boils down to “Just fix everything.”
    No recognition of the fact that the most effective way to reduce congestion is to get people out of cars.
    This type of response is why I quit the NRMA and joined the RACV.

  • A huge amount of time is wasted by traffic sitting at red lights when there are no cars crossing at the corresponding green light. Many intersections used to be controlled by individual police on “point” duty. That was very effective, but also very labour intensive. Surely it would be feasible to have cameras monitoring all major red lights with central traffic controllers changing the lights manually. I would have thought an experienced controller would be able to handle six or more intersections simultaneously.

  • Get rid of traffic lights at the end of motorways (or their off ramps) and add merge lanes or roundabouts. Biggest cause of motorway parking lots I have ever seen.

    Have trucks travel outside of peak hours. I am seeing more broken down trucks than car accidents these days, and you can’t push a truck off the road.

    Shift road freight to rail. This alone would clear many freeways. Containers should not be delivered through a city to the port, but delivered to a hub near the source/destination.

    Ban freight from using the right hand lane at all times on two or more lane roads. Only allow middle lane use on 3 lane roads when overtaking.

    Create more public transport choices with more frequent services to get single person car traffic off roads.

  • Hi all
    I came up with few ideas on how we can slowly contribute to making a change in Sydney’s traffic:
    Have business and companies and CBD offices provide shuttle busses for their employees , have shopping centers trade at later hours and have car pulling be compulsory once a week for all work places…
    Please feel free to comment on my suggestions…
    I made a Facebook page. On this:

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