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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Never Waiting In Traffic Again

MTA driver stretching his legs in a traffic jam on Tverskaya Ulitsa. Moscow has five parking meters, all on Tverskaya.
Monday morning, the year 2010. One of the city's newly rich steps out of his high-end Khimki condo, having enjoyed a relaxing second cup of coffee, and jumps in his BMW.

He tears down Leningradskoye Shosse to his high-rise overlooking the river: The lights stay green longer than they used to; there are fewer accidents; there are fewer drivers.

Two hours after having gotten out of bed, showered, shaved, had a lovely breakfast and made the daily commute, he arrives at his glass and marble suite ready to rake in some dough.

You've entered a fantasy world concocted by Moscow's department of transportation and communications.

"You believe that's going to happen?" said a skeptical Anastasia Yarashyova, general director of New Express Couriers. "Our drivers complain all the time about Moscow's roads."

Just two years ago, she said, the company promised to deliver envelopes and packages within three hours anywhere inside the Moscow Ring Road. Now it takes a whole day.

Whether the transportation department's fantasy becomes reality -- and saves the city from the approaching traffic calamity -- remains to be seen. This much is obvious to the 200,000 motorists who flood the city's 6,000 kilometers of roads every day: You can't go anywhere nowadays without running into traffic.

The average car travels at just over 16 kilometers an hour inside the Garden Ring. Citywide, the average speed is close to 25 kilometers an hour.

Indeed, some traffic experts predict that by 2012, when the number of cars on the road every day hits 300,000, the system will simply collapse.

Sergei Popov, chief traffic analyst at the transportation department, says it will take a bold -- but feasible -- plan to reverse current trends.

First and foremost, Popov said, Moscow needs more roads -- including the recently begun Fourth Ring Road, which runs for 74 kilometers between the Third Ring Road and the Moscow Ring Road.

The city wants the road done by 2009 or 2010, said Marina Galshina, a spokeswoman for the city's architecture and city construction committee, which designed it.

The first portion of the new ring road, between Shosse Entuziastov and Shchyolkovskoye Shosse, should be finished this year, Galshina said.

Other roads that are scheduled to be widened are Leningradsky Prospekt and Zvenigorodskoye Shosse, Galshina said.

The second prong in the transportation department's anti-traffic effort is smart lights, which city officials have leant the Orwellian moniker Intelligent Traffic System, or ITS.

ITS features lights that stay green longer when traffic is heavy and turn red more frequently when traffic is light. The system is being tested at the Volokolamskoye Shosse and Pokhodny Proyezd intersection, in northwest Moscow. The system will be citywide by 2010.

Popov broke out a tired smile when asked whether Moscow is doomed to eternal traffic jams. "Of course I don't believe the problem of traffic jams is unsolvable," Popov said. "But it's an incredibly complex problem. ITS will not solve the problem alone, but I can promise that in three years the situation will not be worse."

Part three of the department's traffic plan involves cracking down on reckless drivers, Popov said.

Traffic police spokesman Igor Kolesnikov said most of the city's traffic-inducing accidents were due to thoughtless driving.

Motorists' rights groups, for their part, have countered that it is the bribe-taking police who need to be reined in.

Turning to the question of corrupt police, Popov shrugged. "That's another conversation altogether," he said.

Transportation officials are also weighing the possibility of charging Muscovites to pay for parking. Motorists in many large Western cities, including London and New York, are often forced to pay exorbitant fees to park in the heart of the city, which has led many to take public transportation and helped cut back on congestion.

Moscow is just beginning to catch up in this respect. While London and New York, for instance, have thousands of parking meters, Moscow has but five, all on Tverskaya Ulitsa.

"Those are experimental meters," explained Maria Protsenko, a transportation department spokeswoman. Protsenko said Tverskaya would get another 20 meters by the summer.

The machines, which were built by Siemens, only accept prepaid cards available at kiosks and charge 40 rubles, about $1.50, to park for one hour.

Some experts, however, want to build Moscow a new road network from scratch. But how? "It's simple," said Roland Lipp, president of German engineering firm Strassenhaus. "Start on the second floor."

At a meeting in Munich in October, Mayor Yury Luzhkov gave Lipp the green light to test a system that would integrate buildings and roads. Roads for light vehicles would be built on top of commercial and residential buildings.

A raised road network would free up ground-level streets of 30 percent of traffic and cost at least $30 billion, Lipp said.

The project's viability rests on the results of a pilot: a 1.7-kilometer, four-lane highway atop a row of shopping complexes and residential buildings near Varshavskoye Shosse in southern Moscow.

City Hall is carrying out safety and environmental checks on the proposal, and once it signs off, the $200 million road will take six months to complete. Private investors will cover the cost.

For MT
An artist's impression of how streets would be constructed atop residential and commercial buildings in Moscow.
In a separate attempt to alleviate downtown congestion, 49 two-lane streets in east-central Moscow have been turned into one-way streets, and 22 more are to make the switch in the upcoming months.

City Hall is reluctant to adopt congestion pricing -- the policy of charging drivers a fee that varies with the level of traffic on a congested street -- because of the public indignation it might cause.

Rather, the city plans to develop its surface public transit network by allocating special fast lanes to trams, buses and privately operated minivans. As a test, special lanes will be set up this year on Leninsky Prospekt, Leningradsky Prospekt and Volokolamskoye Shosse, where public transport can travel 30 kilometers per hour.

Despite all the ambitious plans, the hoped-for world of speedy commutes and stress-free drives through the city center remains distant.

For one thing, Moscow was never meant to cope with so many cars. At the time of the 1991 Soviet collapse, the city's roads were equipped to handle about one-third of the number of cars now in Moscow. Compounding problems is the rapid growth rate: Every year, 150,000 registered cars join the swollen ranks of motorists; it is unknown how many unregistered cars come, too.

What's more, four different city agencies -- the transportation department, the architecture and city construction committee, the Genplan Institute and the traffic police -- are charged with handling traffic, leading to frequent interdepartmental confusions and delays.

Protsenko, the transportation department spokeswoman, said solving the traffic problem requires compromise -- perhaps on an unprecedented scale. "Pedestrians must give way to cars," she said. "Cars must give way to trams. If one component of the transportation system is overloaded, other components will also suffer."

Editor's note: This is the last report in a four-part series.