Congestion Part 1: Addition by Subtraction?

Congestion: It is a dirty little word in modern day society where the majority of the country is extremely automobile dependent. Most governing entities look at solving congestion as “The Top Transportation Priority”.  In the eyes of most transportation planners and traffic engineers, there is one silver bullet (or as I consider it, a rusted metal bullet) for communities to solve this issue – that is to widen the roads.

To even mutter the words in type makes a small part of me die. I question whether or not congestion is really such a bad thing?

Adding lanes to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to solve obesity.” – Walter Kulash, Traffic Engineer

Don't Loosen Your Belt.

It is a well known fact, and we have all experienced it, that when a highway or major road is widened, or worst yet, converted to additional traffic lanes, it becomes a more heavily traveled road. Suddenly, it is faster to travel so more people change their current route of travel to save a minute or two.  The other factor that goes along with the ease of speed and travel time is that people decide that they can now live or work a little further away. This certainly adds to the increase of geographical area that a city or metropolitan areas expands. It also increases the amount of infrastructure that needs to be maintained (See The Road Maintenance Dilemma of Our Cities).

As I stated previously, governing entities are urged to solve congestion. At the same time, governing entities are also urged to decrease Vehicle Miles Traveled, or VMT. I find the desire to decrease both congestion and VMT perplexing because congestion and VMT have an inverse relationship to each other – they are opposite issues to solve. By solving congestion with the “preferred methodology,” VMT is increased.  I will end this blog post with the following quote on the topic from author and economic consultant, Anthony Downs:

To most Americans the cures for traffic congestion are worse than the congestion itself.” – Anthony Downs

See the 2nd Part of this Post Here.

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