Traffic congestion isn’t a problem. Road widening isn’t a solution.

Traffic congestionIf you only take one idea away from this post, make it this: Subscribe to the Strong Towns newsletter.  It inspired this post on our blog last fall about how planners can accommodate older residents. Today it prompts us to write about traffic congestion.

This essay gives two reasons why the American approach to congestion is wrong.

  1. Congestion isn’t a problem. “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,” Yogi Berra famously said. Writer Rachel Quednau asserts that congestion is a symptom of success. The world’s most successful cities – Rome, Paris, London, New York – are congested. People may complain about their commute, but in another article, Strong Towns’ president, Chuck Marohn, disputes standard methods of measuring the benefits of road widening and concludes that the financial benefits gained by households aren’t sufficient to change behavior. Others report that commuters are not as concerned about the length of their commute as they are about its predictability.
  2. Road expansion isn’t a solution. Quednau adds her voice to others who cite the phenomenon of induced demand: After a supply increases, more of a good is consumed. (Starbucks comes to mind here. But we digress.) This report from the Victoria, BC Transport Policy Institute concludes

“Conventional evaluation practices tend to exaggerate congestion costs and roadway expansion benefits. More comprehensive evaluation tends to reduce the justification for roadway expansion and increase support for high quality transit, efficient transport pricing, Smart Growth development policies, and other TDM strategies.”

Here’s information about the MDOT project to widen I 75 and add high-occupancy vehicle lanes from M 59 to Eight Mile Road.