Congestion is not a problem

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy  Institute recently published an interesting article called “Smarter congestion relief in Asian cities” (download link here). Todd says:

There are many possible ways to reduce traffic congestion. How they are evaluated can significantly affect urban planning decisions. If evaluated one way, congestion is considered the dominant urban transport problem and roadway expansion the preferred solution, but evaluated other ways, congestion is considered moderate compared with other transport problems and roadway expansion an ineffective and costly solution (own emphasis).


Automobile travel  requires far more road space, and so imposes morecongestion costs than other modes ….  As a result, automobile travel requires ten to one hundred times as much road space as walking, cycling and public transport.


As previously described, congestion is justone of many factors that affect overall accessibility, and roadway expansion tends to be an ineffective and costly congestion reduction strategy by inducing additional vehicle travel.

One can argue that congestion is self-regulating – if you increase road space to solve congestion, traffic will increase until the problem is re-created. So congestion is not a problem (and comparatively speaking not an expensive problem) but a symptom of a problem, and increasing road space is a false treatment of the real problem.

In another argument against increasing road space, in a January 2014 article on the Planetizen website (see here ) Shane Phillips argues that “urban road-building is linked to poor  statewide economic performance”. For example he says “

“It seems that, besides wasting billions of taxpayer dollars, road-building may actually be holding back economic growth overall: from roughly 2000 to 2010, states that built the fewest urban road miles grew an average of 64 to 94 percent faster than their asphalt-enamored neighbors”

 (Thanks to Engineer Gregorio Villacorta Alegria of Peru for referring me to these documents).


About roadnotes

Robert Bartlett is an international consultant with over 30 years of professional experience as a highway and traffic engineer with leading companies and organisations in several countries, including Germany, China (Hong Kong), Qatar and the UK. Specialised in urban studies, transport and the use of GIS, research has included new ideas on subjects such as the study of social justice using GIS, the dimensions of vehicles, and comparative geometrics (highways and transport).
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