I wish I had thought of that.

Perfect traffic jam on highway - Photo credit. pistolseven Shutterstock

A lovely morning trip to work in Toronto. Seems to be working not quite as planned. Hmm!

From an article “Rethinking the Economics of Traffic Congestion”, by Eric Dumbaugh published back in 1 June 2012 in City Lab at http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/06/defense-congestion/2118/.    His piece, which has most unfortunately lost none of its validity in the interim, opens up like this: ( It turns out that the patient i a very slow learner.)

With a few notable exceptions, transportation planning practice in the United States is focused on managing or eliminating traffic congestion. Regardless of whether planners are advocating for highway infrastructure to improve level-of-service, or transit projects intended to “get cars off the road,” the underlying assumption is that congestion relief is an unmitigated good.

Such arguments are often based on the idea that traffic congestion and vehicle delay are bad for the economy. According to the Texas Transportation Institute, vehicle delay costs Americans $115 billion in wasted fuel and time each year. The common interpretation of such statistics is that our cities and regions would be so much more economically productive if only we could eliminate the congestion that occurs on urban streets.

But this begs the question: is traffic congestion really a drag on the economy? Economies are measured not in terms of vehicle delay or the amount of travel that people do, but in terms of the dollar value of the goods and services that they produce. If it is true that congestion is detrimental to a region’s economy, then one would expect that people living in areas with low levels of traffic congestion would be more economically productive, on a per capita basis, than those in areas with high levels of congestion.

This is a testable assertion. With the help of my research assistant . . .

– – – > the full City Lab article is available at  http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/06/defense-congestion/2118/

Thanks to Dan Burden for the heads-up.

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About the author: 

Eric DumbaughEric Dumbaugh is an Associate Professor, Director of the School of Urban & Regional Planning and Program Coordinator for the Master of Urban & Regional Planning program. He holds a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Georgia Tech, and master’s degrees in Civil Engineering and City Planning, also from Georgia Tech. His research areas include street and community design, urban mobility, transportation systems planning, and the effects of transportation investments on sustainability and livability.

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton

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2 thoughts on “I wish I had thought of that.

  1. As the article says, congestion is a by product of a vibrant economy. However, that doesn’t make it desirable.

    Congestion affects users of space efficient (or potentially space efficient) modes of transport. e.g. buses, as much as or more than motorists. It leads to people being late for work, meetings or whatever. It means having to allow huge amounts of extra time for one’s journey. It leads to people abandoning potentially economically productive journeys because of the hassle they involve.

    Congestion is caused almost entirely by passenger movements. The challenge is to develop a public transport system where buses can flow unimpeded by car jams and provide a reliable, economical, environment friendly and safe means of transport which will be used by the majority of people in preference to driving — possibly in conjunction with measures like congestion charging and parking control which push up the cost of driving and thus help to underpin the public transport alternative.


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