Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rethinking Traffic Congestion

“Rethinking Traffic Congestion“ written by Brian D. Taylor challenges commonly accepted viewpoints regarding traffic congestion.

The first proposition is to consider traffic congestion as the indication of social and economic vitality. Secondly, the author points out misplacement of main focus on current traffic congestion research. The third proposition is that it is better to accept the fact that travelers prefer to use automobiles because of fast and flexible benefits compared to other alternative modes. The fourth, although capacity expansion would trigger another congestion due to induced traffics, it does not tell us that adding capacity is worthless. Next, capacity expansion is not the only way to evaluate the influence of latent/induced demand. Sixth, the change of land use pattern for varying travel behavior could be a very slow process. Seventh, compact development has a close relationship with promoting walking and transit use, but it is still hard to understand the association between the two. Eighth, the most effective way to promote more use of transit and walk is to make driving slow and expensive. Ninth, compact development creates more congestion. Tenth, smart sprawl does not bring about the reduction of congestion.

The unconventional insights in the article gives the reader a chance to think about common senses in terms of traffic congestion. Although a traffic congestion is regarded as a positive sign of economically and socially vital community, reducing traffic congestion would be still beneficial to the community because it will improve accessibility. Furthermore, most importantly people do not like spend time on road just for traveling. On the same line, the author of an article views congestion as imposing costs for society.

With accepting the third and sixth propositions, what would be a good approach to cope with traffic congestion? Let's think about a situation where majority of travelers are automobile users, and there are more potential automobile users for most likely unvarying origins and destinations. There would be several effective treatments, and among them, it would be good to address two topics; setting priority and alternative routes.Because the capacity of a road network is not infinite, traffic congestion occurs. In basic economic theory, with limited supply, higher demand causes an increase in price. Setting priority by road pricing policy seems to be a good solution unless a community has a strategy to deal with the issue of equity transportation. Secondly, traffic congestion is temporarily and spatially varied in a road network. It indicates that traffic congestion would be reduced if there are several alternative routes. These alternative routes need to be competitive to the most frequently used roads. Travelers choose paths according to their experiences, and not by the optimal route choice solved by an algorithm process. It means people do not have complete alternative route information, and they might not likely matter which route is the fastest for each travel. Travel information providing not only the shortest route travel time but also a list of alternative routes with travel time will be helpful for reducing traffic network congestion. 

Thanks to Luanda Fiscella for editing this post.


  1. My comment is in response to the indication that traffic congestion is a sign of good economic vitality. Is there a way to shift how we gauge what good economic activity looks like? What about healthy people and healthy communities, are they not signs that a market is functioning to meet the needs of all its consumers. It is unrealistic to believe that transportation planners can create a strategy that eradicates congestion. But congestion doesn't have to be freeways stacked on top of one another, filled with cars occupied by individuals. We must formulate strategies that get people away from individual mobility, particularly in high density areas. I think what plan of action is taken, it will require a shift in behavior of the American people. We need to address patterns of behavior. How can we influence/encourage people to think twice about driving a car by oneself, or even at all!
    great piece Yunemi, really had me thinking.

  2. I really disagree with most of Brian D. Taylor's arguments in his article. To state that cars are just going to be a part of American life is narrow-minded and ignores the equity issues inherent in car culture. If we just succumb to the idea that cars are here to stay for good, then we would be ignoring thousands of years of human history where cars did not exist and people lived well. It also ignores neighborhoods, cities, regions, cultures, etc. in the United States and around the world have either refused the presence of cars or they are at least few and far between.

    Also, to associate traffic congestion with economic vitality is ridiculous. And just like Luanda stated above, we need to view our status as a country through something else other than how much money we're spending (aka how much we're driving). GDP and GNP has never been a accurate portrayal of how healthy and happy the people of a country are. All it does is show how much we're spending. Many countries use what's called the "Happiness Index" instead of the GDP/GNP index for this kind of evaluation. While we have one of the highest scores on the GDP/GNP index, we are very far down on the Happiness Index. What does that say about us? It says "We're constantly stuck in traffic, we don't excercise because our inherent schedules as Americans forces us to drive, and we've got more roads and freeways than natural, undeveloped land...but hey, at least we're spending money!"

  3. I agree with Taylor that congestion is indeed a strong sign of economic vitality. Congestion in many ways indicates trade. No city or region is independent from any other city or region, therefor congestion is a strong symptom of mutually beneficial co-dependency manifested through commerce.
    It was disappointing that the concept of structural redundancy was not expressed more though. I feel a great deal of congestion in this country does not originate from the typology of transit. After all, other nations that have not embraced the automobile have their own issues of congestion. I think it is pretty well understood that the base cause of congestion is not the number of vehicles on the road. It is the number of trips occurring during a specified period of time: AKA rush hour. Our embrace of the collector to main arterial as the choice structure for auto transit has compounded the issues of congestion densely populated areas have dealt with since forever. Many cities, including our own, offer transit redundancy in two major categories. 1. Competitive alternative transportation options. 2. Grid redundancy. These two factors, I believe do a great deal to alleviate urban congestion.


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