A Christmas wish: End traffic congestion in 2009

December 24, 2008

diana-furchtgott-roth_great_debate– Diana Furchtgott-Roth is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. The opinions expressed are her own. —

Christmas Day in most cities will be serene, free of weekday traffic jams as workers enjoy a Thursday that is free of normal routines.  Many commuters wish that the free-flowing driving could last all year long. Traffic congestion wastes drivers’ time and gasoline, pollutes, reduces employment, and pushes businesses and shoppers away from cities.

There is hope. New global positioning system technology and congestion pricing can reduce traffic jams.  In mid-January, 10,000 transportation professionals, including people from the incoming Obama administration, will convene in Washington D.C. at meetings of the Transportation Research Board, part of the National Academy of Sciences, to discuss solutions.

Road use varies with time of day. Time-of-day pricing can encourage drivers to shift non-essential trips to less busy hours, and eliminate some trips altogether.

London’s system of road pricing, with cars charged $16 to enter the center, is held up as a model for other cities. But its main flaw is that drivers pay flat fees, and are not charged by miles driven or by routes taken.

A better scheme would be to have drivers pay per mile, with higher charges on more heavily-used streets and in periods of heaviest congestion.

With prices of transponders and GPS falling, sophisticated and efficient systems are now possible. In some places they are optional, with drivers volunteering to participate in exchange for a reduction in license plate fees or even a credit against fuel taxes.

Here’s how this could work. GPS devices could be given to drivers who choose to participate—one per car—and drivers pay as easily as they are now paying for cell phones or E-ZPass tolls.  Participating motorists could be exempt from license-renewal fees, but would pay road charges instead, charges that could vary by type of road used and time of day.  Driving in rush hour along a busy road would cost more than driving on a little-used road late at night.

In Oregon, GPS-based distance measurements are designed to replace fuel taxes it now levies to pay for the use of its roads (for the full report, click here). Oregon would not immediately require all vehicles to have GPS. At least to start with, motorists would have a choice of paying either fuel taxes or mileage charges.

Efficiency in road pricing would relieve congestion. But it raises the politically thorny question of what to do with the revenue.  In my view, cities must resist London’s unpopular inclination to use revenues to finance increased general spending, a measure defeated in New York and in Manchester, England.

To be acceptable to voters, a new road charging scheme should:

•    Use advanced GPS-based systems, of the kind being pioneered in Oregon;

•    Apply congestion pricing as part of a more general reform of financing road use, such as phasing out fuel taxes;

•    Use monetary incentives, such as abolishing annual licensing fees or introducing new charging schemes on a voluntary basis; and

•    Ensure that new revenues improve financing and use of roads, rather than for public transportation.

Employers could help, too. Some firms could enable employees to avoid high-priced peak driving rates by allowing flexible schedules or even telecommuting.

Critics claim congestion pricing is unfair to lower-income drivers. But if the system were voluntary, only those who wanted to participate would do so, and could receive rebates of fuel taxes.

Alternatively, low-income motorists could be given credits on their bills—cash incentives—to take part, ensuring that they have the opportunity to save money by avoiding peak-hour driving.

To reduce pollution and protect themselves from choking on traffic, cities must find a way to reduce congestion and enable people to travel more quickly and easily.

This Christmas Day, as we enjoy uncongested roads, we should think of a way to keep them like that all year round.

You can contact Diana Furchtgott-Roth at dfr@hudson.org. For previous columns, click here.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

This is the worst idea and it’s total invasion of privacy as accorded by our constitution. How about we reduce government spending and use that to improve our transportation infrastructure?? We need less government and less taxes. Ms. Roth, next thing you know you’ll be advocating security cameras on every corner like in London, also a terrible idea. What you’re advocating is totally the opposite the principles of the USA, freedom, privacy, etc…terrible idea.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth’s debates are some of the most biased and one-sided debates I have ever read.

I wonder how Reuters is even keeping her on its payroll ?

She needs to find some other work to do instead of writing BIASED debates on controversial topics…

Posted by anne hud | Report as abusive

Wow! What a dumb idea! I want your job Mam. I could come up with better articles than this brain dead one. Sheesh, what happened to America the land of the free? Where are we headed next? Are we going to restrict couples to only one or two kids like red China does? What a horrible column. You should be embarrassed!

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

What a wonderful scheme to extract money from people. What we need is a general overhaul of government. A government is supposed to serve people, not the other way around. And specifically, we don’t need governemtn to devise all kinds of schemes how to get at more taxpayers’ money. The London $16 payment is nothing but a city tax.

Posted by James Harwood | Report as abusive

Agree or not (I completly and totaly disagree) please keep civil. There is no reason to insult her for having an idea on a problem that is in need of a solution.

Some of the ppl who made comments about this being a horrible un American ivasion of privacy (which it is no matter how you “cleanse” the data) and then go on a personal attack need to stop and think about what it is to be an American.

Posted by Eron | Report as abusive

We already have a way to control the amount of driving people do, it’s called the price of fuel. As fuel costs skyrocketed, the amount of motorcycles and bicycles at the office parking lot increased. The parking lots became easier to find open spots, and subway traffic increased. Once fuel prices dropped, the reverse occurred. I’d recommend additional tax on non-commercial fuel use. No need for costly GPS (which could very easily be hacked you know). Lastly, the idea of tax credits isn’t good…where does that money come from?

Posted by Jon | Report as abusive

Socialista pillage and rape of the common man. Ask the common man…wishes he the traffic or the traffic and additional taxes. The hubris and self-absorbtion of these people knows no bounds. 10,000 of them meet to discuss congestion and pollution. Sanctimonious hypocracy.

Posted by Billy Bob | Report as abusive

Diana, it’s touching that you wrote in. You’re getting a little optimistic, though. The average IQ is 100. (Of course, when you meet a lot of the people with more, you wonder why they bother to measure it anyway.) Keep reading!

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive

Man how to attack a problem the wrong way, you win the blue ribbon!. Use the current tax money such as fuel tax, license fees etc and used it to improve the public services… to the point that it would be obvious to a car driver to use the public services instead of using that money to pay other area of the government that are in deficit as they do today. Usually they want the car driver to use the public services but they are underfunded, too expensive and does not correspond to the expectation of the users.

Posted by Jeffrey Cockrel | Report as abusive

Think traffic is bad now? Imagine what it’ll be like in a few decades when the U.S. population is projected to rise from its current level of 306 million to 450 million.

Earth to Diana! Our country is bankrupt, our dollar yields nothing, unemployment is very high, banks are hoarding bailout money instead of lending, our banks have been nationalized, shortly the Big 3 will also be nationalized, scandals abound on wall street & banking, etc,etc,etc—pls tell me what bubble you live in to worry about traffic jams ( forgetting most recently also $4 per gal. gas—lady, stay where you are because if you ever left your world you would definitely have a nervous breakdown with our normal(?)problems we are currently facing–enjoy your dreams! DRW/Haverford,PA

Posted by Dennis R. White | Report as abusive

What is it about you, Diana, that you refuse to accept the one and only solution; that is, just keep increasing tolls on bridges and roads and taxes on fuel, until the conjestion stops!

As to your comment that the above would be unfair to low income drivers, this is a bogus argument.

Low income drivers will just have to allocate their priorities like everyone else.

If it is their choice to give a priority to drive where they are going, then low income drivers will have to cut back in another area, just like everyone else; maybe save electricity by keeping the TV off or going on a diet and save money that way, if they are overweight.

Rationing (in this case rationing of transportation resources) never works and just fosters needless regimentation for all.

We don’t want your “rationing” fairness.

Posted by Suzanne Smith | Report as abusive

We need to increase public transportation. I live in Canton, Ga. If I want to go anywhere I have one choice, Drive an automobile. Any other option is way too exspencive and or time consuming. To leave my house I have only 3 other choices. Walk, Ride a bike, or take a cab. It takes an hour just to get a cab to my house. It would cost at least $20.00 just to go 8 miles to towm. I then could take a bus to other towns. Buses are limited and very slow. Good public transportation would also save lives by cutting down on people DUI and getting auto’s off the road.

Posted by Ronnie Baker, Sr | Report as abusive

A writer offered “Cities like New York and Boston were congested even before the private automobile was created. They built subways and streetcars to relieve that problem – Our problem is we are now dependent on private automobiles to reach the greatest part of the metro areas – the suburbs. And those areas become congested with traffic as well.”

An historical perspective would reveal the whole tragedy of individual transportation. Our major challenge is getting leadership from government. Too often there are attempts to produce change by legislating ‘pain by taxation’. There must be a marketing or psychological theory about avoidance behavior that suggests governments can retain their popularity by people crying out for change due to a bit of taxation. Then the actions of government are the result of the ‘wishes of the people’.

In the process ‘Leadership’ seems to have flown out the window, specifically the leadership and wisdom to see that governments’ promoting automobile transportation over mass rail has produced endless grid sprawl as opposed to the linear and nodular arrangement of many traditional areas in Europe and other areas in the world.

Planning for a return to nodes of urban development linked by mass rail (trains, subways, etc), thereby preserving green corridors of natural and agricultural space between them, is long overdue in north america.

Of course the rebellious spirit of “freedom” in Amerika would describe this as another form of socialism. However I thought that socialization of the raw spirit of youth by the application of wise leadership was the mandate of parents, and in a social political sense, of government. I am so weary of leadership by punishment, by taxation, by fines, and levies. Strange that the ‘home of the free’ has so many people incarcerated !

So major corporations lobbied for roads and the expansive power of the automobile, and government repaid their source of donation by mega projects like the interstates (depression relief for the people). Now we find ourselves in a severe bind in our transportation systems with cars forced to mimic individually driven and powered rail cars on limited access freeways, confined to lanes, with prescribed ‘sidings’ (on and off ramps). One major result is each individual or small group of passengers is driving around on a proliferating mass of roadways burning their own fuel at a tremendously inefficient rate compared to hundreds or thousands being pulled by one 5000 hp engine. Real smart system for social transportation we have got here!!

Now the green spaces in urban areas are taken up with ‘freeways’ (ha, what is free about pollution, and the burden of carrying and feeding a car). Ah, america the free, free to pay for licenses, repairs, tires, roads, cars, and gas,,just the way the major corporations wanted it when they bought up subways, trams, rail systems,,, and shut them down, while the government stood by with their mouths stoppered.

Solutions, long and painful likely, with governments adhering to tight constraints on urban growth, mandated implementation of light rail systems between compact ‘new towns’ (as opposed to a new suburb sprawling beside a choking city). Requirements for all passenger vehicles below a certain size to be electrically driven. Buying up run down neighborhoods and adding them to restored green corridors. Of course the systems of government themselves need change. We need representatives that are not interested in making a career of politics, who will serve one term, speak the truth, offer all their wisdom, and retire to ‘civie street’. In this way we may find more wisdom and caring for the people than self interest and caring for the donations and donators who feed the political power game.

TO continue as we are invites a new ‘french revolution’ where the political and industrial elites had their heads removed for their overwhelming abuse of power and the abused and downtrodden masses of ‘consumer units’.

regards, JR

Posted by JR | Report as abusive

So you’re proposing to restrict peoples’ right to move freely in the country with an automobile unless they pay the required fees, all while tracking their every move. Sounds kinda like the Soviet Union.

Posted by Darren | Report as abusive

The traffic congestion problem could be resolved by eliminating the 8 to 5 mentality. Example: Ever notice how there is no traffic congestion on holidays when government workers stay home? Just evaluate the need for everyone to actually be at work at the same time and for them to go to lunch and home at the same time. In most places, outside of commute hours, there are plenty of roads. There should be rewards for off-shifting people so they won’t add to the congestion. There should be penalties for unnecessarily requiring employees to arrive at 0800 or scheduling training or meetings at those times. I’ve worked for several corporations that are global and even have 24×7 call centers and support, but management invariably runs an 8-5 M-F ship. Even Universities and Hospitals do it. The biggest hurdle will be government and unions as they stand in the way of flexible work hours with their strict legislation and contracts requiring additional pay for non-traditional hours. At the very least, there should be commute permits and bumper stickers so those trying to get to work will no have to compete with others who are not. That would make more sense than charging fees to people that do go to work. Instead, fine the retired guy pulling his boat to the lake at peak commute. The couple with the motor home or any of the non-workers that can’t figure out they would be helping reduce costs and pollution by not adding to the congestion during prime traffic times.

Posted by Charles | Report as abusive

yes here here!!!
while people are losing their homes what a great new tax and hopefully we will see a better type of car on the road as well. the thought of my maid dropping off my children late for school is just to much to bear.

and if they don’t like it let them eat cake

shame on you Furchtgott-Roth

Posted by lord toady | Report as abusive

Make all traffic signals intelligent, and sensor-based, with advanced sensors and adaptive computer controls. this would save tons of time and pollution.

tom fleming

The Transportation Research Board is part of the the
National Academy of Sciences, not NSF.

Posted by CB Rubin | Report as abusive

Diana ,

You may very well get your wish several months from now. The world’s economies are not stable and there will be continuing higher unemployment numbers for the foreseeable future. My personal feeling for 2009 is oil will again be over $100 per barrel and that US unemployment will be between 12-15% officially , but much higher unofficially because of the way the numbers are calculated.

If you do get to drive without all the traffic you will be one of the lucky few that can still afford that privilege.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

“To reduce pollution and protect themselves from choking on traffic, cities must find a way to reduce congestion and enable people to travel more quickly and easily,” the author writes.

Exactly right. Bolster mass transit. Stop putting money into roads.

Suburban sprawl is the root of most congestion issues, as it forces commuters to travel ever-lengthening distances to reach work in the city. Instead of attempting to change driving habits through coercion, governments should focus on making cities safer, cleaner, and more affordable places to live.

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

We already have a way to control congestion. It’s called unemployment. No job to annoy other people by driving to. And no money to warrant driving around shopping. Doesn’t need to be complicated. A lot of good, obvious ideas here. A GPS in my car? How is that “voluntary” if I do happen to have a minimum wage job and daycare to pay for?
I live in South Florida. It is positively delightful right now because there are so few tourists here clogging our roads and honking their horns.People are way, way more worried about food and bills than traffic congestion.

Posted by patsyanne | Report as abusive

Even if we could afford to do this, it is straight out of 1984. and if I’m not mistaken, we already pay for these roads.
too often these days America is trading freedom and privacy for convenience and safety, this plan would only be another nail in the coffin of liberty.
As drastic as that seems, the implications are there.
why not talk to the government frankly and ask why this couldn’t be done with cell phones,which are already gps devices, even when turned off, and while they’re at it they can listen to you talk.
addressing traffic congestion is akin to blowing your nose if you have a cold, it does not help the cold itself, in this case the cold is our voracious consuming habits and completely unsustainable lifestyle.

Posted by jeremy | Report as abusive

• Ensure that new revenues improve financing and use of roads, rather than for public transportation.

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth, your attempt to deal with the issue of congestion is valiant, but alas, fails to deal with the problem comprehensively.

In North America, we have more roads than ever before, and yet they never seem to be enough. Why is that?

It boils down to flexibility. Every major city has strangled itself by restricting traffic to corridors (whether in-town roads or expressways) that limit options. Every major city has surrounded itself with endless fields of houses where streets are filled with ‘crescents’, ‘courts’, ‘lanes’. In other words these roads don’t go anywhere except back to the main corridor. The old-fashioned grid structure still found in older inner cities where you could turn off anywhere has been stymied by one-way streets and inadequate programming of signal-lights.

In my current city London, Ontario, many sleepy side-streets inexplicably have standard 3 minute signal-lights, even though 1 or 2 cars are at side-street portion of the intersection, which means the 20 cars on the main corridor wait to move long after those 1-2 cars have moved. They are trying to improve this with signal-cameras which can tell if there are no more cars traveling through the intersection, but apparently it’s taking a while to upgrade the system.

In Toronto, Ontario, where I lived for 10 years, it was often faster for me to ride my bicycle downtown from my apartment – about 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) – than to drive, and also cheaper as I could chain my bike to any of the many bike racks available. Not necessarily better for my health though, breathing in fumes from street-level pollution from all the cars……

When we break with the idea that 75% of new housing can sit on what are basically dead-end roads with virtually ZERO traffic at any hour of the day or night – while being maintained by city equipment and resources – and allow more flexibility for drivers, traffic patterns will adjust themselves naturally.

Your quote above is basically nonsensical. Major investment in public transportation is a necessity. ALL road taxes, tolls, licensing fees, and anything else the government can dream up MUST be used to encourage us to use a reliable, efficient, and relatively cheap public service.

At the moment, most smaller cities have very slow public transportation service. I had to buy a car because on the bus, it would take me 90 minutes each way to travel the 5 kilometres to work on the bus, but 20 minutes by car, and that only because their is a major highway nearby.

A lesson I learned in Quebec City was that public transportation can be reliable and fast for relatively little additional cost. Quebec City can’t afford it’s own subway system, and large parts of the city are built on very hilly terrain (think San Francisco) in very old built-up areas anyway. What the city did was create express routes, where the bus only stops every 500 metres or so, instead of the usual 150 of a normal route. The normal, slow route still exists, but it’s amazing how many times I was willing to walk the additional distance because I could travel downtown very quickly.

With respect to your views, I would like government policies that encourage us to get out of the car, walk, wait for the bus, even get cold in the winter, if it meant saving gasoline, while not losing too much time.

Posted by Robert Pratt | Report as abusive

That article is fundamentally flawed.

1. Rationing is not a solution.
2. Road capacity is currently used very innefficeintly.

Automated GPS navigation can be eaisly added to most modern cars that already have throttle by wire and electric power steering.

Cars tailgating at high speed can increase traffic flow 10 times!

Posted by GdB | Report as abusive

The killer solution to traffic jams:
- less cars
- more public transportation: buses, trains, undergrounds, etc.

Posted by Tiago | Report as abusive

Thanks for quoting me JR and for paraphrasing the rest of my comment.

I think we can all forget the Christmas wish. The only way there will ever be or has ever been a loss of congestion in urban areas- from the days of Ancient Rome to the mega city of Paris and London in the 17th and 18th centuries to the present day has been the economic decline of the city itself. Rome solved its traffic problems sometime in the 6th century AD. It had died. Paris and London developed newer and more efficient ways of moving vast numbers in the nineteenth century. Every improvement made for an even denser center city usually. But Paris put artificial height restrictions on buildings and the urban area spread.

This country will never solve the problem of traffic congestion because it is largely a matter of subjective expectations. No one can actually define a “quick commute. What is considered an acceptable commuting time has a way of lengthening. People who can no longer afford the city move to the suburbs and keep going further out as the costs rise. That artificial scarcity we built into the suburban world by zoning “bedroom” communities has seen to that. I know of people who commute up to four hours a day to work eight. That is not a traffic problem that is a land use problem. Everybody in the suburbs wants to be Mr. Blandings and they want it to stay that way forever. That was also one more contributing factor to the burst housing bubble. Houses become too damn expensive for the locations they occupy. At any other time in history they would have been removed or converted to larger and more cost effective structures. That is the stupidity of our land use planning. We don’t allow economic forces to take their course anymore.

If you lived in a city where no trip could take you more than 15 minutes, the 20 minute commute would be a disaster and a cause to sack the traffic commissioner. As an historical anecdote – that is exactly how long it took the average Pompeii pedestrian to walk from one end of the city to the other. 15 minutes. The faster we make the trip the faster people will expect all trips to be. The rapid speed increase of the computer is a case in point. The faster it gets the more we expect them all to work that quickly.

We get spoiled.

Leadership JR is rather like what the Germans wanted in the late 20′s and what they got was the Third Reich. Don’t say that word too loudly. Someone with more expensive ideas than Mrs. F-R might hear you.

And by the way – although they don’t ask for comments on news stories, Shame on Israel for having yet another temper tantrum. Almost another case in point where someone does not want the least deviation from their more than adequate life style and routine while the so called “bad people” get the living crap beat out of them after a year or more of softening up through slow starvation. Maybe we should all be worrying about bigger issues than how long it takes to get to work. Those people in the cities and towns near the Gaza border could have moved you know. I’m sure the Gazans would all love to get out but they can’t. I can’t quite understand the logic of that bit of human traffic control or the masterminds behind the present stomach turning spectacle. Reuters really should ask for reader’s comments on that coverage. They might be surprised by what the average reader thinks about all that “got to preserve the cultural purity and demographic plurality of you know who against the you know whats”.

About your comment JR, I agree with what you mentioned about the leadership punishment, by taxation, by fines, and levies. That is all because the people who become government forget that at one point they were people too, paying taxes, fees, etc. Now perhaps they become exempt of these burdens.

The solution to traffic congestions that nobody, I mean nobody ever mentioned here or in any article I’ve ever read about such a topic is the simple syncronization and alternation of traffic lights. But that would get in the way of businesses all over cities and town across America. You all should be greatful to the businesses, small, medium and large, that gether in annual meetings in the city meetings to determine that the traffic lights should stay the way they are so that people driving on the streets see their businesses and go patronize them.

If people only new that all this traffic jam every day going to work and comming back from work is caused indirectly, or even directly by the businesses along the road, people would get so enraged – hopefully – and not patronize their local businesses anymore.

In other countries where Oil companies and Car makers don’t dictate ( at least not as much as here in America)what kind of transportation model will be used, or how the system will work, traffic flows much better. And we are talking about the so to speak “Third World Countries”.

About the comment from Dennis White, I think we should not be so narrow minded and think that now the world is over and we should all concentrate in one thing only, and that is the macro economy. Someone has to work on that issue so that we all can benefit from spending less gas, polluting less the air, having more time for leasure out of the roads, and so on.

I think that Suzzane Smith wanted to say that low income drivers should not be on the road so often. I would agree with that since in third world countries the poor take busses and trains most of the times to go to work and move around. Even the medium class uses this kind of transportation because it is efficient and inexpensive. Why can America be like this? Most people are really bad drivers because MOST PEOPLE ARE THE POOR driving on freeways and roads. So, the low income people essencially are in the situation they are because THEY NEVER STOP PROCREATING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If we have to pay for the milage or the roads we are occupying, so be it. That might be one of the solutions to take off the streets all or most of the poor and the moreons with GMC SUV’s who usually are the illiterate latinos. Please don’t hate me for saying that because you know it is true. Nothing against latinos or any other nationality, only against ignorance, poverty and perpetuation of both.

Posted by Marcus | Report as abusive

I must say…this item has been promoted on the Reuters home page for several days, surrounded by a long list of the world’s tragedies and catastrophes. It certainly makes the headline a little less urgent. When the world is falling apart, “traffic congestion” certainly seems less important.

Posted by Gary | Report as abusive

I doubt that traffic signals are really that large a problem. In New York City the lights are timed with the aim of preventing gridlock. I think the assertion that lights are placed so people are forced to see the shops by the way is spurious. So much shopping is done along commercial strips and malls that I seriously doubt that the placement of traffic lights has any impact on the driver’s destination. One is only expected to read signs on a commercial strip. It’s a very thin argument. If you know how hard it is to influence the fitting out of a street let alone a major highway – and the agencies involved – at the local, state and federal levels, I don’t think you would be so ready to believe that signage is heavily influenced by local merchants. But some signage was placed in a local bypass to indicate where the commercial center is in my neighborhood.

The design of a local bypass limited access highway in the town I live in, allowed for a great deal of public input and the result, like most political decisions, made no one particularly happy. Everyone had something to complain about. You could almost say the traffic planners should be complimented for a job well done. It reduced the congestion of the small town center. But in the few years since it was completed – the traffic levels have already grown downtown almost to the level they were before the bypass was built. Development raced on ahead and it was probably due to the decreased time it now takes for drivers to reach employment elsewhere. The town is more accessible in a shorter time.

Banishing the poor from highways is a little cavalier to say the least. But practically speaking – the high cost of a vehicle seems to push that way anyway. I am a low-income person but I live in a rural area. I have no choice but to use a car. But I don’t commute. I work out of my home and only need to take occasional trips to clients. There are no other services available except for a small taxi company (one or two drivers) and that is far more expensive than the costs associated with a private vehicle. I also take offense at the idea that poor people are bad drivers. That is also a spurious assertion. It’s almost nauseating that there are people out there who really believe that because they are better paid they are better over all. That is probably the flimsiest idea I have ever heard.

Political leadership on this issue will probably only take the form of tax incentives for alternate and “green” transportation. The state government in this state – New Hampshire – is running on short money now. The whole country is going to have a hard time paying for any dramatic change in transportation infrastructure. The older cities of the US that have subways and extensive bus systems have them because the design of the city made it economical for private entities (for busses) and local authorities (trains and subways) to operate them at all. The suburbs are too dispersed and at too low population density to serve economically with public transportation.

Most suburban areas of this country were built after the Second World War. The car was king. The subway and commuter rail lines generally date from the late 19th century up to the WWII era. It was a very different land use pattern after the war than it was before the war.

Perhaps most people don’t know it but the NYC subway system was built by private enterprise. Many decades later it was taken over and extended by the City. What makes it difficult to do anything as dramatic as digging a trench down major avenues and boulevards today is the ability to get approval to do that from the local residents. Tens of thousands of property owners willhave abutter’s rights. The New York City system was started in Manhattan and in large part preceded the development of the island. The subway opened up the furthest reaches of the burrows to new development. That was also true of the streetcar system. Read Sam Bass Warner for more on this.

If the country is ever going to do a serous job trying to create low carbon and sustainable developmentand transportation itis going to have to deal with sprawl.When in the long history of this or any other developed country has “sustainability” ever been an issue – we don’t even know what that really weans yet? They will have to try to set limits on sprawl. There are a lot of reasons to fight sprawl beside the issue of traffic control and efficiency. But without the ability of the city centers to influence and design the suburban areas there won’t be much meaningful change.

Unfortunately the cities do not and probably will never have the ability to command zoning changes in their suburban areas. It would require the creation of greater metropolitan scale planning agencies that could dictate substantial development changes in the suburbs and the suburbs will fight that every step of the way. Our constitution puts a lot of emphasis on individual liberties and property rights. No single political entity governs any greater metropolitan area in this country. It might be impossible to ever create that entity. Each town would have to agree to become part of such a creature. And that move would have enormous impact on every aspect of a suburban town’s ability to control it’s own destiny.

Posted by paul rosa | Report as abusive

Could we try when possible to make posts shorter? Also, failure to address a post doesn’t imply acceptance. Some time ago a wealthy, skilled, college-educated person was telling me how he cuts off ambulances when driving. There’s one culture, mentioned earlier, that I do particularly dislike, even though I often think it’s because they’re so much like me!

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive

I totally agree with the comment posted above. The reasoning in this article involved how to make rational use of the automobile as a source of transportation. There is no rational use for the automobile. We do not need more roads or cars and the auto industry has to shrink by at least 75%. As Paul Krugman has suggested, eventually the auto companies will disappear. They will not do this soon enough in my view. Can we not relatively easily retrain auto workers to build light rail vehicles, trains and other things necessary for effective and efficient mass transit. Why not limit cars to public ownership which people can use on a shared basis. Efficient mass transit would mean less frustration for commutes, less accidents, injuries and deaths and certainly much less stress and anxiety. It would probably be much cheaper in the aggregate than using automobiles for transportation. Beware the hype of the automobile industry and its affiliates, the oil companies, parts companies, etc. No more roads please.

Gerald Chasin, Ph.D

Posted by Gerald Chasin | Report as abusive

In Japan, young people are not buying cars. It is possible to have massive social changes in a short time. Right now, our major problem is air,water,and land pollution. Thank GOD,as far as air pollution is concerned, we can clean that up with our lungs.We could use human waste (poop), as fuel, and clean up water and land pollution simultaneously.Wait a minute! That’s stupid! Much better to do what big business dictates. Non polluting mass transit is definitely needed. We are not so damn special that we always have to be alone.

Posted by albert miller | Report as abusive

You can run cars on water. Don’t believe me? Research it for yourself.

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

Run cars on water, eh, Jack? We have researched it, more than you ever dreamed was possible.

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive

The best way to reduce traffice congestion would be to put the government in charge of making the cars, and the private sector in charge of building the roads. We’ll soon have plenty of excellent roads, and cars that no one wants to buy.


Posted by Diana Furchtgott-Roth | Report as abusive

Agreed or not (government cars & private roads), thanks for a splendid laugh, Diana!

Maybe we should have volunteers do both, considering how the fear of Linux got Microsoft to rethink the quality issue. (Now that it has, I’m afraid I use Windows.)

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive