Commuters are often frustrated by policymakers’ inability to do anything about the problem, which poses a significant public policy challenge.Although governments may never be able to eliminate road congestion, there are several ways cities and states can move to curb it.Limited road-pricing schemes that have been adopted in Singapore, Norway, and London only affect congestion in crowded downtowns, which is not the kind of congestion on major arteries that most Americans experience. The second approach would be to build enough road capacity to handle all drivers who want to travel in peak hours at the same time without delays.
Commuters are often frustrated by policymakers’ inability to do anything about the problem, which poses a significant public policy challenge.Although governments may never be able to eliminate road congestion, there are several ways cities and states can move to curb it.
Although congestion can seem intolerable, the alternatives would be even worse.
Peak-hour congestion is the balancing mechanism that makes it possible for Americans to pursue other goals they value, including working or sending their children to school at the same time as their peers, living in low-density settlements, and having a wide choice of places to live and work.
For example, a major commuting expressway might be so heavily congested each morning that traffic crawls for at least thirty minutes.
If that expressway’s capacity were doubled overnight, the next day’s traffic would flow rapidly because the same number of drivers would have twice as much road space.
The second drawback is that people think these tolls would be just another tax, forcing them to pay for something they have already paid for through gasoline taxes.
For both these reasons, few politicians in our democracy—and so far, anywhere else in the world—advocate this tactic.
The least understood aspect of peak-hour traffic congestion is the principle of triple convergence, which I discussed in the original version of Stuck in Traffic (Brookings/Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 1992).
This phenomenon occurs because traffic flows in any region’s overall transportation networks form almost automatically self-adjusting relationships among different routes, times, and modes.
The same problem exists in every major metropolitan area in the world.
In the United States, the vast majority of people seeking to move during rush hours use private automotive vehicles, for two reasons.