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More Roads, More Traffic Jams

Five years and a 10-mile carpool lane later, the 405 freeway in Southern California set a billion-dollar example for those seeking to streamline rush hour. One study shows that travel times have actually slowed down by a minute, post-“Carmaggedon."

Jim Back, director of INRIX, said that the money spent on the project was not wasted and argues that slower traffic is merely a byproduct of an improving economy. “When our economy recovers, I like to say, ‘as GDP goes up, MPH goes down.’” Bak said that more Southern Californians are going to work and going out to spend what they’ve earned. He also adds that while travel times are no better at the peak of rush hour (5-6 p.m.), the tail end—7-8 p.m.—has improved, from 28 minutes to 22.

Still, the glaring question is how cities can improve traffic congestion. Gilles Duranton, who co-authored a research paper published in the American Economist Review, suggested charging people to drive during rush hour, which has worked in both Europe and Asia. “We cannot think of any other solution. As soon as you manage to create space on the road, by whatever means, people are going to use that space… except when they have to pay for it.”

Cities, from London to Stockholm, have seen a number of benefits: a decrease in car use, carbon emissions, delays, and tax fares, while the bus system has grown. Transit ridership has also gone up in certain cities, with the rush-hour delay cut in half. New York City almost enacted a plan for congestion pricing, though it was defeated in the state legislature before it could be put into action.

“My feeling is, yes, people tend to be against it before they see it at work,” Duranton said. “They think it’s going to cost them more money, which directly it will, but they’re all very unclear about the benefits; i.e. traffic is way more fluid, way faster, and pollution is going down.”

Image by Samuel Leo, licensed under Creative Commons.