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Why Traffic is so Hard to Fix

On your morning commute you always hit traffic around the same spot. The evening commute brings traffic going the other way. Even when they widen the road and add another lane, it still seems like traffic is inevitable, and there seem to be even more cars on the roadway despite the addition of a lane. Actually, you’re right. There are more cars on the road, and that additional lane is the reason they’re there.

The reason traffic is so hard to avoid actually has a lot to do with supply and demand. Except with traffic, instead of the classic supply and demand curve you learned in economics 101 (as supply increases, demand decreases), the reverse is true. When you increase the supply of the road, by adding a lane for example, people believe that this will decrease the traffic on this road. As a result, more people use the road, thinking the traffic will be better. But with the arrival of all these new cars on the road, the traffic is essentially the same as it was before. This principal also works when you consider public transportation. When public transportation is improved, more people use it, but more people also start to drive to work, thinking that traffic will be better.

There is research to prove this claim. In 2009, two economists looked at road construction and traffic in cities from 1980-2000 and determined that there was a very close relationship between the two. “If a city had increased its road capacity by 10 percent between 1980 and 1990, then the amount of driving in that city went up by 10 percent. If the amount of roads in the same city then went up by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000, the total number of miles driven also went up by 11 percent.”

So what, if anything, can be done to alleviate traffic in urban areas? Some cities have been experimenting with congestion pricing, which is essentially a toll drivers must pay to drive on busy roads during the busiest hours of the day. Because some drivers want to avoid the toll, they’ll drive at less busy hours, thereby spreading out the number of vehicles on the road over a longer time period and reducing traffic. Others, such as San Francisco have tried a similar approach with public parking in cities, increasing the price during busy hours in order to stimulate space turnover and reduce the number of people driving around looking for parking. Interestingly, this has actually led to an overall decrease of the average price of a parking spot in the city.


If you have any questions about our blog, “Why Traffic is so Hard to Fix” please contact Auto Stop by calling 410-467-7600 or visit AutoStopLTD.com today! You can also follow Auto Stop on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, June 19th, 2014 at 5:57 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.