By Dom Nozzi
May 10, 2004
We all despise traffic congestion. Yet traffic congestion is an inevitable sign of a healthy, thriving, alive city or community. It shows that the community is attractive enough that people want to be there. It also shows, in some instances, that the community has not degraded itself by excessively catering to the needs of the car.
Putting too much into car needs inevitably leads to a degradation of conditions that make PEOPLE happy, since people and cars have disparate needs. Cars like huge asphalt parking lots, high-speed roads, lots of lighting, and no other cars around (cars are anti-social). People outside of cars feel unsafe, inconvenienced, unpleasant and exposed in large parking lots or near high-speed roads. As sociable animals, people also tend to enjoy having other people around.
Often, people confuse traffic congestion with a sign that the community is unhealthy. As Yogi Berra once said, “The place got so crowded that no one went there anymore.”
Traffic congestion is nearly always our friend, and should not be fought against by improving car travel conditions.
Congestion, for example, does the following beneficial things:
- Encourages infill development.
- Encourages higher residential and commercial densities.
- Encourages compact, mixed-use development.
- Slows down cars.
- Slows down suburban sprawl.
- Slows the decline of downtowns and in-town, locally-owned retail.
- Reduces regional air pollution and gasoline consumption.
- Discourages low-value car trips.
- Encourages residential development near or in downtown and employment concentrations.
- Reduces car dependency.
- Improves the quality of public transit.
- Improves conditions for walking and bicycling.
In sum, congestion is caused by a community being attractive and vibrant. It is a community that is wealthy enough for its residents to be able to afford to own cars. A community without congestion is an unhealthy, unattractive community. Or its residents are unable to afford to own cars.
The beneficial way to address car congestion is not to try, hopelessly, to reduce it. The best way to deal with congestion is to establish ways to avoid it.
Create multiple routes to destinations. Make it easier to walk, bicycle or use transit. Build compactly so distances are shortened. And so on.