Is Congestion a “Disease”?

By Dom Nozzi

A friend sent me an article which made the point that lessons we learn about how infectious diseases spread in a pandemic such as the coronavirus can be applied to cities striving to reduce traffic congestion. I responded as follows.

Like most people, the creators of this analogy between infectious diseases and traffic congestion don’t understand cities or congestion. Congestion in cities is NOT a “disease” that must be “cured.” Congestion is an important SOLUTION for city health. Boulder has spent several decades, like most every other city, in failing to understand this. Reducing congestion is toxic for a city because nearly everything the city or state or federal govt does to reduce congestion (temporarily) is bad for city health. To be healthy, a city must provide ALTERNATIVES to the inevitable congestion for people who don’t want to put up with it.

What are the alternatives?

More street and population and intersection density allows more walking and bicycling and transit travel. Mixing residential with retail, office, culture, and jobs is part of that promotion of alternatives.

In a healthy city, congestion is inevitable. It is a sign of health. Only dying or dead cities do not have congestion.

We have spent over 100 years trying to reduce congestion. Until we realize congestion is our friend and work instead to provide alternatives to congestion, we will continue to fail and continue creating a grim future.

It IS possible to durably reduce congestion in a way that is not unhealthy for a city: toll roads. But doing that is nearly always politically impossible, as NYC has shown.

 

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