Traffic Declines Mean No Jams, But Not All Are Pleased

One maxim that’s held true over the past one hundred years is that when you build more roads, the traffic quickly catches up and fills it up, proving that traffic congestion is not solved by more road building. Yet this year something has changed that’s never happened before. For the first time since anyone began keeping records, Americans will actually drive less this year.

It’s a staggering sea change that’s solved one of the harshest problems of urban living. There are far fewer traffic jams all over the US because there’s relatively little traffic–everywhere! A story in today’s WSJ picks out startling declines; Colorado Springs, down 68%, Daytona Beach 70%, Tucson 57%. Taxi drivers are reporting fast 30-minutes zips from Chicago’s city center to O’Hare. But one cabbie said his wages have fallen by one third due to fewer passenger fares.

Of course these empty highways and tollroads have their detractors. The Mass Pike, for example, is suffering an 8.5% drop in tolls, and according to the editor of Tollroads News, “that’s all anyone is talking about in the industry.” Subways and commuter trains that get their lifeblood from tolls are having to cut staff and raise fares. But these public conveyances have never been fuller, and to me, that’s progress.