Traffic congestion: is there a miracle cure? (Hint: it's not roads)

By Jake Whitehead, Queensland University of Technology / Published by The Conversation.

With our "infrastructure prime minister" and both sides of politics trumpeting the building of new roads to reduce congestion, you could forgive everyday Australians for believing that they might have a point. Let's simply build more roads, then there will be less traffic. Unfortunately, this story reads more like a children's fairytale than a visionary plan.

Many politicians have stood up with the ambition of "solving" road congestion by building a tunnel, highway or bridge. While they may be able to promote the initial time savings as proof of their success, the additional capacity created by this new infrastructure is filled relatively soon.

Car light trails in Sydney
Above: Car light trails in Sydney / by Long Road Photography.

Given constant demand for driving, new infrastructure does initially lead to reduced congestion. In turn, driving travel times are reduced. However, this reduced travel time lures individuals who would normally take other means of transport into driving their vehicles – a phenomenon transport economists refer to as "latent demand".

As more individuals make the switch to cars, road congestion increases again, back to a steady-state point of gridlock – only now with even more vehicles stuck in the queue. This is the harsh reality that our politicians never speak of.

By Jake Whitehead, Queensland University of Technology. Published by The Conversation on 12 June 2015.

Read the full article at The Conversation.

Photo: Car light trails in Sydney / 'Light Trails' / Long Road Photography / Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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