Driving Change: How to Fix Traffic

Want to reduce traffic? Reduce roads!

You will die. It doesn’t matter if you put kale on that sandwich, quit your vape, or walk ten thousand steps a day. I will find you, and you will die. The only thing you can do is minimize the amount of time you waste before it all comes to a less-tragic-than-you-would-like end. This brings us to today’s topic.


We are all more than familiar with traffic. The average American spends 54 hours a year in traffic delays-just over two full days. That’s enough time to fall in love with and be blocked by that girl on Tinder. There are also serious economic costs. Increased congestion costs the US economy close to 87$ billion in the form of lost productivity each year. Add in the fact that traffic congestion contributes to emissions that kill over two thousand Americans annually and it becomes clear that traffic is the most important issue we will ever face as a society.

Social planners and politicians alike have applied a simple solution to this problem for hundreds of years: build more roads! This makes intuitive sense; if there are too many cars on the road you should increase the size of the road to fit more cars. However, research shows that building more roads ultimately makes traffic worse. This is due to a phenomenon known to city planners and virgins as “induced demand.” Building new roads or adding lanes onto existing highways temporarily lowers traffic, which makes it more convenient to drive on those roads. However, this increased convenience leads new drivers to begin using the road, thereby increasing total vehicle miles traveled. Take the example of your friendly neighborhood Zodiac Killer. Normally when he abandons his constituents during a once-in-a-generation blizzard he flies to Cancun because traffic at the Mexican border is atrocious. However, after a new mega-highway is built that traffic becomes a little less atrocious. Mr. Killer decides that this decreased traffic, combined with the fact that pesky journalists can’t spot him in his car, makes it more worthwhile for him to drive to Cancun. There are thousands, if not millions, of other pieces of shit who go through the same utility calculus. Traffic doesn’t end up decreasing because there are far more serial killers on the roads.

Even murderers follow the rules of economics.

This is consistent with the principles of supply and demand. While you don’t pay to drive on a public road, it does cost your time. The temporary decrease in traffic from building new roads is essentially decreasing the cost of driving. More people are willing to drive more miles since the cost of driving has decreased. In the long run, this means an increase in vehicle miles driven such that any temporary decrease in traffic is wiped out.

The supply of transportation options increases as new roadway is built. In the long run, this leads to a corresponding increase in demand. The fact that the increased supply causes the shift in demand is why economists call this phenomenon “induced demand.”

What Now?

If building more roads doesn’t decrease traffic then what does? Well, for one thing, we could build fewer roads. This process works the same way in reverse. As traffic increases people change their habits to reduce the amount they drive. Maybe they host more court hearings on Zoom or get groceries delivered. This leads traffic to stabilize at approximately the level it was at before, just with fewer people driving.

You might think we can get around this issue by increasing public transportation, but this has the same impact as building new roads. In fact, the effects of public transportation are included in the graph above. The auto transportation market includes metros, monorails, and minibusses along with highway lanes. As buses come more frequently or expand their routes more people decide to take the bus, leading to the same wait times as usual. Waiting in line at a bus station is functionally the same as traffic. This isn’t to say we should stop investing in public transportation. If we did, where would we go to accidentally sit in cum?

Of course, there are other ways to increase the costs of driving. For example, you could charge people to use public roads. Many economists and libertarians think using tolls to reduce traffic is an ideal solution. The people who need roads most will pay the most, so the people who benefit most from a congestion-free highway will be the ones to use it. This argument, like all arguments I disagree with, fails. In this case, because it conflates one’s willingness to pay with one’s need for a resource. Low-income Americans often need resources they simply cannot afford, as was the case in Mr. Killer’s Texas this week.

Traffic, Death, and Taxes

You’re a fucking chump. You read this whole article and you’re nowhere closer to preventing traffic. You’ve wasted your time, which is ironic since the whole point of this piece is to teach you how to minimize the amount of time you waste before you die. It just doesn’t seem possible to avoid wasting time. But maybe that’s part of the beauty of life. We can only truly appreciate going 85 on I-66 because we know the feeling of going 5 on I-19. Maybe we should look at the bright side of doing nothing. While sitting in traffic you could put on a podcast or reflect on your life. These things are worth doing in and of themselves, but we often forget the value of just sitting down.

Or maybe this conclusion is a ruse. The longer you sit here reading this the closer I get. I am coming. I am coming. I am coming. I coming. I am I I com aming. coming. com coming. aming. aming. I coming. am com com I aming. aming. aming. aming. aming. I aming. I I am aming. coming. aming. I com I aming. I I I com com com am coming. Imnonomi.c nnc mnIommI.oaicn. IIicgg gngccin.Iig gi mnamacmc mgaIii ncmnIccnanam. ..o mi ImnI ca ncc mgomma amnn oIngmn co g mmn iaicomcaaIn..I .nIgia onmi Ic oIgI nmi Igacmm nomm mIm IIn.nInaImg I I . n ncmiI.a . a . m aogaao mimnnm nggi iII ggm .aIaIocgiciaam ImgmngIi iIgmi ooI aggco.II igiianomm.aanI am. Run.

Originally published at https://virginica.substack.com.




UVA ‘23

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Grady Martin

Grady Martin

UVA ‘23

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