The Other Cost of Congestion

Fixing it.

There’s an interesting piece over at The Daily Score reviewing a book on the privatization of roads.

The thesis is that much of our congestion is simply too expensive to fix.

There are also alternative estimates of the cost of congestion (hint: not so high).

And very interestingly, there’s an estimate that suggests the annual cost of auto accidents may far exceed the cost of congestion.

“Cost of Safety” anyone?

6 responses to “The Other Cost of Congestion”

  1. There are also costs that are rarely discussed as being tied to congestion. Although the time a person spends in traffic can be calculated based on wages, it is difficult if not impossible to calculate the price of congestion for the time a parent spends away from family. A partial list of the costs and effects for the loss of quality family time can include the expansion of after school programs, lower student performance and higher educational costs, children experimenting with drugs and alcohol that can lead to addiction, increased juvenile law enforcement activities and vandalism, and even enlarging our prison facilities when the children become adults, all because children have less interaction with parents.

  2. Terry, I agree with your assessment of impacts, but not the causation.

    Harvard socioligist Robert Putman in his book Bowling Alone analyzed the causes of decline in civic engagement. While I don’t remember all of the factors he sited, two important ones were women entering the workforce and longer commutes.

    But congestion is only a portion of commute time. Most of it results from a sprawling pattern of land use that was actively fostered by Federal subsidies for road and sewer construction in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

    With those Federal dollars gone (and local property tax limits), it’s simply not realistic to expect local governments to keep up the same rate of paving (nor is it good for our environment). The only realistic way to reduce commute times is to rearrange our land uses so the people live closer to where they work (or work closere to where they live).

  3. I went to a family reunion this July 4th week.

    I found it hilarious and sad, the shocked and amazed looks on peoples faces when I told them, while they complained about commutes and gas prices, that I haven’t pumped a lick of petro in over 2 months, and have barely spent more than 20 minutes per direction commuting for the last 2 months.

    They asked where I lived, when told, they weren’t exactly sure what, where, or how Portland existed in such a way.


    I dug the reactions, but hopefully as with everyone in this country, the commute, fuel consumption, and reasonableness of their respective lifestyles are brought into better focus in the coming years.

    The greatest amazement was garnered when I did some simple math to show a few “car” commuters what they pay vs. me riding LRV/MAX. :o those… expressions where priceless.

  4. adron,
    did you consider how much they drive to get the basic necessities of life? how much their housing costs?

  5. Chris and Terry –

    Let me suggest there is no way to reduce commute times. In fact average commute times are relatively constant.

    Traffic engineers look at the equation distance = speed X time and assume if they increase the speed the time will go down. But in fact, we measure how far we are from work in time, not distance. Our willingness to make a trip is based on how long it takes us to get somewhere, not on how far it is. So if you increase speed, people increase the distances they drive whether to commute or go shopping or to visit friends.

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