Traffic Congestion

David Owen wrote in the Wall Street Journal that traffic jams, couterintuitively, are good for public transit ridership.  His basic thesis is that “Traffic jams, if they’re managed well, can actually be good for the environment. They maintain a level of frustration that turns drivers into subway riders or pedestrians.”

Consider me unconvinced.  Maybe short term congestion is a good thing as an inspiration for people to ride the subway.  Though in New York people do not need much convincing.  There is a superior subway system that can take people most anywhere in the borough of Manhattan.  Driving in the city is usually out of necessity or vanity, not convenience.  However, as it relates to other cities there may be a point.

If anything, I was confused by Owen’s article as it seemed to meander, arguing against congestion pricing because, “If the result of congestion pricing is simply to spread traffic out, thereby maintaining or increasing total traffic volume while also making driving more pleasant for those who continue to do it, then its putative environmental benefits are fictitious.”  Yet I also very much agree with Owen’s conclusion:

A truly effective traffic program for any dense city would impose high fees for all automobile access and public parking while also gradually eliminating automobile lanes (thereby reducing total car traffic volume without eliminating the environmentally beneficial burden of driver frustration and inefficiency) and increasing the capacity and efficiency of public transit.

Owen and I fundamentally agree that America needs to drive less and take transit more.  Of course no congestion-reducing scheme, whether it is congestion pricing, traffic calming or another project is really marketable or fair without a public transportation alternative available.  However, congestion might be useful for making localities desire better public transportation.

The future is bright though according to the Los Angeles Times, which reports that J.D. Power has found that teens are not interested in automobiles.

“The negative perceptions of the automotive industry that teens and early careerists hold could have implications on future vehicle sales,” said Chance Parker, vice president and general manager of J.D. Power and Associates Web Intelligence Division.“Generation Y could have the greatest spending power of any generation — even surpassing that of the Baby Boomers. It will be essential for automakers to earn the trust and loyalty of Gen-Y consumers, who are particularly critical of brands and products.”

In Japan, the first major developed country to actually experience a decline in car ownership, disinterest among young people in owning cars — especially in urban areas such as Tokyo — is cited as one of the factors behind “demotorization.”

Of course the research on social network websites seems a little flimsy.  But there is no denying that cars are incredibly expensive especially to a teen, when taking in the cost of a car, gas and insurance.  One can only hope that such trends carry through to their adulthood and those current teens demand better transit and fewer cars.

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