In response to our critique of the Texas Transportation Institute’s congestion rankings, which take traffic delays out of context and risk being used to justify road expansions, former New Jersey DOT leader Gary Toth raised this question: What if, instead of getting frustrated with the report, we reframe its interpretation?
He does it by pointing out that the frantic pace of road-building in this country over the past few decades has only made the problem worse:
Universally, during the 20th century, transportation was viewed as an end in and of itself and state DOTs furiously pursued congestion relief by adding more capacity. And universally, it has not only failed to solve the problem, it has made it worse.
The failure of auto-oriented transportation solutions has been documented by congestion data collected annually by the Texas Transportation Institute since 1982. Four hundred thirty-nine metropolitan areas have been studied; in spite of the massive investment in building high speed roadway capacity, congestion indicators are skyrocketing out of control. It is time to tell the emperor that he/she is not wearing any clothes.
The issue of how high-speed automobile capacity affected land use development and spread out destinations and activities was considered someone else’s business. The highly mobile transportation system (or “supply”) created spread-out access, which in turn affected how people chose to locate their homes and businesses (land use patterns). Conversely, spread-out land use patterns further increased the demand for transportation (travel distances, modes, etc.), and this has become the eternal cycle that we now find ourselves in. While originally accomplishing many positive outcomes, the single-minded focus on high-speed mobility has increasingly led to an ever-growing series of unintended consequences, such as the undermining of all other modes of travel. In cities around our country, streets have been tuned for high level of service for automobiles during the peak hour.