The Road Well-Traveled

It’s a well-documented truth that long commutes are bad for both the environment and emotional well-being of the commuter. So policy interventions aimed at reducing traffic and, by extension, commuting time have the potential to significantly improve welfare. A new paper by Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner evaluates two frequently proposed solutions to the problem and finds both lacking. Duranton and Turner find that highway kilometers traveled actually increases proportionately to highways. Provision of public transportation has no effect on kilometers traveled. The authors conclude that, “an increased provision of roads or public transit is unlikely to relieve congestion and that the current provision of roads exceeds the optimum given the absence of congestion pricing.” [%comments]


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  1. mfw13 says:

    The two simplest ways to reduce commuting are to promote telecommuting and to encourage companies with multiple locations (i.e. banks, fast-food chains, supermarkets, etc.) to employ people at the location closest to where they live.

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  2. Colin says:

    Get rid of zoning restrictions so people can live closer to where they work.

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  3. Hank says:

    Or we could assign a monetary value to all environmental costs and require those costs to be paid, now and full, rather than continuing the shortsighted policy of taking interest-free loans from our future.
    If there is no dollar sign in the cost at the transaction level, human behavior struggles to understand the true cost.

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  4. Ben D says:

    Duranton wants to reduce the duration of commutes? Sounds like an aptonym!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    A-ha! Therefore we have proved through highly scientific methods that there is NO solution and you all must just suck it up and suffer.

    Perhaps mfw13 has it, that the current problems are based on certain cultural norms in business and in general economic life that need some alteration. This unfortunately, was not the thing examied.

    I mean, who really thinks that building more roads will solve congestion?

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  6. Ben says:

    I would think the idea that more highway miles comes with more highways would be obvious.

    If I’m going from Andover, MA to Salem MA, there’s no direct highway and I take backroads, thus putting no more traffic than normal on the highway.

    If the state were to build a highway that cuts East/West across the state, I would start taking the highway and alleviate traffic on the backroads.

    The real question is, did highway miles go up in proportion with new highways while backroad miles went down in proportion.

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  7. MeToo says:

    Certainly there is a quadratic relation, where a thriving metropolis attracts many worker bees some of whom prefer the suburbs or avoid the correspondingly high premium on desirable reidences, while locales with less dynamism have modest traffic and worker bees still preferring the suburbs, but finding them geographically more proximal.

    Real estate cannot always radiate out 360 degrees, but the square-footage land space available for housing around a commcercial hub certainly increases geometrically in relation to the linear increase in the commute to the hub.

    While I agree that roadways cannot keep up – as you build more roadways, the attractiveness of ever-more-distant bedroom communities increases, since commute time has dropped relative to bedroom communities somewhat closer-in.

    If there is a quadratci relation, then a city can tax per growth/desirability, and directly use that tax to build transportation (mass transit, contraflow, HOV, maglev, star trek transporter, etc.) and stay ahead of the curve – ahead of some point where travel time greatly increases with a modest increase in workers, as they simultaneously converge from 360 degrees toward the hub.

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  8. Frank Paine says:

    I’m sorry, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with the idea of “congestion pricing”.

    Public streets are just that — public. They were built with public funds, and their maintenance is paid for through state & federal excise taxes on gasoline.

    Besides, we have an existing “congestion pricing” system already in place.

    They’re called Toll Booths.

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