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  • Rohin S

The Traffic Conundrum: Why More Lanes Will Worsen Traffic

While sitting in a traffic jam it is tempting to think how great it would be if there were a huge, wide freeways where cars moved freely and traffic jams were a rare occurrence. Well nowadays that vision has somewhat become true. In our city, there are now bridges and tunnels going over and under the sea and flyovers and freeways bypassing busy junctions and intersections.

However, the vision of traffic jams as being as rare as a four-leaf clover is still a fantasy. This is not surprising considering that there is a large amount of evidence pointing to the fact that adding more highways and bridges will only worsen traffic.

Here’s what I mean: let’s say there is a suburb with a 4-lane highway, a metro line, and a bus route. Now say the traffic on the 4-lane highway is terrible and the road is prone to frequent traffic jams. To fix the problem, the council makes the 4-lane highway a 6-lane road. Now the traffic improves but it returns, this time worse. Then the council makes it an 8-lane and then a 10-lane, but nothing seems to work. Each time the traffic improves for a while and then it gets worse.

This is called induced demand. Each time the road is widened the people using other forms of transport are incentivized to use the road as well. Hence more people use the road every time its enlarged and hence the traffic only gets worse. This is an actual effect observed in large cities such as Los Angeles, a city that is mostly highways but is infamous for its terrible traffic. There are many other examples as well, Mumbai will probably be on the list soon.

There is also the point to be made that should we really be spending billions on such huge infrastructure projects, especially when there are many other problems in our city including poverty, supply of utilities issues, pollution and so much more. Projects like the coastal road project are also detrimental to the environment, especially the oceanic and coastal environment, not a good look when there all real-world problems like global warming. Plus, there are already other public transit projects which will make the roads emptier destroying the need for more roads. Perhaps investing in other programs might do more help than chasing a dystopian superhighway fever dream.

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