Thursday, January 20, 2011

Traffic Congestion.. Like a speed governor on the economic recovery

A report was issued from the Texas Transportation Institute that analyzes and trends traffic congestion data and its impact on commuters.  Here's one story on the report from You Wasted 34 Hours in Traffic in 2009
No, it wasn’t your imagination. Traffic hasn’t been quite so hellish since the economy imploded, but now that things are picking up, you can expect congestion to increase as well. It’s already gotten so bad that the average American spent 34 hours sitting in traffic last year and paid $808 for the privilege.

So say the brains at the Texas Transportation Institute in their annual Urban Mobility Report (.pdf). The study found traffic in 2008 was better than it had been in at least a decade, but the stop-and-go grind returned in 2009 as the economy improved.
I've pointed out in an earlier post here how traffic congestion caused by poorly timed stoplights is an enormous waste of fuel in the USA.  If we could only get the road crews around the country to time the stoplights at major intersections to keep traffic flowing, it would benefit all drivers by reducing their fuel consumption which would also reduce the demand on gasoline, which would help drive costs lower.  And that would put money in consumers' pockets which would help feed the economic recovery.

As this report also points out, as the economic recovery builds momentum, it will lead to more drivers on the road which will increase traffic congestion.  This will have the effect of increasing fuel consumption which will drive gasoline prices higher.  So it acts essentially like a speed governor on the economic recovery.  The more the economy heats up, the more people will drive, and the more time and gasoline and time we will waste in traffic, thereby reducing the average consumer's disposable income and increase distribution costs that will negatively affect the recovery.  Money spent at the gas pump can't be spent elsewhere.

To avoid this, we need to do all we can to reduce our collective fuel consumption and a big part of that has to involve alleviating systemic traffic congestion problems.  That is not an impossible task.  Timing the stoplights and eliminating the predictable logjams at the lane merge points near road construction projects would be a great start.

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