America is Spending Billions Just to Make Traffic Worse

And these five graphics made it clearer than ever.

Photo: ##http://www.mediaite.com/online/los-angeles-residents-want-to-know-who-to-blame-after-obama-induced-traffic-jam/attachment/traffic-jam/##Mediaite##
Photo: ##http://www.mediaite.com/online/los-angeles-residents-want-to-know-who-to-blame-after-obama-induced-traffic-jam/attachment/traffic-jam/##Mediaite##

The phenomenon of induced demand isn’t news to Streetsblog readers. But a new report from Transportation for America illustrates exactly how stupid lane widenings really are.

The 100 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. added a whopping 30,511 miles of new freeway lanes between 1993 and 2017, according to the group. In case you’re wondering, that means our road network is growing at a faster rate than our actual human population. 

And here’s the kicker: traffic actually got worse over those 24 years (which, how should we put this, kinda defeats the purpose of why taxpayers spent that money in the first place).

Just sayin': if you bought 32 percent more food but ended up 144 percent more hungry, you'd probably be pretty mad. Source: Transportation for America.
Just sayin’: if you bought 42 percent more food but ended up 144 percent more hungry, you’d probably be pretty pissed. Source: Transportation for America.

We shouldn’t be surprised this happened. As experts have been saying since at least the 1960s, the more lane miles we build, the more drivers will come out of the woodwork to fill them — and the years between 1993 and 2017 were certainly no exception.

Sure, a lot of Americans took poorly-paid jobs as Uber drivers during this period, but not enough to explain *that* kind of a leap. It's because we widened our roads. Via <a href="
Sure, a lot of Americans took a whole lot of poorly-paid jobs as Uber drivers during this period, but not enough to explain that kind of a leap. It’s because we widened our roads. Via Transportation for America.

So, to recap: Americans spent a whole lot of money just to make car traffic worse, and the receipts are still coming in for the last three years that probably aren’t much better.

But how much money are we talking about, exactly?

We’re talking $500 billion. And that’s just what the states paid — local transportation agencies kicked so much into these pointless projects that T4A wasn’t able to accurately account for their losses.

Pause for a second to just think about how many buses, bike lanes and sidewalks $500 billion could have put in every single town in America. Heck, that could have paid for New York’s Second Avenue Subway line 111 times over, and that’s the most expensive train, like, ever.

[Excuse us as we black out from rage.]

OK, but wait, there’s more!

We also have to pay to maintain all that stupid asphalt we bought now. Forever — or at until we get smart and rip it all out of the ground.

T4A zoomed out a bit and looked at how many roads the whole country built between 2009 and 2017, then multiplied it by the average annual maintenance costs for highway pavement.

Most Americans, sadly, know how expensive it is to keep a car in good working order. But keeping the road it runs on safe doesn't come cheap, either. Source: Transportation for America.
Most Americans, sadly, know how expensive it is to keep a car in good working order. But keeping the road that car runs on in good shape doesn’t come cheap, either. Source: Transportation for America.

But Streetsblog, you ask, maybe it was all worth it! Maybe my town was the magical exception to the induced-demand rule! 

Spoiler: nope, it wasn’t.

Oof, rough break, Buffalo. Source: Transportation for America.
Oof, rough break, Buffalo. Source: Transportation for America.

But Streetsblog, you say. I live in Poughkeepsie, and I never sit in traffic! Nobody lives here anymore, and we still have all these sprawling roads, so I can drive as fast as I want! It’s awesome!

Uh, cool story, Mad Max, but…have you ever clocked how long it actually takes you to get where you’re going in your town? Because these stats from the Texas Transportation Institute don’t look so great to us:

Also, nothing against Poughkeepsie, but...given the choice between being trapped in a car in the erstwhile "whale rendering capital of the US" and strolling down Bourbon Street, and it's not really a contest. Source Transportation for America.
Also, nothing against Poughkeepsie, but…given the choice between being trapped in a car in the erstwhile “whale rendering capital of the US” and strolling down Bourbon Street after spending a little time stuck in traffic, it’s not really a contest. Source: Transportation for America.

And just in case you need a refresher, minimizing congestion does not equate to a great place to live.

I mean, I guess it’s possible that poor guy walking with a grocery bag in the middle of five lanes of arterial traffic is living his best life, but…wouldn’t he be a little happier if he was in a real “15-minute city” instead of staring down the grille of a pickup truck?

Source: Transportation for America,, who want to bum you out.
Source: the good folks at Transportation for America, who really want to bum you out.

So, let’s go over it all again:

  • Building driving lanes and new roads for cars doesn’t fix traffic jams.
  • Building driving lanes and new roads for cars costs insane amounts of money.
  • Building driving lanes and new roads makes cities more deadly for non-drivers.
  • …and even if you *do* see congestion drop, all those autocentric roads make your city sad and lame.

Know a doubter? Send them one of these graphics and let them know that #InducedDemandSucks.

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It’s not that unusual to see politicians approaching the problem of traffic congestion with a childlike simplicity. But Oregon gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce’s “solution” to eliminate gridlock in the Portland area might be the most infantile of them all. Pierce wants to add a lane to every major freeway in the region and “Presto!” — problem solved. […]