The Way To Solve Our Traffic Woes Is Actually To Increase Density
There’s no denying that sitting bumper-to-bumper in heavy traffic anywhere in the world is never anyone’s favourite way to spend an hour in the morning.
But it is a modern-day reality. Yes, you might be doing some work like returning calls on your hands-free but in general the time probably represents lost productivity. So, it’s no surprise that the reaction to Infrastructure Australia’s latest report detailing the state of congestion in our big cities has been met with a huge level of interest -- this is simply something that affects everybody. No one likes their leisure time on Saturdays cut by unnecessary travel or waiting periods that can be spent doing something else.
But congestion is a function of the popularity of a city or place -- the restaurant that you can’t walk into without a booking, is usually the one everyone wants to dine at. The busiest travel times are busy because they suit more people than other times and we are all a function of our community… so we need everyone else around us to have a nice and functional life -- but it is just a matter of degree.
There is no large city in the world that is free of congestion. It is quite simply a product and symptom of all growing cities, countries and economies. And to not grow is to die.
So how can we manage growth and at the same time limit the effect of congestion? Somewhat ironically, denser cities would be much better than sprawled metropolises. That is because density allows public transport options to be optimised, thereby reducing the need for motor vehicle journeys. More heterogeneous land uses would also help greatly in this regard.
Imagine if you could do your shopping, pick up your bread and milk, drop off your laundry and buy a new shirt, all within walking distance of where you live and work -- the need to get into a car that adds to the road traffic is hugely reduced.
If we could stagger the times that people need to go to work and to leave work, that would also help in extending the peak periods in the am and pm, to allow for faster, less congested journeys. If every daily function requires a car journey, then there is no road system in the world that can cope, no matter how many lanes of traffic you add to the road.
As an example, think of LA: oftentimes, locals find themselves sitting in two hours of traffic in the afternoon on one of the 11 lanes of a highway. Essentially, the highway then becomes a carpark for several hours of the day. So, we need to think better and smarter rather than just add lanes and roads… which would definitely help, but cannot be the ultimate solution to congestion in our cities.
We need people to use public transport more often. But for people to use the public transport, it has to be world class and for it to be world class, it has to have significant funding and there are only two main ways to do this -- public taxation revenue or debt. You can either use the public purse now or burden the next three generations with the debt of new infrastructure.
It would be far wiser to bring in more working migrants, increase the population, put them into the tax base quickly and then plan and fund the infrastructure we need into the future. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but unless we are prepared to go into massive levels of debt to fund the infrastructure that this vast country necessitates, then in my view, this remains the best option.
The narrative that Sydney is too full is simply untrue. We can accommodate more people in our cities, and we should think about how we can do this quickly.
We should be looking to increase the taxation revenue and rebuild the public infrastructure we need for our growth. I fear the alternative may be sitting in two hours of traffic, polluting our beautiful cities whilst worrying about how to pay off the credit card debt that we haven’t got the tax base to service.