9.6.07

BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME. From time to time, I have noted that highway construction lags miles driven, and I have long favored timing traffic lights in order to reduce frustration and pollution. These positions receive some support in The Road More Traveled, which will be Book Review No. 1516. To some extent the work is polemical, and its main focus appears to be to rebut those aesthetes who find suburbia ugly. It does make some points about the potential usefulness of additional road construction, although the authors quietly concede that the Law of Peak Hour Expressway Congestion does bite and there are limits to alleviating congestion by providing more lanes. They note, however, that very few cities approach the size and population density to support widespread use of rapid-transit, and that people reveal preferences for greater mobility and less crowded spaces with their purchases of stand-alone houses and automobiles.

The extent to which such purchases reflect public subsidies (garrisoning the Middle East, subsidizing ethanol factories, tax preferences for mortgage interest) does not merit mention in The Road More Traveled, although the unresponsiveness of a government to taxpayer preferences for more roads (particularly in those jurisdictions captured by foes of auto-focused living patterns) does come in for some criticism. The parts most useful for transportation policy are those that emphasize relatively simple methods of reducing congestion and the pollution induced by more frequent starts and stops. Those simple methods include time-of-day pricing of roads, using open-road tolling methods rather than toll booths, as well as time-sensitive parking rates, and synchronized traffic lights. I wonder, though, whether the advocates of road pricing ever butt heads with civil-libertarian colleagues who see the potential for abuse of the data required in order to bill drivers for the use of the road.

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