It's this simple. You are stuck in traffic because you are in a car. If you believe otherwise, it's because you have been told, over and over, to believe otherwise. There is nothing more to it than that. And if a little effort at reflection is made about the goal of "congestion relief," you will see it in the same light that a person who has just awoken recalls the events in a dream. The Washington Democrats who removed, much to the horror of commentators on the right, "congestion relief" from the state's transportation priorities in a set of bills (House Bill 2688 and Senate Bill 6398) are simply woke.
There is very little that's real in the promise of decongestion. History can verify this claim very easily. In the 1950s, the '60s, the '70s, and '80s, billions were poured into projects that promised greater freedom for all drivers, and yet, traffic only worsened. There is a name for this phenomenon—more roads, more traffic (which is a species of the phenomenon "more money, more problems"). It's called induced demand. The idea has been around since the 1960s. This is how it goes down.
With 26 lanes at its widest point, the Katy Freeway in the Houston metro is the Mississippi River of car infrastructure. Its current girth, which by some measures makes it the widest freeway in North America, was the result of an expansion project that took place between 2008 and 2011 at a cost of $2.8 billion. The primary reason for this mega-project was to alleviate severe traffic congestion.
And yet, after the freeway was widened, congestion got worse. An analysis by Joe Cortright of City Observatory used data from Houston’s official traffic monitoring agency to find that travel times increased by 30 percent during the morning commute and 55 percent during the evening commute between 2011 and 2014. A local TV station found similar increases.
The Sisyphean saga of the Katy Freeway is a textbook example of a counterintuitive urban transportation phenomenon that has vexed drivers, planners, and politicians since the dawn of the automobile age: induced demand.
But let's think about this for a moment. What is really going on with induced demand? Why can't freeway expansion work? The right will say something very interesting. They will contend that, despite the command cars have had on transportation budgets, it has never really been enough. This, weirdly enough, is unsaid by the right (who proclaim that a world with less government is the best of all possible worlds). They want the public purse to devote a galactic sum on roads. Now, this could be correct. If the government blew much of its budget on reducing car congestion, it might actually work. Seattle gets a 50-lane freeway for cars. The cars finally are not stuck in traffic. But what kind of economy can sustain this kind of expense? The cost of maintaining an infrastructure that reduces the "Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals" to the scale of mere toys?
And here we see what's really going on. The economy that sustains car mobility—the advertised freedoms of the driver—actually does not exist on this planet and possibly this universe. The market can't pay for this infrastructure—it would wipe out its profits in an instant. It just wants to sell cars to a "mad world" that does not stop buying cars. As for getting stuck in traffic, it leaves it up to the public purse. And so you have on one side the Tim Eymans, who declare no taxes on cars, even for car infrastructure; and, on the other side, our Jason Rantzes, who demand that the state blow its wad on a dream that can only realized if the meaning of human existence is entirely chained to maintaining and managing mobility of the most irrational form of transportation.
To get an idea of how huge car infrastructure needs to be to finally remove bad traffic from the driving experience, recall those alien spaceships in the 1996 movie Independence Day; recall their massive size and how they hovered over major cities around the world. Once you have that image in your mind, remove the film's plot (aliens invading earth) and replace it with this story: aliens in galactic SUVs trying to find parking on earth.
Permanently de-congested freeways would cause exactly this kind of destruction on the city, on urban life.