Congestion Growing in Sunbelt Cities

Cities with rapidly growing populations and inadequate public transit systems are seeing more gridlock despite changes in commuting patterns and the rise of remote work.

2 minute read

March 15, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Blurred night view of gridlocked traffic on freeway

1000 Words / Traffic gridlock

Despite a slight reduction in traffic congestion in most U.S. cities since the start of the pandemic, roads in some of the country’s fastest-growing cities are experiencing more traffic. As Konrad Putzier explains in the Wall Street Journal, “Local roads, built decades ago for a much smaller population, are struggling to accommodate the new reality.”

The article details the potential losses caused by congestion, arguing that gridlock can make regions less productive by discouraging new employers and driving up housing costs in the denser areas nearer to city cores. A recent blog post by Todd Litman argues that congestion costs are not as high as estimated by some, and that other factors should more strongly affect transportation planning decisions.  

Putzier’s article points to average traffic speeds as one measure of congestion, particularly in residential areas. However, Putzier does not mention whether traffic calming or other road safety initiatives could have contributed to slower speeds, which are shown to reduce the chance of fatal crashes. It even highlights one Miami-area driver who “said she started driving an SUV to get a higher-perched view of the gridlock in front of her.” Meanwhile, larger SUVs are contributing to higher rates of pedestrian deaths.

Putzier does note that improving public transit, which is often lacking in many Sunbelt cities, can alleviate congestion and make housing more accessible to more residents. However, he highlights complaints that “You’ll see an extra lane here or there, but by and large it just can’t keep up” without acknowledging that this is a tacit admission that building more roadways only induces traffic demand.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023 in The Wall Street Journal

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