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Congestion Kills, so Why Are Politicians Making It Worse?

October 28, 2019 in Economics

By Randal O’Toole, Christopher Legras

Randal O'Toole and Christopher Legras

After evacuations bogged down during 2008 wildfires near the town of Paradise, California, a grand jury warned that Butte County needed to upgrade evacuation routes, which then consisted of three two-lane roads and a four-lane road. Instead, officials put the four-lane road on a “road diet,” reducing it to two lanes of travel. Obstacles known as “traffic calming measures” were installed throughout the town, including bulb-out’s, center medians, and extended sidewalks.


These measures were taken in the name of safety but they were far from safe. When the Camp Fire obliterated the town in 2018, many people were unable to evacuate due to congestion. Eighty-six people died, some of them in their cars as they tried to flee.

Despite experiences like this, more than 1,500 American jurisdictions, ranging from New York and Los Angeles to small towns like Waverly, Iowa, are using road diets and similar measures that reduce the capacity of streets to move traffic. It’s all in the name of “vision zero,” a planning fad that claims slowing traffic will reduce accidents and fatalities. In fact, it is increasing them.



The mass-produced automobile is one of the greatest inventions in American history because it brought both physical and economic mobility to the masses. These benefits were accompanied by pollution and safety issues, but such problems have dramatically declined. Cars today are 99 percent cleaner than cars in 1970, and fatality rates per 100 million vehicle miles have declined more than 75 percent.

Vehicle fatalities did increase in 2015 and 2016, which has given momentum to the vision zero movement. However, they dropped again in 2017 and 2018. Before setting policy, we have to understand why they increased in those two years.

The numbers reveal that fatalities plummeted 21 percent after the 2008 financial crisis. This was because total driving fell by 2.3 percent, reducing congestion and apparently increasing safety. When driving and congestion increased again during the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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