Congestion is a positive for cities, says study

Hardly a day goes by without a politician launching a costly new plan to fix traffic congestion and boost the economy. Makes sense, right? Wrong.

According to recently published research, the assumption that traffic congestion is bad for the economy is just that: an assumption.

When you look closely at the figures, congested cities are the best performers.

Published in the journal Transportation, the paper “Revisiting the Relationship Between Traffic Congestion and the Economy” shows that regions with healthy economies also tend to have high levels of traffic congestion.

Wesley Marshall of the University of Colorado and Eric Dumbaugh of Florida Atlantic University looked at a whole range of economic factors, including economic output, per capita income, and job growth, and matched it against the intensity of rush-hour traffic congestion in 89 American metro areas over 30 years.

They found that greater congestion did not lead to faltering regional economies. GDP and job growth actually increased in tandem with congestion, they found, while per capita income had no correlation.

Economic productivity is not significantly negatively impacted by high levels of traffic congestion. In fact, the results suggest a positive association between traffic congestion and per capita GDP as well as between traffic congestion and job growth, the authors concluded.

“If your region is trying to widen an arterial because they are worried about it harming the economy, this study refutes that,” Marshall said.

“If your city won’t tear down a freeway and turn it into a boulevard because they’re worried about congestion and the economy, this study refutes that.”

“There may be valid reasons to continue the fight against congestion, but the idea that congestion will stifle the economy does not appear to be one of them,” the authors said.

Interestingly, the researchers found that congested cities were not only prosperous, they were also the cities where people drove less and used public transport and active transport like bike riding more.

Let’s parse that for the politicians: to create a strong economy with lots of jobs you need to invest first in public and active transport. Fixing congestion won’t help.

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