Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Review: Still Stuck in Traffic: Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion

This updated edition of Anthony Downs’ classic Stuck in Traffic is a book by a policy wonk for policy wonks. Chock full of economic analysis illustrated with neat little tables and comparative graphs, it will have some readers itching to get to the main point while others delight in the care Downs takes to explain the subtleties of his argument and the details of his evidence.

Downs attempts to avoid siding with any interest groups, auto industry or environmental. His position is stark: traffic congestion is here to stay. People may rail against it when they’re inching along at a snail’s pace home for the umpteenth time, but they will find it hard to stomach the solutions that can really make a difference: road tolls, peak-hour parking taxes, changes to employer provided free parking plans. Meanwhile, highly touted solutions like expanding public transit or building new roads aren’t nearly as effective as people think they are. Traffic congestion can be controlled, Downs says, but it won't be eliminated. It may be an unavoidable side effect of economic health.

Thick and slightly dated as it is, the book is still a fascinating and worthwhile read. Those of us with crammed schedules shouldn’t be turned off by the length: simply scanning through the chapter summaries, tables and graphs is almost guaranteed to provide new insights.

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