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Traffic Congestion and Widened Roads

Source: http://www.heraldmailmedia.com/news/local/highway-congestion-is-maryland-s-approach-wrong/article_b5ea9371-b2a5-5be4-94a0-d9bb39d5f4f0.html

In Maryland, congestion and increasing crashed become a serious issue in recent years. The state is trying to solve these problems by widening roads, like Interstate 81 in Washington County. However, some scholars claim that this is not an efficient or even not an effective solution. Traffic could get even worse after roads are widened. They suggest that the state should adopt other solutions, like charging motorist if they choose to drive during heavily-congestion peak times. Meanwhile, State Highway Administration (SHA) say different regions have different approaches, and they believe widening roads is one of the effective ways. Also, they are applying a lot of high-tech solutions.

To widen the roads is an intuitional solution for traffic congestion. However, things do not always work the same as we thought. A widening road would work perfectly only if driving is the dominant way for commuting, or say if people can drive all have already chosen driving, which means the demand for roads will not increase. However, while driving is only one of the options, commuters can choose buses, walking, biking, taxi (Uber), or driving. If we see this as a game, players highly probably have achieved a Nash equilibrium. For example, shown in a U.S. census report on commuting[1] for 2013, driving takes 24 min in average while public transit takes 49 min. On the other hand, taking public transit can be much cheaper since these commuters do not have to buy cars, maintain cars, pay for oil, pay for parking, which can be extremely expensive and time-costing in a metropolis.

Considering all these factors, including congestion, and individual condition, commuters have achieved the equilibrium. Alternative choices cannot give each commuter a better payoff. However, widening the roads is changing the condition of one of these commuting choices and changing the equilibrium as well. In a short-term, widened roads do mend traffic congestion, in other words, also give other commuters a better alternative. In the foreseeable future, more and more commuters are going to switch to driving until the overall payoff of different commuting ways coming to the same, or say achieving the equilibrium, which means congestion comes back again. So, only widening roads may not be a good solution for traffic congestion.

[1] “Commuting in America.” Associated Press. June 26, 2015. Accessed September 17, 2017. http://interactives.ap.org/2015/commute-in-america/.

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