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Traffic Congestion Dilemma

–To Add or Not to Add

Known as one of the most busy-traffic cites, Beijing struggles to deal with the heavy traffic jam and increasing traffic flow. A group from Microsoft Research Asia conducts a research about how to ease the traffic using the GPS data collected from city cabs. The researchers determine to construct a traffic network and identify the structural flaw to help the government plan new roads.

The research reveals that Beijing is not a well-connected network because the taxi drivers, who are distinctly familiar with the traffic, sometimes have to have to, instead of going directly, detour to go from the point A to point B. The research also concludes that the overall traffic, including subway and other public transportation system, is deficient in terms of capacity. The two-year-long follow-up research confirms that the network module is effective in improving the traffic. City planners added new connections between regions that algorithms had identified as flawed, conditions did indeed improve.

Despite the impressive results, the issue of whether increasing the capacity of the road can actually improve the traffic is still in the center of the debate. Adding a new road might cause unintended effect. For example, if we consider traffic as a multi-player game, adding a new road may change player’s dominant strategies, increasing the aggregated travel time instead. However, in the short run, assuming that the traffic does not instantly increase, increasing the capacity of a road or adding a new one can possibly lower the overall travel time as the Microsoft Research Asia’s research observes.

On the other hand, some argue that in the long run, the traffic will increase due to increasing capacity of the road, cancelling out the effect of the increasing capacity. Moreover, the new traffic will cause more serious traffic jam to other roads, which are not reconstructed. It seems that increasing the traffic capacity is not an adequate solution to deal with traffic congestion. The term latent demand, a desire that is not currently being satisfied because no satisfactory good or service can be located, best explains the traffic dilemma. As more roads are built, the latent demand growing even faster. One of the seemingly effective ways is to increase all roads’ capacities, which is hard to achieve due to limited resources and time.

The debate over whether new roads can save traffic congestion still remains, but I believe changing people’s lifestyle can systematically improve the traffic. As the living standards rises, people even in developing countries can afford automobiles without a heavily financial burden. More and more people choose to drive instead of using the public transportation system. Therefore, the rate of expanding new roads falls greatly behind the rate of increasing traffic. Without alternating people’s live style, the rate discrepancy will increase even further.

The example from the textbook demonstrates a traffic network in a short run. In the real world, the urban planners analyze both short run and long run situations. In the short run, the government should build a new road to relieve the traffic. With better network module and analysis algorithms, increasing capacity of roads will be effective. In economic term, road capacity is scarce due to people’s unlimited wants. However, new policies should be adapted to lead the public to reduce driving. With both network approach and policy approach, the traffic issue should never be a dilemma.

Works Cited

“Myth: Freeways Relieve Traffic Congestion.” Public Transport Users Association (Victoria, Australia). Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <>.

Naone, Erica. “GPS Data on Beijing Cabs Reveals the Cause of Traffic Jams – Technology Review.” Technology Review: The Authority on the Future of Technology. Web. 28 Sept.2011. <>.

“Why Adding Lanes Makes Traffic Worse.” Bicycle Universe: The Kitchen Sink of Bicycles & Transportation. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <>.


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September 2011