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News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

NYT asks: "widening highways doesn’t fix traffic. So why do we keep doing it?"

The New York Times published a new article critical of highway expansion. It looks at several of the widest highways in the United States, their recent efforts for widening, and the resulting effects.

You can read the article here, although it’s behind a paywall. An archived copy can be found here.

For a newspaper article, it does a good job at explaining the reality that widening highways just doesn’t work. Even though politicians have touted widening as a fix for traffic, the opposite inevitably happens. After just a few years, the increased induced demand catches up and traffic becomes worse than before.

The article falls short of directly answering its own question, “why do we keep doing it?” One big answer is our modern growth Ponzi scheme. Our transportation system, especially our urban highway system, can only continue to exist if we continuously build more and more lanes. Every new lane is only paid for by future growth, and more growth necessitates more lanes.

This is one reason why highway expansion needs to end sooner than later. Like any Ponzi scheme, it’s impossible for it to continue indefinitely, and the longer it goes on, the more fallout it causes when the music stops.