Sam Staley, co-author with Ted Balaker of the book, “The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It,” is the director of urban and land-use policy at the Reason Foundation. His book offers real-world solutions to problems city-dwellers know far too much about from daily experience -- increasingly crowded, poorly designed and deteriorating highways. I talked to Staley by telephone on Thursday as he drove to his home in Dayton, Ohio:
Q: You say that traffic congestion is yet another crisis in America that we need to address -- why? A: Well, what congestion does is it slows down life -- not only economic life but also social life. When we think about productivity and we think about the profitability of businesses, we need to remember that getting resources to market, as well as getting people to their jobs and getting people to their errands as quickly as possible is something that enhances efficiency and makes us more productive. It not only increases our standard of living, because we can produce things more cheaply, but it also enhances our quality of life because we can do more things with that time rather than being stuck in traffic.
Q: Obviously you are a fan of the automobile. A: There are two things: One is that we believe that congestion is a severe problem and it’s a growing problem. If we look at the data, it is really an unchecked trend toward all major metropolitan areas being faced with regional severe congestion by 2030. So this is not just about how we get to work or how we do our shopping; it’s the fact that everybody is going to find it more difficult in the next 20 or 30 years unless we do something about it. In terms of the automobile, what we find is that consistently in metropolitan areas the automobile is the most efficient mode of transportation for the vast majority of people, because it allows us to customize our travel. It allows us to make that travel independent of other people. So we are fans of transportation modes that give people choices, and the reality in most metropolitan areas is the automobile is a very efficient way to meet those travel needs.
Q: How did our roads get so congested? A: There are several reasons. The most important reason roads are so congested is that we have not paid attention to the capacity needs of the road system. Travel demand has increased dramatically, but we have not increased our road capacity to meet that travel demand. That is the most important problem most metropolitan areas face.