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Commentary: Discriminatory Traffic Policy

By Joe Rizzo

Buffalo, NY – I heard a piece on Morning Edition a while back about a new program in Minneapolis that gives motorists who are willing to pay for the privilege access to a clear traffic lane on busy expressways.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is encouraging the development of similar systems in congested cities across the country. To me, this plan is one more example of the widening gap between the rich and the poor, one more example of private luxury co-existing with public squalor.

Ultimately, this plan will fail in its stated objective, namely, reducing the number of cars stuck in traffic by several percent below the "tipping point" that produces severe congestion and gridlock.

This is because the car population will quickly increase to fill this small space opened up in the automotive "ecosystem." Increased capacity does not reduce congestion long-term, it encourages more drivers to drive more miles until the tipping point is reached again. Our own city's urban expressway fiasco is a testament to the failure of increased capacity to fix a city's transportation problems. Rather the 198, the 33, and the skyway have destroyed neighborhoods, devastated the economy of the city center, and enabled suburban sprawl.

Toll lanes will succeed, however, in fulfilling the unstated objective of creating an oasis of private luxury for the rich amid public squalor. One of the few consolations for the poor working stiff stuck in a traffic jam is that the 500 horsepower, 80,000 dollar German luxury sedan in the next lane is moving at the same ten miles per hour as his Hyundai.

One would hope that the sense of frustration and irony would lead decision makers and those in power, stuck in the same traffic jams as the powerless, to be inspired to work on real solutions for the common good, real public (not private) transportation initiatives. The one reliable way to ensure that public transportation is clean, quick, and reliable rather than slow, dirty, and indifferent is for the rich as well as the poor to use it.

Listener-Commentator Joe Rizzo is an optician from Kenmore.

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