Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Do we need a wider focus than traffic congestion?

By Alan Davies - posted Wednesday, 8 July 2015

VicRoads acknowledges that addressing traffic congestion needs a wider view than simply building more roads. Sure, but preparing cities for the future also needs a broader view than congestion

ABC News reported yesterday that the CEO of Victoria's roads authority, John Merritt, says Melbourne will need more than new roads to deal with growing traffic congestion; motorists will also need to shift to public transport, walking or cycling and live closer to where they work.

We can't just build our way out of congestion. We need to invest heavily in public transport, which we are, through Melbourne Metro and we need to encourage people to cycle or to walk and make that feel as safe and as practical as we can.

There are significant, large projects but there is no one big answer to this, it is a series of pieces of work. Then there are those changes in behaviour – getting people to use public transport and encouraging more people to ride.


He's right of course; building more roads in Australia's increasingly dense cities won't reduce peak hour congestion; induced traffic will fill up any new road capacity sooner rather than later.

You've only got to look at cities like Los Angeles to see that freeways don't make a serious dent in traffic congestion.

But building more public transport won't reduce congestion either. The road space vacated by motorists who shift to a new or upgraded train service will soon be taken up by other motorists i.e. by induced traffic.

You've only got to look at places like London and New York to see that even having a very high standard of rail-based public transport does not reduce – let alone eliminate – congestion.

Something needs to be done about traffic congestion of course but the solution doesn't lie in providing more infrastructure. Even putting aside the issue of induced demand, the financial and social cost of retro-fitting enough new road and rail capacity in urban areas to have measurable impact on traffic congestion would be astronomical.

The only plausible way to reduce congestion in established areas is to ration access to road space. That could be done administratively, for example based on number plates, or more efficiently by putting a price on using roads in peak periods i.e. by introducing congestion charging (e.g. see Are motorways the only answer to traffic congestion?).


That doesn't mean there aren't other reasons to build new infrastructure. A key benefit new projects provide is an increase in the total number of travelers who can get to destinations in peak periods even if, as is ultimately inevitable with new roads, it brings no reduction in traveling time.

What's really needed though is a broader view of what to do about cities that goes beyond the focus on traffic congestion and thinks more in terms of how to improve accessibility, livability and affordability.

I've made the point before (see Are politicians doing what's necessary to grow our cities?) that building infrastructure is only one of a number of steps necessary to prepare Australia's major cities for future growth.

Governments need to commit to structural changes like sweating existing assets much harder, suppressing and/or shifting the demand for travel at peak periods, aligning taxes and charges with the real social cost of activities like travel, and lowering the cost of building and operating transport infrastructure.

They also need to reduce regulatory constraints on higher density development, make housing markets more flexible, develop a much better understanding of likely future changes in transport demand and technology, and pick infrastructure projects with more regard for their social value than their political utility.

Such a program of action will be politically difficult but that's inevitable if we want better cities.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

This piece was first published on The Urbanist.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

7 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Alan Davies is a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Pty Ltd ( and is the editor of the The Urbanist blog.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Alan Davies

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 7 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy