Understanding Traffic Congestion: Chuck Marohn

This is the text of a talk by Chuck Marohn, founder and director of Strong Towns, who was featured in OregonPEN last week as well. This talk is lightly edited to remove about eight minutes of unrelated material at the beginning and a short digression in the middle.

As the Oregon Legislature is meeting and battling in an era of austerity, Chuck Marohn’s insight is crucial – he explains, in clear, plain English, just why we are so broke. And he indeed offers a remedy. His analogy of our road system to a river system is brilliant, because it gives us a successful flood control model to emulate; and Oregon’s Growth Management Act gives us a means to do it. This talk should be required for every public official or candidate in Oregon.

         I want to talk a little bit about congestion – traffic congestion, the scourge of our transportation system, the bane of our economy: traffic congestion.

        If you listen to politicians, if you listen to advocacy organizations in the realm of infrastructure funding, they will most often talk about the scourge of congestion, the problem that congested roadways, congested highways cause. And they put these problems in terms of dollars. They’ll say we have billions, sometimes even trillions of dollars of losses each year due to congestion. The American Society of Civil Engineers, everyone’s favorite organization to go to, to report on this kind of thing, put out a report a couple of years ago that said over the next decade families and businesses are going to lose a trillion dollars of lost value due to, largely, to congestion. They also include wear and tear on your car and other kind of things, but most of it has to do with congestion. And that report further went on and said over the next 30 years that number is going to go up exponentially with the – I can’t remember how many trillion, it’s like $3 or $4 trillion.
 
         Now, it’s important to understand how they come up with those numbers because those numbers are going to be the basis of a little bit of the conversation we’re going to have here today. When the American Society of Civil Engineers says families and business are going to lose a trillion dollars due to congestion, what they’re doing is, they are taking the time that you spend and assume that you could be traveling at free flow. And the time that you waste, they will multiply that by a bunch of factors and turn that into dollars.
 
         So let me give you an example from a real world project that I saw put forth.
 
         In this example, there was roughly 30,000, 40,000 cars a day traveling on this stretch, something like that. The DOT was going in and was going to add a couple more lanes. During this stretch it would reduce the amount time that a person’s commute took by about 45 seconds. And so the idea was, we take 45 seconds, we multiply that by 40,000 vehicles per day that traveled that stretch, we then multiply that by 365 days in a year, we then multiply that the 50 years that we think this improvement will be there and will be viable, and then we multiply that by some factor, $25.00 an hour or whatever, that would be the typical salary and benefits that someone would we receive, and all of sudden bam! We have billions and billions of dollars worth of savings that we can use to justify a large project, right?
 
         When we step back and we look at this, it’s not too hard to see how insane this is, right?
 
         These economic models are looking in the aggregate and we don’t work in the aggregate as human beings, right? When I save 45 seconds on my commute that’s hardly perceptible to me, right? In fact, the year or two that it’s going to take to actually build this improvement and the hours that I’m going to waste in traffic then is going to mean a lot more to me than when it’s done the 45 seconds that I’m going to save on my commute.
 
         If that weren’t absurd enough, which it actually is — I mean the fact that you’re turning minute amounts of time into large dollar amounts. We all understand what happens at the end of the day, right? We understand that when we build more capacity, it becomes easier to get places and what happens, more people drive, right? There are people who don’t drive at times because it’s too congested and as soon as we relieve that traffic congestion, those people say, well, I’m going to drive at that time now and so they immediately fill up that extra capacity. We see this again and again and again and again.
 
         Beyond that, I think it’s important to note that we don’t calculate time wasted in traffic the exact opposite way.

          In other words, when we want to justify a big billion dollar expansion project, we’ll go through this tortured map and we’ll come up with these correlations and say, yes, we’re going to spend a billion dollars but look at this, we’re going to save $5 billion, and so this is a 5 to 1 return on our investment. We don’t do the opposite when we’re actually increasing their time, reducing their ability to go.
 
         Let me give you an example: When we go in and we build the new interchange, so that we can have the new Walmart and the new strip mall, and the new drive-thru restaurant and the whole collection of things that you get along the frontage road, nobody says, look, now this merging traffic is going to increase traffic, it’s going to slow speeds, it’s going to increase travel time, you’re going to lose 45 seconds worth of time, so we’re going to take these $5 billion worth of losses and we’re going to charge that to the local municipality or the property owners who benefit from this or the people who are getting on and on at this spot.
 
         We don’t do that at all, right? And it is very clear why we don’t do that: because that would mean we would build less stuff.

          And all of our financing systems, all of our approaches towards building and creating places are about building more, right? If something in a system suggested that we shouldn’t build more, that thing would be discounted. And the models and the theoretical assumptions that allow us to justify building more are the ones that we promote, right?  This is how humanity works. I’m not suggesting anything nefarious per se, but just the way we’re wired to look at things. We don’t look at the things that don’t get us the result we want. Which is, we want to be able to build more.
 
         When we sit back and we look at this – and maybe I should point out what the original thought is here and the justification — because we’re not crazy, right? I mean, we haven’t just dreamed up this system out of thin air. When you built a highway, when we, as taxpayers, as Americans — I wasn’t around then, but — as people in the early interstate days decided that it would be a really good idea to have an interstate, let’s say, between Chicago and St. Louis, or between New York and Boston, or between San Diego and Los Angeles, when we made those initial connections, those high-speed, high-capacity, high-engineered connections, we transformed economies. We changed the way economies worked.
 
         Particularly because, and I look here in Minnesota. If you were on a rail line that went to Duluth, you did not have the option to put your stuff on a rail line that would go to Minneapolis. You were essentially a captive market by that rail line, and there was certainly kind of monopoly-type of things that would go on. Yes, you could transfer to another line, but it was going to be slow, it was going to be very expensive. All of the sudden, when we started connected places with high-speed interstates, now we could move goods and materials over long distances in multiple different ways, and it lowered costs, it increased competitiveness, and it added to the overall economic benefit of the economy. All right? We became in many ways more prosperous.
 
         We took these insights, and we just correlated them out forever. We said, “Well, obviously, when we made a highway between San Diego and Los Angeles, we added value and benefit to those places. Thus, every time we add more highways or every time we add more lanes or every time we make an improvement, we’ll have a corresponding increase in wealth and value and prosperity.”
 
         And we just long passed the point of diminishing returns.

         In fact, it’s fascinating because if you go back to that American Society of Engineers report that I cited earlier, when they say the cost of inaction is $1 trillion, the cost of us not going out and making the improvements that the American Society of Engineers would like to see us do, it’s going to cost families and businesses $1 trillion. Not in cash, but in the equivalent of lost time, a little 30 seconds here, 45 seconds there, what have you. Even though we know that that’s complete bunk, that’s what their report says.
 
         The report also says in order to avoid that loss, we just need to spend a quaint $220 billion a year. Now, $220 billion doesn’t sound like much compared to a trillion, right? $1 trillion is a lot of money, but the problem is, is that it’s $220 billion per year; $1 trillion over 10 years. So when you do some basic, third grade multiplication, what you wind up with is a total cost of inaction, the pain and suffering people have of sitting in traffic, it has an equivalent worth of $1 trillion, but the amount of actual cash we need to tax those people in order to overcome that huge, unbearable burden is going to be $2.2 trillion.

         This is math that shows a diminishing return.

         We’ve long since passed the period of time where we’re making high-returning investments in our transportation system. Now, it’s just simple inertia. We just have a method, we go about doing it, we have all the vested interest lined up to continue it, and despite the fact that it’s bankrupting our cities, and it’s completely insolvent, we’re going to keep doing this and finding ways to do it. It’s our national political obsession. How do we find the money to continue to do the things that we’re no longer able to do, right? To me that borders on the definition of insanity, but even if you didn’t want to go there, it calls into question the sincerity of those who would argue for continuation of this approach.
 
         A couple weeks ago a U.S. Senator named Chris Murphy from Connecticut, and I apologize to Senator Murphy, I have never heard of this guy. And it’s not that I’m politically unaware. I really don’t sit in [watching the] nuance of federal policy. I’m not like a political ticker-watcher. I know who’s running for president. I know their basic issues, I’m not impressed with anyone really. I wouldn’t say that I’ve checked out, but I don’t keep up enough to know all 100 senators.

         This chap, Chris Murphy, from Connecticut, one day decided that he was going to query his constituents, or at least query the people on Twitter, to find out what they could do to help with the commute. Here’s his tweet. He said, “I want to know what I can do to help fix your commute. This needs to – and I’m assuming he meant be – this needs to be an honest discussion. Share your story using the hashtag #FedUp.”
 
         Now, I don’t want to read too much into this. I mean, I don’t know this gentleman. I don’t know what his objectives are, but the notion of fixing your commute generally means one thing, right? It means fighting congestion. It means dealing with the snarl of traffic that keeps us from getting where we want to go the time we want to get there.

         And certainly when people started responding to Senator Murphy, that was the kind of stuff that they responded with. People would say, “Here’s the horror that I’m dealing with. We want more lanes. We want more investment.”  A lot of people came back and said, “We want transit investments. We want different things to be able to allow us to commute quicker and easier. We want you to spend money on that.”
 
         Interestingly, Senator Murphy followed up a little bit later with a comment, “We’re running our transportation system on the same amount of money as 1993. That’s not going to help us with the big projects we need. #FedUp.” 

         To which I made sure to point out that, actually, in 1993, we had $19.6 billion we were spending. We’re now spending, just in gas tax, $29.2 billion and are adding billions more each year of just deficit money to, well, in pension smoothing and other kind of gimmicks that we’ve come up with to pretend we’re paying for transportation. We’re spending way, way more than we were in 1993, even when you adjust that for inflation. So let’s not go there with that line.
 
         The other part of his statement, that “it’s not going to help us with the big projects we need.” This was the narrative going on on Twitter with Senator Murphy is like, “We need huge projects. We need massive, massive amounts of spending.” 

         We’ve pointed out before here, and I don’t know if we’ve done it on the podcast, but we certainly did it on the blog where we talked about the amount of money that would be needed to meet some of these goals that we’ve set out or some of the metrics that organizations like the American Society of Civil Engineers have set up as success.
 
         The ASCE has indicated that we need to spend $94 billion more a year than we’re currently spending on transportation just to have – and I can’t remember the exact way they phrased it – but basically they phrased it as the minimum viable system, like a marginal kind of transportation system – this wouldn’t be world class, this wouldn’t be topnotch, this would just be marginal – basically, keep what we’ve got and add to it in critical areas, but nothing that would have all the bells and whistles. $94 billion a year.
 
         We pointed out, with just some basic math, that in a static analysis, this would mean a gas tax that would go from 18.4 cents a gallon to somewhere around 78 cents a gallon. 78 cents a gallon is not going to happen. You know, 30 cents a gallon is not going to happen, let alone 78 cents a gallon.
 
         And that 78 cents a gallon is, like I said, a static analysis that assumes that the more you raise the gas tax, people just suck it up and continue to drive, it’s not a big deal. And we know that’s not the case. We know the more gas prices go up, people cut back. They drive less; they take other options. And, of course, when your revenue stream depends on people wasting money on gas and spending lots of money tied up in congestion, when that’s your funding strategy, actually having people choose to drive less is a losing strategy for you, and so you would need to raise that gas tax even more.
 
         I’ve seen analyses that say, “If we tried to actually meet these demands that the American Society of Civil Engineers and others are saying we need to meet, we would have to raise the gas tax to an infinite amount, and we’d ultimately have zero drivers paying that tax.” The more you raise it, the fewer people drive, the more you have to raise it, the fewer the people drive, and the dog just chases its tail until you get the infinite tax with nobody driving. That’s absurd. It can’t happen.
 
         What do we do if we don’t have the money to fix this in the traditional way? 
         What do we do if we don’t have the money to go out and build the kind of transportation system that our engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers and our policy people and our politicians want us to do?

         What if we don’t have the money to do the stuff that these grand coalitions of transit and bike advocates – meeting with the highway construction people, meeting with the big asphalt people – what if we can’t keep up and build all that stuff? What do we do?  What do we do if the numbers are so absurd that there’s no possible way we can make it happen? 
 
         Well, we have to start thinking differently, right?
 
         It was a British physicist named Earnest Rutherford to said, and it was quoted extensively by Churchill, and that’s why it’s kind of become a famous quote:

         “We’ve run out of money. It’s time to start thinking.” 
 
         And certainly in this country, we’ve been able to not think very critically because we have been so affluent. In fact, if we step back, I’m going to give props to outgoing mayor of Lafayette, Louisiana, Joey Durel, because Joey – I sat in a room with him once, and he said, you know, they have this monstrous road gap, and really I say monstrous, it’s no worse than any other city, it’s just that Lafayette has actually done the work to put numbers to it. They’re more fully aware. It’s like everybody’s got some terminal disease; Lafayette actually went to the doctor and diagnosed it and so they know. Nobody else really knows or very few people know because they haven’t done the math, they haven’t figured it out.
 
         Lafayette has.

         And the mayor sat with me in a room and he said, “You know, I realize that I could get through this, like I could raise taxes a little bit, I could take care of the squeakiest wheels, I could essentially kick the can down the road a little bit and let somebody a few years from now deal with this insolvency problem, deal with the fact that we just don’t have or will never have enough money to fix everything that we’ve built. But that’s not leadership to me. That’s not leadership. Leadership is actually asking how we got here and how we stop making it worse and how we do something different so that we’re not just having creeping taxes go up, we’re not just throwing a little bit of money at the problem here and there to try to patch it over, and essentially doing what politicians all around the world are really good at doing which is buying time, right? Kicking the can down the road. Trading the hard – the ability to avoid the hard decision today for a more difficult problem tomorrow.” 
 
         I kind of threw an elbow there at politicians. Let me just say people. This is a human tendency. This is the way that we’re wired as human beings. If we, the electorate, didn’t want this, we wouldn’t allow the politicians to do it. But this is what we want too. I mean, we want congestion-free roads without having to pay for them. We want a world-class transportation system without having the uncomfortable feedback of actually having to pay for the things that we want. I get that. That’s humans.
 
         Politicians simply reflect that, and I think it’s simplistic to just blame it on them. Nonetheless, Joey Durel, I think a great leader in this country, someone that, when he gets out of office, I’m looking forward to engaging with a little bit more, because he’s one of these guys who’s been there who could’ve made the easier choice, even though tax increases are never popular, they’re far more popular than going to people saying, “Look, we don’t have the money to maintain your road. We’re not going to maintain it.”  That’s a hard one. That’s a lot harder.
 
         So what I want to do is I want to just briefly, without trying to look at the whole thing – I put together a presentation called “Transportation in the Next American City” that I’ve been going around giving to cities all around the country, and all around North America really. I’ve given this a couple times in Canada as well. We’re going to do an update. I did it for members a year ago when it was in its early stages. We’re going to do an update for our members sometime in early November. So if you’re a member of Strong Towns, watch for that in your email, an invitation to that webinar conversation.
 
         But I want to talk about one aspect of our transportation system, of our road network system today as it relates to congestion, and this idea that somehow, if we just spend enough money, if we just had the right policies, if we just approached this in a progressive, thoughtful way, that we could somehow solve congestion.
 
         I’m going to point out, first of all, that congestion is not a bad thing.
 
         The only thing worse than having traffic congestion is not having traffic congestion. If you go to places where there are no cars, there’s generally no people, and where there’s no cars and there’s no people, there’s generally no economic activity. We have lots and lots of places in this country where we have no congestion problem, but what do we have? We have a massive insolvency problem. We have cities that are going bankrupt. We have cities that would kill for a little bit of congestion and a little bit of activity.
 
         My hometown here of Brainerd, Minnesota is, it’s been able to manufacture its own rush 5 minutes, right, but, generally, for the bulk of the day, we would kill to have just a little bit of congestion. It would be great to have some activity going on our street. So let’s make sure that in the spectrum of problems that we can suffer from, congestion is one of the better ones. Congestion is a better problem than not having congestion. As Yogi Berra said, “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too busy.” So clearly, we’re rather be the place that is too busy to go there than be the place where it’s really easy to get to because nobody is there at all.
 
         Step back though a little bit and look at the road networks that we built.
 
         And this is where I want to dive into an analogy that I first enunciated a couple years ago, and brought to the blog, I think, for the first time last week. I talked about it a little bit, but not in the way that I developed it last week. And it has to do with a river network. And I’m going to start with roads, and then I’ll go to rivers, and then I’ll go back to roads. But think about the way we design and layout and build our road system today.
 
         You have essentially what is called a hierarchical road network. A hierarchical road network. And you could go to cities all over this country and they’ll have maps that show where the collector roads are and where the arterial roads are and where the local roads are, and there’s a hierarchy, there’s a system from smallest to biggest of roads that we’ve created up. And the way that this works is pretty simple. Small roads which we often call local roads will merge into and flow into larger roads. We often call these collector roads. These collector roads, these larger roads, will flow into even larger roads. We sometimes call these arterial type of roads. The arterials will form up and flow into the major arterial roads, and the major arterial roads will end up connecting to and bisecting and intersecting with highways and major interstates.

         So you have this system of small to big, and this is the way we build cities today. This is one of those new innovations that came out of the early 1900s that was kind of codified during the Depression and World War II that, when we started building a transportation network around the country, became kind of the default or the base assumption of how we would build: A hierarchical network where local streets would flow into collector streets, would flow into arterials, would flow into major arterials, would flow into highways.
 
         Now, switch over to a river network and think about the way a watershed works.
 
         You have, on the very far extreme, little ditches, little creeks, maybe they’re dry much of the time, maybe they only get filled up when it rains, but nonetheless you have these minor little passageways, these little waterways that take water on the far outreaches of a watershed and convey them. And where do they convey them? They convey them to a little bit larger stream, right? You go from a ditch or a creek to a larger brook or a stream. And I apologize; I’m using Midwestern terms here. I don’t know if this is the way you would describe them in other parts of the country. I know brooks and streams and creeks are words that have different meanings in different geographic part of the country, but I’m trying to describe a system where very small, intermittent types of flow wind up in areas that have larger and greater and more persistent flow. And those, of course, end up flowing into rivers, and rivers merge and tend to become bigger, and eventually you get into very large, large rivers – the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Missouri. These are very large rivers that all these other smaller, little things kind of work their way into.
 
         What happens in a natural river system like this when we have persistent rainfall out on the edge?
 
         What happens when we have rains that happen out of the edge of this collection of rivers, this watershed, this network of rivers?  Well, of course, we understand that if that rain is either sudden and large enough, so large enough in a very short period of time, or persistent enough over a long period of time, that at the trunk we get flooding. At the point where all these rivers converge and come together, the river will start to back up, it will start to pour over its banks, and we will get flooding.
 
         We understand this so well, this is so clear to us, and the mechanism of how this happens make so much sense to us that we actually have gone out in the far remote parts of our watersheds and said what? Well, we’ve said, “You can’t fill that wetland, right? We need that wetland there to be able to absorb the water so it doesn’t run through the system and create a flood. We are not going to allow you to run your farm fields off into the river. We’re not going to allow you to create ditches that channel that storm water and get it moving through this system. We’re going to require you to retain some of that and absorb it onsite.” And we’ve actually become pretty darn good at this.
 
         We still do a bad job and there’ll be some that will argue with me on that, but go read your Nassim Taleb. There’s a lot of, you know, there are many, many examples of how we failed to predict accurately the 5-year rain events and the 10-year and the 50-year and the 100-year and 200-year and the 500-year. Especially when you get to extreme events, these are incredibly difficult to predict. The degree of confidence that we project as engineers, as people who deal with hydrology is way out of proportion to the knowledge we actually have or the confidence that we should have in our ability to predict these. Nonetheless, we’ve become pretty good at understanding the basic mechanism: that the more ground we cover, the quicker we run off the water, the less we absorb and retain onsite, the more apt we are to get catastrophic flooding when all this comes together. This is pretty basic and simple to understand.
 
         Go back to the river network now. And instead of the little ditches and the creeks flowing into the brooks and stream, flowing into the larger rivers, go back to the road network, where you have the little local streets that flow into the collector streets, flow into the arterial streets, flow into the major arterial streets. And instead of rain out on the edge, imagine you just have building that happens — houses, strip malls, big box stores – and instead of water that flows through these, of course we have automobiles. And every morning, starting at 6:00 or 6:30 or 7:00 or depending on what your commuter-shed is and the intensity of your development pattern, and the size of your region, all the rain, all the cars, start to flow out onto this network, and if you have enough, if you have a persistent enough, what happens? You get flooding, right, because everybody gets shoved into the same spot at the same time.
 
         And so whether it is like my hometown, where we have 5 minutes of congestion, or whether it’s a major city where you may have hours and hours of congestion, what we do is we create, in every city big and small, we create a rush hour, a period of time where our system experiences traffic congestion.
 
         Think about this for a second. If you were trying to design a system to flood, this is how you would do it.
 
         If you were trying to create a system to back up and have congestion, this is how you would do it. You would take whatever cars that you had, whatever you could muster, and you would cram it into the smallest possible place at the same exact time. You would funnel everybody in your system. If you said, “Our goal is to create the maximum amount of congestion possible. Here’s how we would do it. We’re going to have everybody drive in the same place at the same time, and we are going to ensure that every road destination ends up in this funnel. We’re going to bring everybody in and we’re going to have one flood every day at the same time.”
 
         We create the flood. We are the ones by the way we have gone about setting up this system to create this flood.
 
         And so when you have the Senator from Connecticut, Chris Murphy, when you have the American Society of Civil Engineers, when you have others wringing their hands lamenting, “Oh my gosh, we have this horrible congestion, how do we get rid of it? How do we deal with it? How do we make the right big investments in big projects to get our way out of this horrible congestion?” we have to step back and realize that not only will we never solve congestion, we have actually created it.
 
         We have taken systems that don’t need to be congested, and we have designed and built them in a way that creates the maximum amount of congestion possible.

         You could be out in a town in Wyoming, right, in the middle of nowhere, yet they have congestion at the same time every day. How is this possible? How is this possible? It’s possible because we have built a system that manufactures the maximum amount of congestion possible in any single place. And no matter what we do to that trunk line, no matter what we do out on the periphery, if we’re talking about building and adding capacity, the only thing we can do is increase the amount of congestion that we have.
 
         Now, think about this system for a second. When we look at a watershed, we’ve figured out: the way that we deal with flooding is to do what? To retain the water onsite, to absorb the water closer to where it originates rather than allowing it to flow into these major systems and create flooding. When we get to the highway network, what are we going to do to fight congestion? It would be as if we said, “The way we’re going to fight congestion in a river, the way we’re going to fight the flood in the river, is to tear down all the homes along it, to tear down everything along that river, and to make the river just really, really wide. We’re just going to dig out and expand and make the river really wide. Yes, it will run near empty almost all the time, but when we get to that big flooding event, we’ll have all his capacity for the river.”
 
         We would never do that, right?  We see that that is absurd. We see that that is absurd. We do the same thing with highways. We go and we say, “Well, what we need is wider. We need more lanes. We need double-decker lanes. We need parallel routes. We need everything we can to try to create more capacity.” 
 
         When we look at the watershed and the water, what we do to deal with the flooding is we absorb the water onsite. We don’t allow it to enter into the system.
 
         When we look at our highway network, and the hierarchical road systems that we’ve created, the way we deal with congestion, the way we handle the flooding is to actually absorb the trips closer to where they originate. Instead of building lanes, we should be building corner stores. Instead of building more capacity to drive more places, we should actually be creating more options and alternatives for people to get the things they need closer to home. We will never be able to build our way out of this problem. We’re never going to be able to make enough investments to rid ourselves of congestion because our system manufactures congestion. The only way you get rid of congestion in our system, the only way you do away with the scourge of traffic congestion is to have a place where nobody wants to go.
 
         Now we can get there. There are places that have gotten there. One could argue that Detroit is the very first city to build its way out of congestion. Because if you go to Detroit, most of Detroit has absolutely no congestion. It’s because nobody wants to go there, right? We can do that.
 
         But if you want to actually have a successful city, if you actually want to have a prosperous place, a place that can pay its bills and actually works, you’re not going to be able to tear everything down. You’re not going to be able to solve congestion. Congestion is going to be inherent with that. We have to actually start absorbing these trips before they enter into the system. We have to provide alternatives. It’s the only way you can have both a successful place and a rational response to congestion.
 
         For decades, our national transportation obsession has been about maximizing the amount that you can travel. We’ve been worried day in and day out about making sure that you can get as far as possible. We now need to shift. And our focus now needs to be on minimizing the amount you are forced to drive.

         The pendulum has swung so far that, not only can you drive 2 hours to get somewhere and get there without congestion quite rapidly, but you actually don’t have the option to not drive. If you want to have groceries, if you want to bring your kids to school, if you want to buy clothes, buy daily necessities, if you want to go see a play or go to the movie theater, you have to get in your car. Almost every American today, for everything that they want to do, is forced to get in their car and drive. They have very few local alternatives, things that they could do to avoid that auto trip.

         If we want to deal with congestion, and still have places that are successful, we actually need to stop trying to fight congestion on our highways and instead do what we’ve done with watersheds, and go to the source and try to absorb those trips, absorb that water before it enters into the system.
 
         If we can do that, not only will we be providing people with options, providing people with alternatives, not only will we be dealing with the problem of congestion in a way that actually could make it a little bit better over time, but we’ll be starting to restore the financial health of our places. Congestion is our friend. Congestion should create, if we manage it right, the demand for local alternatives that the market can fill.
        
         Congestion is our friend. And if we treat it as our friend, what we’ll realize is that it is going to help us create alternatives locally that the market can start to fill. We can start to build that corner store. We can make it financially viable, because if it’s too congested to drive to the grocery store, we can have that one truck drive to you and serve you and all your neighbors. That actually becomes now a viable business. We can actually have a butcher, right? We can actually have someone who makes bread locally. We can actually have people who provide services near us to smaller groups of people and have that be a financially viable thing to do.

         We can take that $1 trillion of lost time that the American Society of Civil Engineers says is just going to vanish because of congestion, and instead of having that vanish because of congestion, we can release that into our neighborhoods to help rebuild them. This is the essence of a Strong Town’s approach. We need to spend less doing things that hurt us and allow the market to respond to, in this case, congestion to help us find a way to build strong towns.