This morning has been most excellent. I woke up a bit late, and had double-shot cappuccino alongside a slice of stollen. It’s been leisurely, and I’m getting to write this post from bed.

So in the bliss of zero-congestion, I thought I’d write about it. Because (and maybe I’m just speaking for myself here), whenever I hear politicians talking about “easing traffic congestion” and “congestion charges” and “car-pooling”, I assume that they’re just talking about making my life easier. In my head, it’s a hazy idea of “traffic irritates people, so by alleviating it, politicians can win votes”. And it kind of ends there.

Which is a bit unfortunate, because the real costs of traffic congestion are a bit broader than my personal convenience. Whatever this (pretty awesome) infographic might say:


Who knew there was a formula for traffic jams?!

But the point is, while traffic can be frustrating (and who hasn’t been on the backend of a late arrival from a boss man which results in a frankly terrible day for everyone he/she encounters?), that’s only a minor part of the story.

Traffic is like the cholesterol of big cities, clogging up the central arteries and veins that transport oxygen to the main organs. Cities, in general, need most of their food, fuel and people to be freighted in and carried back out, pumped around by the heartbeat of working hours.

If urban growth is healthy, it’s accompanied by growth in infrastructure as well as increase in intake. As the city matures, its growth moves, well, sideways. That is: it gets fat. And the cholesterol causes a heart attack.

At some point, it stops being cost-effective for companies to operate in the inner city. The traffic means:

  • Transporters take longer to make their deliveries, so they increase their prices to cater for the longer delivery times.
  • Employees that spend hours each day in the traffic start to actively search for jobs closer to home, or start to move into the ever-more-expensive apartments closer to work, demanding higher salaries to compensate for the higher rents and mortgage costs.

A move to the suburbs (and/or to outsourcing) becomes financially attractive, so firms begin to move. Suddenly, businesses that were originally in the town centre in order to be closer to their clients find themselves far away from their clients. So they also move.

And then property prices start to fall; buildings are left unrented and abandoned; inner city slums start to develop… And you end up with urban decay. Like Detroit. And Leipzig.

I’m not saying that traffic congestion is the only reason for urban decay. But it’s certainly one reason, so there’s good reason to complain about it.

For some pretty awesome photos of urban decay, check out this article: “To Be Abandoned? 8 Cities That Might Not Make A Comeback“.