If you have driven in a large city in rush hour, you know only too well the challenges of traffic congestion. It's a source of costly delays and frustration. It's also a major source of pollution. In fact, if cities don't solve their congestion problems, they may lose both people and businesses to surrounding areas. This could hurt the city tax base and make it harder to provide high quality services-including essential services like transit. In turn, more people would leave, taking their taxes with themcreating a vicious cycle that can only lead to urban decline.
Short-term solutions to eliminate congestion often simply shift the problemfrom highways to city streets and from city centers to suburbs. The solution isn't necessarily about building more roads; it's about using roads more wisely. Here are two examples:
Some cities, such as London and Stockholm, are piloting road-charging systems that increase toll costs during peak times. In Canada, the city of Toronto is home to the world's first all-electronic, open access toll highway which gives drivers a more costlybut often less congested-alternative to toll-free roads. While the use of tolls in these ways limits traffic, it's not a perfect system. Some critics argue that tolls create a two-tier system: punishing workers who can't change their travel patterns but can't afford the extra charges.
Real-time traffic information
Microtechnology makes it possible to put sensors almost anywhere. For example, embedded microchips in tires could feed information to sensors built into roads to help monitor and control traffic flows. People could get real-time information about traffic and adjust their routes, avoiding congestion. In the future, some experts think we'll see automated highways, where cars are connected to a grid that dynamically redirects them and optimises traffic flow.
Smarter roads may hold the key to reducing traffic congestion, but we do not yet understand the many ways that people, vehicles, freight and goods actually move through the urban landscape. Getting the data is a vital first step. Then, we need innovative ways to apply the data if we are to unsnarl today's traffic troubles.