Transportation Policy Busting Congestion in Chicago (or Any Other City)


America's Second City is now first in traffic congestion.

Recently, the Texas Transportation Institute named Chicago the nation's most congested city, booting perennial congestion king Los Angeles from the dreaded top slot.

And if you think gridlock is bad now, just wait. Turns out Chicago's official 25-year transportation plan will spend billions, but traffic congestion will get even worse.

Everyone knows that gridlock leads to wasted time and increased stress, but the effects of degraded mobility are worse than most people realize. Traffic congestion deprives job-seekers of opportunities, robs businesses of customers, and hastens the exodus of residents from the central city to the suburbs.

And although mounting gridlock may seem like the unavoidable result of increased population and strained budgets, the experience of nations from France to Australia proves otherwise. Reason Foundation draws on what's worked worldwide and recommends a three-part plan:

1. Expand roads with underground tunnels and elevated structures.
2. Use pricing to keep traffic flowing.
3. Pay for new projects with private-sector financing instead of taxes.

That plan can help Chicago or any other city bust congestion and boost economic growth.

Approximately 4.30 minutes

Written and produced by Ted Balaker. Field producer: Paul Detrick, Camera: Jim Epstein and Alex Manning.

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  1. 2. Use pricing to keep traffic flowing.

    There was a magnificent article quoted here a few years ago, lamenting that toll roads would allow a rich CEO bastard to be sipping martinis on the golf course while his poor single-mom employee was still stuck in traffic. Does anyone remember that one?

    1. I’m a big fan, Warty, and I think you’ve taken your act as far as it can go in this backwater of a blog. You’re ready for the big time.

      Have you ever been on TV?
      Would you like to be?
      Have your people call my people.

      1. Is there a better class of trolls there? The ones here are terrible.

        1. More energy! Our audience loves crazy!
          Can you do crazy?

      1. Oh, the halcyon days without threads. And of course that was Tim Rutten.

    2. I always wondered what was up with that argument. Isn’t “smart growth” or “new urbanism” a big movement in liberal circles? If poor single mom can’t afford to drive in from the ‘burbs, she’ll move back to the city. Isn’t that what they want?

      1. Pish. You and your “consistency.”

        The only consistency that matters is consistency with the Narrative. And the Narrative hates price allocation or anything that stinks of the market.

      2. How’s she gonna move into the city, when the reason she’s out in the suburbs is because the lack of available housing drives the price up and drives her out of the market?

        But then, high housing prices are good… we just have to make sure we strongarm a good percentage of those units into being ‘affordable’, so that they (at least at the beginning) look the same, but can’t be used to create wealth.

      3. Isn’t “smart growth” or “new urbanism” a big movement in liberal circles?

        New urbanism isn’t inherently anti-market; many new urbanists support market-based pricing on parking meters and toll roads (as in the video).…

    3. I recall that, Warty.

  2. but you can’t build yourself out of traffic. the more roads you build the more cars will show up.

    1. Well, sure. Otherwise that new road would be wasted.

      There’s just no pleasing some people.

    2. And that’s why all cities have exactly the same traffic problems and none do any better than any others.

    3. Yeah, Bike2Future, it’s like trying to cook burgers at a restaurant. The more burgers you cook, the more customers show up. If you just stop cooking burgers, there will be no more customers and you’ll save all that cooking gas.

  3. In todays WSJ there was a piece about millenials and their flight from the bigger urban areas-

    Demographer Joel Kotkin writing in, July 20:

    For well over a decade urban boosters have heralded the shift among young Americans from suburban living and toward dense cities. . . . Yet evidence from the last Census show the opposite: a marked acceleration of movement not into cities but toward suburban and exurban locations. The simple, usually inexorable effects of maturation may be one reason for this surprising result. Simply put, when 20-somethings get older, they do things like marry, start businesses, settle down and maybe start having kids.

    An analysis of the past decade’s Census data by demographer Wendell Cox shows this. Cox looked at where 25- to 34-year-olds were living in 2000 and compared this to where they were living by 2010, now aged 35 to 44. The results were surprising: In the past 10 years, this cohort’s presence grew 12% in suburban areas while dropping 22.7% in the core cities. Overall, this demographic expanded by roughly 1.8 million in the suburbs while losing 1.3 million in the core cities. . . . Cities may still appeal to the “young and restless,” but they can’t hold millennials captive forever. Even relatively successful cities have turned into giant college towns and “post-graduate” havens?temporary way stations before people migrate somewhere else. This process redefines cities from enduring places to temporary resorts.

    1. So where are TODAY’S 25-34-year-olds living?

      1. cheap, plentiful, parent’s-basements.

    2. millenials

      25- to 34-year-olds were living in 2000 and compared this to where they were living by 2010, now aged 35 to 44


      1. I think he’s using past evidence to predict future results.

    3. I live in a “suburban” part of the city. The neighbors – for the most parts – are just married couples who decided to buy their first house. My neighborhood is close to the city with all its (minor) attractions.

      However once they have kids, it’s suddenly time to sell the house and move to the suburbs. Why? the city public schools are bad, crime rates are higher and the day-to-day living expenses (food, insurance, etc) are higher.

      1. This! Chicagoans generally move to the suburbs when or if they have kids.

      2. It’s funny because yesterday on the Damon epic thread some dude named “Jim” was talking about how low the teachers salaries were for some shitty town in Texas. I was going to explain to him that once people have children they tend to move towards safer suburban areas that have better schools, but also higher property taxes. One of the reason that they have better schools is that they aren’t as dominated by Municipal union-run education departments, thus they can hire better teachers at higher salaries and piss away less money on overhead and management.

        Why anyone would move to a large Urban area to raise a kid these days is beyond me.

        1. Um, may want to check your facts again, Tman. It wasn’t “some shitty town”, it IS the wealthy suburb that people move to.

          “The United States Census Bureau declared Plano the wealthiest city of 2008 by comparing the median household income for all U.S. cities whose populations were greater than 250,000.”


          And yes, teachers make significantly below the average in Plano. So that kind of blows your theory out of the water. It’s a very wealthy city, that pays it’s teachers decently compared to average workers in the US, but not compared to average workers in that city. And their health plan is shite compared to mine, and I’m just a computer jock at a bank.

          I believe it’s more the lack of a strong union here. I’m not complaining about that, mind you. I don’t think there should be any pubsec unions. I just don’t like the narrative that all teachers everywhere have gold-plated benes and make money comparative to their peers. It’s simply not true everywhere.

          1. Ah, well I was wrong about Plano. I’m sorry about that, I did not realize that Plano was that wealthy. Here’s what I’ve now learned about teacher salaries in Plano.

            The average teacher salary in Plano Independent School District is $46,904.

            I don’t know what the contributions are for health insurance premiums, but I doubt it’s the 50% that I pay. Add in the three months off for the year, plus the Teacher Retirement System that also adds additional health insurance supplemental coverage for retirees, and suddenly that $46K average is well north of $60K.

            I just don’t like the narrative that all teachers everywhere have gold-plated benes and make money comparative to their peers.

            I imagine that your benefits as a “computer jock at a bank” do not equal the long term benefits available to teachers in Plano.

            1. Long-term retirement wise, you’re correct, probably not. The regular health insurance I have now, though, has better coverage at a cheaper price than my wife’s (teacher), so we’re both on mine. I pay something like $250/month for the low-deductible, higher-end plan (we only have two plans; the other one is higher deductible and copays). It’s nowhere near 50%, but 50% may not be indicitive of the average private sector. I’ve not worked in gov’t since I got out of the army, and never had to pay that much for my health insurance.

              And even if you add it up to north of $60k, it’s still a little below average for the area. So in summation, while working, they have worse health care plans (higher contributions and less coverage) than my private sector job, and their salary is lower than average for the area. So they’re not living high on the hog and blowing out everyone else; my wife’s friends (other teachers) all live in the (relatively) lower-income areas of town. Again, I attribute this to having an extremely weak teacher’s union in Texas more than anything else.

              1. Keep in mind, they work 180 days a year on average. In the summer? Get a fucking job.

    4. Cities may still appeal to the “young and restless,” but they can’t hold millennials captive forever.

      Sure they can. Environmental policies, such as the Highlands Preservation Act, keep the kids off the grass in in the rented apartments.


  5. I would kill for a set of toll-funded downtown LA bypass tunnels. Anything to avoid the isanity and poor design of the 110-5-101 intersections.

  6. “”””1. Expand roads with underground tunnels and elevated structures.”””

    Elevated structures and especially tunneling is much more expensive then ground level roads

    1. But, as the 710 freeway extension in Los Angeles has shown us, building or expanding ground-level freeways in urban areas is pretty much politically impossible nowadays.

    2. Not to mention that we already have this.

      1. We do? Unless you count over- and underpasses, I don’t think we do.

  7. This is all interesting and whatnot, but what we really need is an anti-teach, uh, I mean, education reform thread.

  8. But, but, but, wouldn’t a privatized plan take work away from unionized DOT guys and gals? How are they going to pad their pensions if they can’t work overtime?

  9. In my town, and probably most towns, there are walls along side the freeway to keep the noise out of the neighborhoods. Why aren’t there billboards on the walls?

    1. or posters of the great Leader.

  10. How about instead of more roads, why not get rid of zoning laws so people can live near where they work, shop and play and so they don’t have to drive all over the place to get anything done

    1. And along with this, propogate the idea that it’s ok to not be located in the same place as everyone else, or all downtown because that’s ‘where business is done’.

      Live where you work, and work where you live. And employers need to help: If a bunch or most of your employees live out in the suburbs, why are you in the city? Really think about it. Do you need to have instant access to clients at all time? Probably not.

      1. Absolutely agree. Libertarians shouldn’t be whining about congestion, they should be moving closer to where they work. If the company you work for wants to wallow in the filth of the city with the parasites, start your own company out in the suburbs.

    2. Yeah. Zoning is a big reason we have such long commutes.

  11. There’s another question about whether it’s fiduciary responsibility to make a road that can handle free-flowing traffic in the peakiest of times, while being much more empty the rest of the time. I’m most familiar with D.C., where there is almost no ‘rush hour’ any more, because work start times are so staggered (a good technique for spreading congestion out) that roads are high traffic from 5 AM through about 9 PM. But in other places, that technique isn’t used nearly as much, so they have traffic jams from 7-9 and then light traffic from 9-3. Would money be better spent advocating for shifting start times, rather than building more peak capacity?

  12. Ted, you make all of us who’ve known you awhile prouder with each video. The “reachable dots” visualization is genius, expertly presented. -BH.

    1. Except I don’t drive a god damned mini. F-.

    2. I found it odd that all the dots (representing opportunities) are evenly spaced apart – is that really how our built environment is? There’s regions with high density dots – a lot of dots close together – we call them “cities”.

  13. I’ve got one word for you.


  14. Tunnel under Cicero (IL 50), connecting I-94 north of the loop to teh Tri State Tollway way south of the city, diverting massive amounts of through traffic. This was once referred to as the “Crosstown Expressway”, a good idea when proposed and a good idea now.

    1. One Chidiot wreck would block the tunnel for hours

  15. How about this: Unemployed, students, or elderly are not allowed to use the highway from 8-10am and 4-6pm. Boom! I just solved Americas traffic problems.

  16. highspeedrailhighspeedrailhighspeedrailhighspeedrailhighspeedrail

  17. Public-private financing infrastructure is horseshit. Fuck off, reason.

  18. Rooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddddddddzzzzzzz!!

    Tasty, delicious….


    Thanks for that, Ted and Paul.

  19. just as a sidenote, i do believe thats bears qb jay cutler walking in the background at about the 1:38 mark?or his twin

  20. Oh, fuck off, you delusional, privatizing-happy dildoes. So you went and looked at “what works in Europe”, did you? What a shame you corporatist slobs couldn’t put that research strategy together for health care, education policy, public service policy or anything else that pierces your bong smoke-filled bubbles. Shut the fuck up and let the adults talk.

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