45 Years, 45 Days: How to Unjam Traffic Jams


For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.

Writing in Reason's January 1982 issue, R.S. Taylor-Radford explains how a unique combination of technology and economics can defeat one of the greatest scourges in American life: the traffic jam.

Millions of Americans work in major metropolitan areas. Some of these people take a train, some a bus. A few can walk or bike to work. But most of them, as anyone who drives can attest, take their cars.

The result is that the country's urban "expressways" have become anything but an express mode of travel. Originally designed to enhance the convenience and mobility of city life, they are increasingly a frustrating source of inconvenience and limitations. Nor is congestion the only problem; urban sprawl, pollution, and noise are also linked with the proliferation of expressways, or freeways, in the last few decades…

In the face of the massive and costly failure of the traditional political "fixes" and the drastic implications of envisioned control of people's lives, it seems warranted to step back and consider an alternative. This alternative has played well in academic journals for years but has been steadfastly ignored by politicians and planners. .It relies on some basic facts about people's use of any resource-including roadway space.services among competing users. But with few exceptions decision makers remain oblivious to the merits of pricing as a way of reducing congestion.