Traffic and the Economy

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Oct 6, 2010    •    629 Views

Sometimes policies for economic growth can be found in the most surprising places. Seeing a new paper on peak hour travel started me thinking about the amount of time we spend commuting. And commuting took me to economic growth.

If you have to commute, Chicago is the place to live. At 32.6 minutes each day, Chicago has the shortest commuting time when compared to 51 major U.S. metropolitan areas. By contrast, Nashville and Oklahoma City are among the worst. Much more than congestion, though, the study’s author says that distance is the cause.

Variables that commuter researchers look at include the time spent in free flowing and congested traffic and the distance. Then, of course, gasoline enters the picture. Time and gas are economic variables. Whenever time and gas can be used more efficiently, the economy is affected.

The solution is urban planning. If, like Chicago, more communities were closer to commercial districts, then commuting would require “about 40 billion fewer miles per year and two billion fewer gallons of fuel”.

The Economic Lesson

Suburban sprawl has a massive opportunity cost. With “denser metros” as the alternative, commuters would have more time and spend less on fuel. Resources not used to commute would be allocated elsewhere.


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