Traffic Queues, Congestion

Reading Ross Gittins’s column in today’s SMH I was struck be how familiar it appeared. Of course I am not suggesting anything, beyond the old chestnut about great minds and all that…

Gittins draws on on a book by Anthony Downs about traffic:

In his book Still Stuck in Traffic, Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution in Washington reveals just how ignorant of the nature of the problem politicians have allowed us to be.

He argues that traffic congestion isn’t the problem. Actually, it’s the solution to the problem – the only solution the public finds acceptable.

The real problem is that we all want to live together in big cities and travel to and from work or school at pretty much the same time of day. Now, it makes economic sense for us to live in cities and it makes social as well as economic sense for us to want to work when others are working.

But the problem is greatly compounded by our desire to live in low-density suburbs and to travel in our own cars – by ourselves.

So the demand for road space at peak times of the day greatly exceeds the supply of space available. The result is traffic congestion, which is merely a way of rationing the space on a first come, first served basis. It’s a queue, in other words.

I first started thinking about traffic queues after hearing a wonderful paper by Gillian Fuller (no relation) of UNSW. Then I brought it up again more recently when there was an article in the new journal Mobilities about traffic queues. The article still treated traffic queues as something bad “requiring a solution”. They aren’t bad and, as Gittins suggests, they are the suggestion. From me:

Traffic is the production of immanent and active containers for the distribution of the road as a resource. Traffic is a social technology of road-resource distribution. Without traffic, the road would not be shared. Instead of seeing the ‘evil traffic’ as producing the accident-event [cf. Virilio] or the congestion-event, we should instead think about how traffic itself — as a complex interweaving of heterogenous queues — is produced as the socio-technical event of traffic (the traffic-event).

Of course, more importantly, hoons surf the queues (rhythms of traffic), lol…

2 replies on “Traffic Queues, Congestion”

  1. hi Glenn,

    I’ve been lurking and reading your posts for a while. I was going to send you an email, but i can’t see your addy anywhere .. so comment it is.. I came across a chapter in a book I was photocopying from the other day, and thought of your project:

    Lanvik, Gunnar M. (1996). “A Fairy Tale on Wheels – The Car as a Vehicle for Meaning within a Norwegian Subculture”. in Lie, M. & Sorensen, K. (Eds.), (1996) Making technology our own?: Domesticating technology into everyday life. Oslo, Norway; Scandinavian University Press.

    I’m finishing off my own PhD at the moment as well, so i can totally appreciate if you don’t want any more effin’ literature to look at. And I’m also mindful of finding more shit to read (i do it all the time), probably more as a way to procrastinate. I seem to be doing that to myself all the time. Heh, and now i’m doing it to Other people trying to complete their own thesis! It shits me when people think they know your topic and suggest stuff :S apologies.

    Anyway, maybe you’ve already seen the text I refer to. I thought I’d mention it because I keep seeing the reference to it on the last page of another article I copied for my own use. So letting you know is one more distracting thing out of my mind! 🙂

    All the best with your thesis writing!


    – adam m

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