| Jan Couch's June 20th Guest Column in the Golden Transcript, "Trading in
Memory Lane for a 21st Century Beltway," arrived as I was preparing a report
of America's traffic woes.
Lakewood resident Couch thinks the solution is to build more superhighways,
particularly the Northwest Parkway, primarily so that her consumer-oriented
children, who are "crazy about Flatiron Crossing," can spend more time
shopping there. Unfortunately, Couch is trapped in fifty-year-old thinking
instead of the newer 21st century mindset.
The May 29th U.S. News and World Report's cover story "American Gridlock"
discusses the serious consequences of all this driving and concludes that
building more roads or expanding existing ones are the worst possible
According to "American Gridlock" author Phillip J. Longman, the length of a
combined morning-evening rush hour has doubled from under three hours in 1982
to almost six hours today. In 1999, Americans squandered the equivalent of
one full work week every year because of traffic delays. (In Denver, the
annual loss is 45 hours.) Since 1982, the U.S. population has increased
nearly twenty percent yet the amount of time Americans spend in traffic has
jumped 236 percent. Congestion costs Americans $78 billion annually in wasted
fuel and lost time.
Women with children are the biggest casualties of this driving frenzy and now
spend more time in their cars than they do than dressing, bathing, and feeding
their offspring. A California marriage counselor reports that half his
clients struggle with commuter-related stress. In Colorado, the number of
children suffering from pollution-induced asthma has increased 40% and sinus
problems among adults are so endemic that doctors now have a name for it, the
"Denver nose." The air-pollution monitor at Quaker Street in Golden reports
the worst ozone pollution in the state.
Congestion worsens where the most new highways are built. According to a May
2001 study, the twenty-three metropolitan areas that added the most new
roadways saw the annual number of hours spent stuck in traffic increase far
more significantly than those areas that added the fewest roadways. According
to the U.S. News article, economists call this "induced capacity. Build a new
road, and sprawling new development will soon spring up to take advantage of
the land that becomes accessible."
The solutions? Shuttling one's children halfway across the Denver
metropolitan area so they can shop is not one of them. Many people are
moving closer to their workplaces. Some are monitoring their vehicle trips
per day to lessen the number of times they must get into their automobiles.
Others are surrendering their second and third vehicles and finding
alternative modes of transportation. (After the initial purchasing expense,
cars cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 a year to operate.) The government
could stop subsidizing the automobile with cheap gas. (In Europe, gasoline
costs five to six dollars a gallon.) And the thousands of people out there
like Jan Couch could rent a PBS video called "Affluenza" and watch it at home
with their children rather than spending time at the mall.