How to Manage Urban Traffic Congestion

Written by alexis kunsak
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How to Manage Urban Traffic Congestion
Traffic is a constant in all urban areas. (Traffic Lights image by Francolambert from

City planners, elected officials and residents all agree the traffic congestion is a problem faced daily in modern life. It is more difficult to agree on what kind of a solution to implement. City highway systems, including bridges, tunnels and other entry points into cities, were all designed decades ago, under different theories of urban traffic management.

The current theories have changed to promote public transportation ahead of personal automobiles, and preferring lively downtown areas for pedestrians and bicyclists over fast motorists. Planners still need to deal with the basic problem of congestion and ways of doing so range from large-scale infrastructure projects to actions as simple as keeping the public well-informed about city route options.

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  1. 1

    Observe problem areas and find the cause. Some connections to the city create bottlenecks that block traffic, so these can be corrected by careful observation and data collection. If more cars are coming from the north than ten years ago, then perhaps a new lane is necessary.

  2. 2

    Control the flow of traffic through certain areas, city centres for example, with tollways or congestion charges.

  3. 3

    Support the existing public transportation, while at the same time trying to expand the network. Having a smooth, efficient transport service is a way to effectively reduce the number of cars on the road significantly, especially in large urban areas where congestion will always be a problem.

  4. 4

    Monitor city development patterns by looking at where new workplaces are being created and where the population is living. If company headquarters are all being built in one area of the suburbs then more traffic will start heading there, potentially from many areas of and around the city itself. If there isn't any public transportation in the area, the infrastructure must be ready to support the new influx.

  5. 5

    Balance out improvements, while being flexible and realistic with your goals. Some areas can be easily improved using better information and efficiency tactics. Other areas do not have the space or resources to truly solve the congestion problems.

  6. 6

    Study a variety of locations with traffic problems and judge what can realistically be changed in the short and long term.

Tips and warnings

  • Traffic increases may mean the lane for merging has become too short or does not have good enough visibility.
  • The physical act of paying a fee can slow traffic down but most toll collection processes have become automatic. In London drivers can pay the fee to drive in the city centre up to a year in advance or later the same day online.
  • London has reported that traffic was reduced in the city centre by 30 per cent after it introcuded charging in 2003. Charging drivers allows the city to regulate the amount of traffic in certain areas and the routes that drivers take.
  • The price of gasoline, difficulty in rush hour and cost of parking are all incentives for drivers to switch to public transport, but the system needs to be reliable and more cost-effective than driving.
  • Think through all traffic solutions carefully to be sure sudden changes will not cause larger problems for traffic flow in other ways. Go through all the steps of responsible planning in the process.

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