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Damian Molinari Oppedisano The Tragedy of Traffic In 1968, Garrett Hardin published a fascinating article titled The tragedy of the commons. In this article he discusses his theory on overuse of resources that are considered renewable. These renewable resources, which in theory belong to everyone, then become to a certain extent non-renewable. Choices made by a portion of the people, result in consequences that affect the entire population. In his article, Harden describes these problems as no technical solution problems. A reference to a game of tick-tack-toe is used to simply explain the concept (Hardin, 1968). Someone who finds themselves in a no win scenario while playing the game would have to use unrealistic ways to win, such as hitting or killing his or her opponent. There is simply no way to win by following the given guidelines and constraints. In reality, man is naturally egotistic and will not cooperate with others and only think of personal gain, which is basically the prisoners dilemma (Barnes, fall semester). Cooperate and get in trouble, or not cooperate and benefit from it? In our society, there are many of these tragedies which affect the whole. A modern and everyday example of such a tragedy is traffic congestion on the freeways of most major cities. It is well known that many of the worst traffic jams occur in the United States. The worst traffic jams in the country remain in California (see maps), which had been the most congested four years in a row by 2010 (ABC News, 2010). Seven of the 10 most congested freeways in America are located in Los Angeles (Business Insider, 2011). Is it a coincidence that California happens to be the most

populous state of the country? No. The United States has a total population of over 300 million people and counting (United Nations), most of which live in urban areas (Downs, 2003). Basically, the highways get overused and the practicality of these resources is lessened for all the users. Any logical person would come to the conclusion that the freeway is the fastest way to get to work, as the speed limit is upwards of 100 kilometers per hour (60 mph in the US). In the beginning, each additional person who gets on the highway does not slow down traffic because there is enough "slack" in the system to absorb the extra drivers (Daganzo, 2011). When the number of vehicles circulating on the freeways reaches a certain limit, it goes beyond the carrying capacity of the freeways, that is, the maximum amount of cars that can freely circulate. When this happens, logically, the average speed of the vehicles will go down as there is very little place left to maneuver. If the carrying capacity is surpassed, the usefulness of the freeway is almost lost. When there is traffic, the normally renewable, manmade resource we call mobility, is reduced to a burdensome line-up of cars that cause more trouble. This situation completely beets the purpose of having a freeway, a common resource that all the users are supposed to benefit from. On average, the American freeway has a carrying capacity of approximately 2000 cars (averaging 4 people per car) per hour (O'Toole, 2010). In reality, many more motorists use the highway and thus slow down the system by overloading it. In the United States, traffic can be caused for many reasons. For example, a simple increase in urban population will cause an increase in daily traffic. The American population grew by 130 million from 1950-2000 (Downs, 2003). A vast majority of these people opt to reside in metropolitan areas (Downs, 2003). Another very important factor that

influences daily commuter traffic is income and employment rate. As people are working and making more money, people can afford cars and high gas prices and will obviously chose to go to work in their brand new automobiles (Downs, 2003). In addition to these causes, the out-dated design of the infrastructures is commonplace. Many were not built to handle this much traffic (ABC News, 2010). The engineers who create these architectural marvels may sometimes under-extrapolate the population growth and evolution of the number of motorists of a certain area that is constantly taking place. (Liu- ETAL, 2010) Not only is it frustrating that the freeways are overused, but also, there are many consequences related to traffic. The most important in a country as big and powerful as the United States are the economic downfalls of traffic. Every year, billions of dollars are wasted on time and fuel just in the traffic jams (Downs, 2003). If there were no traffic in the morning and at night, the time it would take to get to work via the freeway would be a fraction of the time it takes now. All this brings us back to the concept of the tragedy of the commons. Traffic truly is a perfect example as everybody who uses the resource is punished, but in this case, everybody is partially responsible, some more than others. In theory, the best way to counter this problem would be for everybody to use public transit (imagine seeing only buses on the freeways). That will never happen. A plausible way to diminish traffic would be for more people to use public transit or even adopt car-pooling with coworkers. Researchers have been telling us to adopt this way of living to protect the environment, but if people realised they could also save time and money, maybe it would motivate them.

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5 Works Cited Downs, A. (2003). Causes of Recent Increases in Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion. Still Stuck in Traffic : Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion (pp. 38-39). Washington, DC, USA : Brookings Institution Press . O'Toole, R. (2010). Lies My Transit Agency Told Me. Gridlock : Why We're Stuck in Traffic and What to Do about It (p. 71). Washington, DC, USA : The Cato Institute . ABC. (2010, February 25). Traffic Delays: America's Most Congested Highways and Roads - ABC News. Daily News, Breaking News and Video Broadcasts - ABC News. Retrieved December 5, 2011, from Insider. (2011, November 17). The 10 Most Congested Highways In America. Business Insider. Retrieved December 5, 2011, from Nations. (n.d.). International Human Development Indicators - UNDP. International Human Development Indicators - UNDP. Retrieved December 5, 2011, from Harden, G. (1968). Tragedy of the Commons. Science, 162, 1243-1248.