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Another collaboration with Becky Hawkins! This one was written by me, and drawn by Becky.
In hindsight, “the way cities are addicted to widening roads, even though it never helps in the long term” is sort of an odd topic to do in a comic strip. But it’s nice to do an out-of-the-box subject now and then.
And this is a serious issue – traffic engineers are pretty convinced that widening roads doesn’t work. And widening roads is really, REALLY expensive (“half a billion” is actually a realistic price tag for some road-widening projects).
But it’s also very intuitive. “There are too many traffic jams, so let’s widen the roads” might be a wrong narrative, but it’s also a very clear narrative that voters tend to agree with. Not unlike “let’s lock more criminals in prison.” It’s a clear narrative and sounds like an active solution, all things politicians like.
In contrast, congestion pricing – that is, charging cars for driving during peak hours – actually does work to reduce traffic jams. And it’s much less expensive to implement than either new roads, or widening old roads.
But it’s also unpopular with voters – no one likes a brand-new form of tax. And it does raise some fairness issues, too – what about working-class workers who don’t have any control over what time they’re required to be at work?
TRANSCRIPT OF COMIC
The comic has four panels.
The panel shows backed-up traffic on an overpass in the foreground. In the background, we can see more backed-up highways, and behind that the buildings of a small city, including a white building with a big dome on top and a US flag – i.e., a government building. Two word balloons come from that building. The balloons belong to characters I will call MAYOR and NERD.
MAYOR: The city just spent half a billion widening roads. But we still have traffic congestion!
NERD: Well, Mr. Mayor, studies show that adding lanes doesn’t fix traffic.
Inside the mayor’s office. There is a big curtained window and a fancy executive desk with a big leather chair. In front of the desk is the Mayor – a man in a suit with gray hair – and a woman who is a nerd, by which I mean she’s wearing glasses, has her hair in a bun, and is carrying a stack of three-ring binders.
The Mayor is making a “stop talking” gesture, holding up a hand flat in front of the nerd’s face. The mayor looks angry, and his eyes are bloodshot.
NERD: People’s capacity to drive is greater than our capacity to build roads, so-
MAYOR: Blah blah blah! We’ve got to do something!
The mayor, now looking happy, makes a big sweeping gesture with his hand, causing the surprised nerd to drop her binders.
MAYOR: I’ve got it!
The mayor and the nerd are now on stage, the mayor behind the podium and the nerd to one side and behind him. There is a cheering crowd watching the mayor speak.
The Mayor is waving a hand grandly as he speaks. The nerd is face-palming.
MAYOR: Good news, citizens! We’re widening the roads again!