by Anthony Downs
(Brookings Institute, 455 pages)
Still Stuck in Traffic is an expansion of Anthony Downs’ 1992 book Stuck in Traffic and is a policy-oriented, provocative look at politics shaping what is indeed “the major problem” in the United States.
Readers KNOW how bad traffic congestion problems are. That’s a given. Although the concepts Downs presents – such as the idea that the jobs-housing balance has direct effects on traffic congestion – make sense, the question remains how to effectively implement these policies. It takes governmental bureaucrats of vision and intelligence sufficient to realize there IS a significant problem and to be willing to actually DO something.
Throughout Downs never seems to make suggestions that would be practical for concerned individuals to implement, such as the approaches suggested by Lynn Sloman in Car Sick: Solutions for Our Car-Addicted Culture. So perhaps it is the policy-makers whom he’s most interested in reaching. It’s great to think, for example, that changing housing density would be helpful in getting people on buses or rail lines; however what about those people who want yards for vegetable gardens and dogs? These things aren’t compatible with high density living. What about getting developers and city government to buy into those ideas when conventionally held myths equate high density living and public transportation with poverty? How do you change strong opinions that influence these decisions?
Certainly Downs presents data that clearly quantifies and demonstrates the need for change, but his provocative questions come across more rhetorical than practical. He does touch upon key issues that shouldn’t be summarily dismissed, not the least of which is the profound emotional toll commuting can exact upon relationships.
Light reading, this is not. Still Stuck in Traffic excels as a treasury of well documented information able to bolster a range of opinions on transportation-related issues an individual might want to present to a governmental agency. It does, however, leave more questions than answers.
Linda Dailey Paulson is a Ventura-based freelance writer.