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A Little Happier: Building More Roads Won’t Relieve Traffic—Literally and Figuratively.

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Robert Moses was a legendary, and controversial, urban planner. He transformed the landscapes of New York forever. I read Robert Caro’s masterpiece, the biography The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Amazon, Bookshop), and he made a point about Moses’s work that has really stayed with me.

As New York City grew, the traffic got worse. And so Robert Moses planned more roads, more highways, to reduce congestion. But in fact, seemingly paradoxically, the more roads he built, the more traffic grew!

And in fact, many studies have shown this effect. In transportation, this phenomenon is called “induced travel demand.” The more road space is created, the more people will drive their cars. More roads, more congestion.

This phenomenon is literally true. But it also suggests a powerful, deeper truth: Sometimes, we think, “If I give myself more of what I want, I’ll slake my desire. I’ll have enough, I won’t want any more, I’ll get it out of my system, everything will be at a nice equilibrium.”

But in fact, so often, when we give ourselves more of what we crave, we don’t feel satisfied, we want even more. We induce demand.

It’s important to recognize this phenomenon so that we don’t spend our time, energy, and money on what we think are solutions—but actually just feed the problem.

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