Marohn: “The most successful places are full of congestion.”


Not Wyoming.


, by Charles Marohn (Strong Towns)

 … Most of Senator Murphy’s conversation dealt with the chronic issue of congestion. Notice I did not call congestion a problem. It’s clearly not. Within our places — on our streets — congestion is an indicator of success. As Yogi Berra reportedly said:

“Nobody goes there any more because it is too busy.”

Indeed. The most successful places are full of congestion.

Between our places — on our roads — congestion signals many things but, for me anyway, it primarily indicates America’s cultural — and the engineering profession’s technical — misunderstanding of the systems we have built.

Consider the hierarchical road network. It’s so commonplace today that we rarely stop to question it. Small, local streets empty into collector streets. Those collectors empty into arterials. The arterials empty into major arterials which eventually end up pouring into our highway systems. Small to big; it’s the way things are done.

Stop a moment to examine a watershed. There you have ditches that flow into small creeks. Those creeks flow into larger brooks and streams. In turn these flow into larger rivers and, ultimately, these systems come together to form some of the world’s major waterways.

We all intuitively understand that, when we experience rain or snow melt on the edges of a watershed, there is a compounding effect that occurs. We’ve become fairly competent at realizing that, by the time all this rain comes together, it very often produces a flood.

We’ve so grasped this concept that we’ve taken steps to address the problem at the source. We don’t allow people to fill their wetlands. We require developers to retain their runoff on site. We build retention systems to hold back runoff and feed stormwater into the natural systems more slowly so flooding does not occur. We take these steps and others at the source to mitigate the cumulative, negative impacts of stormwater runoff. Namely: flooding.

Instead of a river network, examine a similar system of roadways during a typical commute. Here we have rain of a different sort: the automobiles that emanate forth from the development we induce, subsidize and cheer for out on the periphery of our cities.

Why are we so shocked when this produces a flood?