COVID Revelations: Traffic

thelma and louise car

According to Apple’s cell phone tracking data, driving automobiles in the United States is down from normal by about 1/3. [Note: See line 148 of the underlying spreadsheet.]

As a result of this one-third reduction, U.S. freeways and streets are now, in the experience of your humble DbC editor, operating roughly like they are supposed to operate. Traffic jams have become truly rare, and travel times pretty reliably approximate what distances and speed limits together suggest they should.

The obvious conclusion from this natural-experimental result is that our existing automobile facilities are under-built by some factor that explains all the headaches and waste of normal automobile travel. That factor has to be at least 1/3 — and might be higher, since there are probably issues of greater-than-1:1 scaling in the infrastructures that would have to exist in order to allow the now-missing 1/3 of normal automobile traffic to enjoy the optimal results now occurring in these abnormal, reduced-use conditions.

So, in order to allow today’s stock of automobiles to work as advertised, we would need to have about twice as much roadway capacity as we now do.

Likewise, if we were to try to sustain this level of functionality, all future accommodation of still-more automobiles (i.e. the normal plan and assumption) would have to be roughly twice as big as we are accustomed to such projects being.

The fact that we don’t (and won’t, and could not) provide such accommodation speaks not just to the material and geo-spatial insanity of cars-first transportation, but also to the gargantuan time-theft that inheres in it, under corporate capitalist normalcy — something, btw, that our overclass is positively quivering to reopen/re-impose.

“Transportation” Research

rubeprof Academic “transportation” research makes business schools and economics departments look like hotbeds of pure science.  Both the US Department of Transportation and all the university-based “centers” it shepherds continue to exist to pave the way for more cars-first outcomes, regardless of the screamingly obvious need of this society for radical movement away from automobiles.

Doubt that? Consider this typical item, an announcement of one of the sponsors’ pet assignments:

RITA 1-11
Monday, January 24, 2011

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) today announced the Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge, a new national competition seeking ideas for using wireless connectivity between vehicles to make transportation safer, greener and easier.

Through the competition, RITA is soliciting ideas for products or applications that use Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), an advanced wireless technology, similar to WiFi but faster and more secure. DSRC can communicate basic messages – such as alerts about imminent crash situations or roadway hazards – from one vehicle to another in a fraction of a second with minimal interference and without manipulation by the driver. The spectrum used by DSRC technology has been reserved by the Federal Communications Commission for transportation applications.

“This is an example of new technology helping to make transportation safer and more efficient,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

DSRC will be the basis for a future system of connected vehicles that will communicate with each other as well as the surrounding infrastructure, such as traffic signals, work zones and toll booths. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, wireless Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications can potentially address 81 percent of all unimpaired vehicle crashes.

“This technology is an opportunity to help create a future where millions of vehicles communicate with each other by sharing anonymous real-time information about traffic speeds and conditions. This new world of wireless communication will make transportation safer, provide better and faster exchange of information for vastly improved daily and long-distance travel, and even reduce environmental pollution,” said RITA Administrator Peter Appel.

Selected prize recipients will receive funded opportunities to present their winning ideas to unleash a new breed of advanced wireless technologies to make universal vehicle connectivity a reality.

The Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge is open to all idea generators and innovators, including those not working in the transportation industry. It will run from Jan. 24 through May 1 and competition rules and additional details can be found at

So, first of all, this is research aimed at making cars behave more like trains, the vastly superior technology which, in order to facilitate corporate capitalism in the great United States, they have been permitted to replace.

Second, two words: Rube Goldberg.  Let’s see a show of hands from those who believe the solicited pipedream could ever: a) work properly (imagine a “rush-hour”* freeway on which the imagined “more secure” moving, ad hoc, high-interference computer network crashed or encoutered a virus!) and b) be accepted, paid for, and correctly maintained by the nation’s legions of tailgating, lane-hopping, cell-phoning, radar-detecting road-ragers.

Another item our grandchildren will find amazing, if we somehow transcend such suicidal idiocies and manage to leave them a society with the capacity to remember and learn from our stunning world-historic errors.

*One of the most blatant of our epoch’s many Orwellian linguistic inversions.