But however dedicated we are to increasing net motion, the automobile, with its obvious dangers, has to compromise its speed for safety. To this end, traffic and congestion are actually helpful to a city. Braess’ paradox (discovered in 1968 by the German mathematician Dr. Dietrich Braess) describes this fundamental conflict between cars and space. His theory suggests that adding extra travel lanes for regular traffic increases congestion problems because, given extra room, drivers will pass more often and try to move more quickly. This results in numbers of cars trying to get ahead of one another, fighting to take the same opportunities. When every driver speeds until they find traffic, wolf packs grow like viruses, and soon whatever caused the delay — a pothole, a police car, a fancy billboard — becomes a thirty-minute backup.
The positive side of congestion is that it lessens the potential for fatal accidents. People just don’t die as often going seven miles per hour as they do going seventy. …
The city, too, like the body and the building, is a machine, and its health can be seriously threatened by only a few accidents. Therefore the intention of a city street is to limit the speed of cars (preventing collisions and clogged intersections) and to maintain motion (quelling what we now call “road rage”). Today, a car downtown is about as slow as the horse and buggy of a hundred years ago, averaging about ten miles per hour.
— Travis Hugh Culley, The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power
I’m not altogether opposed to congestion. Given a choice, I’d rather take I-95 through Washington at rush hour (parking lot) than I-75 through Chicago at any time (death trap). Sitting in your car on I-95, you have plenty of time to visit with your loved ones — or if you’re alone, you can see how many Johnny Cash songs you can remember. It’s not bad at all.