What’s the quickest way to solve a city’s traffic congestion?

Traffic congestion is partly a result of infrastructure planning and development, but mostly it is a symptom of economic growth.

Infrastructure development is not dynamic – capacity is built to accommodate a certain threshold at one time; once that threshold is reached, congestion occurs. Demand, however, increases according to a variety of factors beyond just the road capacity and the economy is a major driver. As the economy grows and more people can afford to buy cars, the roads slowly fill up. Increasing road capacity is, on its own, an ineffective way to combat congestion because you are not really addressing the root cause of the congestion, just a symptom. Therefore, the quickest way to solve a city’s traffic congestion is, in fact, to kill the economy so fewer people can afford to drive (that’s a bit extreme I guess, you could just make it more expensive to drive through taxation).

For less quick, more sustainable solutions, one needs to consider the principle of the triple convergence (increasing road capacity = more cars due to economic growth + more people now taking the improved road during peak hours who had previously shifted to off peak hours to avoid congestion + more people now taking the improved road who used to take other forms of transportation to avoid congestion = more congestion). Congestion needs to be addressed as part of a systemic upgrade of the entire transportation network, not just a single component of it.

However, as I mentioned above, demand is continuous and dynamic and infrastructure development is not. Congestion is, therefore, the point of equilibrium on the demand/supply graph, and no matter what a city does, economic theory says that equilibrium will always occur. As a result, congestion is inevitable. It is better to manage congestion than to try to “solve” it.

Originally submitted to Quora on April 23, 2015.

Why is Montreal so much more fun than Toronto?

Depends on your definition of “fun”. Beyond all the qualitative factors (liquor laws, cultural/music scene, etc) consider that people’s definition of “fun” changes over the course of their lifetime. In that case, let’s look at the age-structure breakdown of both cities (both taken from StatCan):

See how the age-structure profile for Montreal peaks for the 25-34 cohorts? That means there’s a greater share of people living within that age band in Montreal (which makes sense, since Montreal is one of the largest college towns in North America). Toronto, on the other hand, has two peaks – from 25-29 and then again from 45-49.

Our cities are a reflection of the people who live there, and Montreal has a greater concentration of people in their mid-20s to early-30s. Toronto, on the other hand, also has a significant concentration of people in their 40s. The quality of life in both cities will be reflective of the demographics. So Montreal will have a quality of life that is more catered to students and young professionals, whereas Toronto also caters to middle-age professionals.

The flavour of fun in both cities is reflective of the type fun people have in those age bands. So if you’re in your 20s or 30s, you’ll probably find Montreal more fun. However, if you’re in your 30s and 40s, you probably won’t mind Toronto at all. Consider, also, Toronto has a greater overall number of people in their 20s, so it caters to a younger crowd as well. The difference in that sense is that, because Montreal’s economy is centred on students and young professionals, it’s cheaper than Toronto.

Beyond the data, I moved to Toronto from Montreal and disagree with your claim. I’m having a blast here. It’s a different type of fun, but not less.

Originally posted on Quora on June 8, 2015.