Good Versus Bad Congestion

Miami traffic…..ugh

Around this time of year, with the sun shining in South Florida and the snow falling in the northeast we start to hear a familiar lament.

It goes something like this:
“Wow, it sure is crowded this year. The traffic is atrocious… 95 is a parking lot, the avenue is a zoo and you can’t get across Glades Road.”

All true.

Last week, it took me 90 minutes to go from Fort Lauderdale to Boca because I-95 was an absolute mess. Was I frustrated?

Heck yes. (I used stronger language at the time).

But when I stop and think about life in South Florida, my frustration lifts a bit and I get some perspective.

I’m lucky to live here. We all are.

We live in a desirable place.
A very desirable place.

People are flocking to Florida, some for the season, some for vacation and some to ditch the cold and income taxes of other states.

The front page of The Wall Street Journal recently noted the huge influx of people to Florida from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois—even governors of those states are lamenting the loss of residents which they blame on new tax laws that cap state and local tax deductions at $10,000 a year.

Regardless of the reasons, it’s a safe bet that for the foreseeable future (or until rising seas engulf us) Florida is going to remain a hot destination.

Which leads me to traffic and congestion.

We can make light of the issue by quoting the late, great Yogi Berra who once said: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

But with all due deference to Yogi it’s not that simple.

There is such a thing as good congestion.

Heresy you say…but hold on… let me explain.

Good congestion is a place where everybody wants to be.

A beautiful main street or a lively downtown are examples—and those places are typically full of people. You find good congestion in a great destination. Downtown Delray is a great destination and yes it is congested. Sometimes annoyingly so, but consider the alternative. It could be dead. It once was and it could be again if we don’t tend to its health.

Consequently, bad congestion is a place where you just want to get through—but you can’t get through fast enough because of the congestion. Bad congestion often occurs in miserable places to be—like an interstate or a major arterial road lined with strips malls and big box stores. We don’t need to list examples—they’re all around us.

So how do you tell the difference between good and bad congestion?
In a place with good congestion, you will see people outside of cars—walking, biking, sitting outside etc. You see people having fun. You see them talking and dining. You see life.

In a place with bad congestion, you don’t see people— you see cars. As I sat motionless on I-95 last week, I looked at the people in the cars. They were miserable like me. I saw a lot of sad faces.

When I inched my way to the off ramp and drove through more sprawl, I saw more cars. I didn’t see people.

So yes, it’s busy.

Yes, if you drive down Atlantic Avenue and miss the bridge you may be sitting in traffic for a bit but you do see people. You see diners, walkers, a few dogs and some smiles too.

Sure, sometimes we’d like to fly down Atlantic Avenue but just know that if you’re able to speed consistently on your Main Street, it’s probably because you’ve lost your vibrancy. I’d rather we have good congestion with people and successful businesses than a place where you can bowl on Main Street and not hit anything.



  1. Scott Porten says

    Ironically, most cities aspire to have our congestion problems.

  2. marie speed says

    “Downtown Delray is a great destination and yes it is congested. Sometimes annoyingly so, but consider the alternative. It could be dead. It once was and it could be again if we don’t tend to its health.”

    Jeff, I hear this argument a lot but wonder if there is a middle ground between dead and congested–knowing why it is congested does not relieve the problem–just a thought. And that is what keeps people up at night…

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Is there a middle ground? Well, city building is as much art as science. So where’s the middle? We capped density (a huge mistake because we have essentially decided that our downtown is for rich people only and we learned long ago that design and scale is more important than density and that people living downtown are not moving there to drive. E.g. Worthing Place…do we even see cars coming from that project? It is 93 units to the acre).
      There’s a lot of angst and that’s a good thing because that means we are paying attention and being vigilant. But it becomes a bad thing when we over react and stifle investment or believe that somehow we can stop change. We can’t stop change, but we can and should shape it, through use, design, scale and form.
      We are congested during the season…but that’s also when our local businesses are making money so they can endure the slower times of year and hopefully pay the increasingly high rents being charged on Atlantic Avenue and Pineapple Grove.
      I’m not sure perfection exists…and if given a choice I’d still choose congestion over empty streets…and I’d choose busy over congestion I’m just not sure how you achieve that.
      There are some things the city can do…build a garage on the lot near Mellow Mushroom, invite services like the Downtowner to town, spread the options to other districts and part of town instead of the concentrated four block area etc. Again, it’s art not science.

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