How lessening traffic and losing weight are the same

Posted on January 3, 2018

(Last Updated On: January 3, 2018)

Is there any example of large scale transit that’s not congested?

  • Roads
    • The most common source of humanity’s daily rage
  • Subways
    • Always a 50/50 chance you’re next someone’s urine
  • Airplanes
    • The phrase “we’re packed in here like sausages” comes to mind

“I know one! Amtrak! It’s always a nice ride.”

Amtrak is not profitable! It’s federally subsidized, to the tune of billions per year. There are some routes which are profitable. The northeast; going into Manhattan. In other words, the profitable routes are congested.

So far, the notion Elon Musk, with his endless tunnel idea, is going to make rail transit in the form of single passenger cars profitable, sounds ludicrous.

(Never mind god knows how much concrete (= CO2) that many tunnels would entail.) As does the idea this will help traffic. NYC? With its subway system? Full of traffic. San Francisco? With BART rail? Yet still terrible traffic.

-> San Francisco cops patrol grocery store parking lots to insure they’re only used for the store!

General data? Building more roads doesn’t help traffic. Building more public transit doesn’t help either.

Not because some law of physics, but…

Induced demand

This is the idea demand for a good can be invisible, until the ability to exercise that demand manifests. Smart phones are an easy example. The demand for their use was there, but not until they were engineered. This is what happens with traffic.

Initially, the thought process is traffic occurs due to not enough space. So we build more space, but we didn’t account for the induced demand building that space would create. By making more roads, we let more people drive, so traffic doesn’t get any better.

  • People who weren’t willing to drive in rush hour may now, with an extra lane, be willing to
  • People who weren’t willing to commute more than 20 miles may now be willing to

Anybody who has driven in Southern California can tell you more highway lanes does diddly squat to help traffic. All it does is increase the amount of anger.

The concept can be initially counterintuitive, but then feels like a duh moment. When we use a good, we use it up to a threshold. If cost of a good gets cheaper, we compensate with increased usage until we again hit that threshold. (The threshold is some kind of cost- financial, physical, mental.)

It’s like your home. “We need more space.” So you get a bigger place, but the bigger your home is, the more crap you inevitably fill it with.

Spending habits:

“If I only made more money I could start saving.”

Then the person gets a raise, but what do they do? They increase their spending, thus they still don’t save anything.

“Just build 100 lanes of highway.”

Who wants to live in an area with that many roads? More crucially, who wants to pay for so many roads?

Think of planes. They’re congested because the market dictates so. (And how heavy we are.) Not because we can’t make bigger seats. If you’ve flown with Spirit Airlines, you quiver upon hearing the name. All you hear about them is terrible seats, no service, no checked bags. The only positive aspect is how cheap they are…and their revenue has nearly doubled the last five years. People bitch about all kinds of things they voluntarily pay for.

What’s amazing is we have formally known about induced demand for decades, it’s been well researched! Informally, we’ve known about it for nearly a hundred years. It’s a critical insight with many applications.

For example, the truth is nobody knows if electric cars will cause greater carbon dioxide emissions because people end up driving more. (Electric cars are not CO2 free.) We’ve already made cars more efficient, but we haven’t taken the gas savings. We instead have driven more and upgraded to SUVs –cars are three times heavier now– negating the initial gain. (We always wanted bigger cars, but the ability to satiate that demand wasn’t always available.) Unless you can predict induced demand (similar to predicting the stock market- good luck), or unless the cars are planting a tree every time you drive, you cannot say they’re helpful emissions wise.

This is a miracle, yet has done zilch for cutting emissions:

Whenever efficiency gains are heralded as a great advance, like helping climate change, it’s most often just techno-utopiast marketing nonsense.

Weight-loss and exercise connection

Induced demand is the same reason exercise often doesn’t help weight loss. In fact, some, once they start exercising, gain weight!

Rather than a person burning 400 calories a day and eating the same, many will start exercising, burn those 400 calories, and merely increase their eating. They consciously or unconsciously say, “Well, I burned more calories, so I can eat more.”

-> This is a danger of certain drugs. I’ve had diabetic clients tell me they’d rather take their insulin than change how they eat.

Just like we can’t say “build more roads!” to help traffic, we can’t tell someone “start running!” to lose weight.

This is also why diet foods can fail. If you tell people something is low fat, they may very well eat more of it than if you didn’t tell them it was low fat. We’ve had millions of diet products come on the market the last 40 years, yet it’s done zilch for lessening the average person’s weight.

It’s why calorie counting can be so significant. Ball parking numbers, going by feel, it’s too easy to fool yourself.

Optimism- we know the solutions!

With most of modernity’s problems, there is little optimism in the most popular American utterances.

  • “We need to innovate!”
  • “Technology will lead us forward.”

Technology is the cause of many of our current issues. The more we have, the greater the problem.

  • More tech => more traffic
  • More tech => more obesity

Tech has gotten us far and can do amazing things, but it can’t do everything. When our behavior is the problem, we can’t outsource the solution.

However, there is amazing optimism in all our big problems having solutions. Basic solutions at that! That’s kind of incredible. Whenever people complain about the state of the world, I find great optimism in this fact.

Lessening traffic is the simplest thing ever. Change your habits.

  • Get up earlier
    • Change what time you go to work
    • Go to the gym at work before starting work
  • Go to the gym after work, before driving home, to avoid rush hour
  • Ride a bike
  • Walk
  • Actually use public transit
  • Move closer to work
  • Work remotely

Losing weight? Simple.

  • Eat less calories
  • Be more active WHILE being mindful of eating habits

Note, simple does not mean easy. Of course,

“Getting up earlier sucks.”

Yeah, so does sitting in traffic.

“Eating less sucks.”

So does being obese and dying five years earlier than you should.

Lots of choices aren’t fun. Brushing your teeth multiple times a day is a pain in the ass, but so are root canals. So you suck it up and do it.

We don’t need to wait for some fantastical transport innovation / weight-loss remedy. It might come. Sure, a brain implant which can zap your circuits and change your decisions IS being worked on, so tech always seems to have a way, at least conceptually. But it might be a hundred years off. Or we might not allow it. Or it might not be financially feasible.

-> Airplanes are capable of going faster, but because of sonic booms we don’t allow it over land. Less flights = less revenue. Also, faster flights = more cost per flight. All in all, faster planes went out of business.

Or, because of induced demand, it might not make traffic / CO2 emissions / losing weight better anyways. Luckily, we have the power to make these changes immediately: alter our choices.

One of the most renown voices on energy:

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