Delhi – People often come to Los Angeles and shake their head solemnly at the effect that urban sprawl has had on the environment and low-income residents. They have obviously never been to Delhi. It’s a city “on its back” as Paul Theroux once said about Guatemala City, sprawled spread eagle over nearly 600 square miles. Traffic also chokes many parts of the city 24 hours a day and a pricing system that allows for commercial and military exemptions –I include auto-rickshaws under the “military” umbrella, there seems to be an army of them—would go a long way towards organizing one of the more organic cities in the world.

 

New York – This a little unfair since New York has already designed a congestion pricing system that would restrict access below a given street by adding a more linear version of London’s cordon system. But it got rejected by upstate lawmakers who saw it as a tax on their commuter-based constituency. Not to worry though, NYCDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has a way of convincing policy-makers and the public that a progressive transportation edict is one of the best ways to improve health and safety citywide. And if she can’t, she has the blessing of Mayor Bloomberg to use more aggressive tactics in a Robert Moses kind of way.

Bangkok and Säo Paulo- I’m pairing these two cities because I have experience in the former and have never been to the latter but tend to hear that the traffic issues are similar in scope and severity. The sheer road capacity problem in these cities also make them a decent conceptual match; they are not Los Angeles or Shanghai where excess demand can be met, temporarily, with increasing supply on an apparently never ending scale.

This is where congestion pricing gets tricky. If congestion is endemic to a city’s transportation outlook then the potential traffic alleviation can be negated by the volume of cars, unless you take the severe step of charging a toll that only the very affluent can afford which would also make traffic that much worse on incoming arterials where traffic is already choking off access. It’s an issue that no one wants to touch –the very rich bypass the traffic in Säo Paulo by taking a helicopter to the city center—but there’s no doubt that the problem will begin to cripple city economies without a gutsy traffic planning move.

Images courtesy of satellite360, carthesian and Paul Trafford on flickr