Jams with a bitter taste

The bridge I cross each morning is undergoing some serious tinkering. The bottleneck the workmen have carefully constructed at one end means I get to sit on the bus and watch pedestrians beat me to work.

The only consolation is at the other end. There the bridge slips over a four-lane highway, and I can peer down on hundreds of commuters idling their cars in an even bigger jam.

Congestion is the morning monster that everyone knows is growing more unruly but few are taking real steps to tame.

But some experimenters are trying. One closely watched example is London's traffic noose around the city's center. It has been such a wild success since it started in February that the project faces a massive cash shortfall. Revenue from drivers entering the £5 charge zone is only half what planners had expected, Transport for London said last month.

Meantime, traffic is down 20 percent, cars are moving 37 percent faster, and jams have eased 40 percent.

At the same time, though, the British government announced last week a £7 billion program to expand motorways across the country. So don't sell your car yet.

It's all part of the odd logic of wanting less congestion while building more roads and cheaper cars.

In Seattle, traffic congestion has become so dire the state government is toying with the idea of auctioning access to the HOV lanes on eBay. Reporter Tom Mead looks at the pros and cons (see story).

But at bottom, charging for road access doesn't touch the bigger issue of containing the car culture. It simply invents a new tax.

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