“Traffic” Gerrymandering

ger ♦ ry  man  der  ing (pp.): To manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class

A rather strange, and slightly troubling, incident occurred to me just this week. I had decided to take a trip down memory lane and visit my old high school to take a few photos. On the drive home, instead of taking my normal route, I said “oh, not in a rush” and took a direction which while technically a ‘straight shot’ to a main road, ended up taking me on a journey to a neighborhood adjacent but socioeconomically different than my own.

In other words, I’d discovered that my high school effectively sat on a Mason-Dixon line and the difference of a single block led me into a entirely different world.

Below is a route map which shows my typical path (blue) which should take max 10 minutes, which accounts for midday traffic, but in reality often takes about 7 minutes. The alternate path (red) which should take 15 minutes in that same midday traffic took nearly 30 minutes.

traffic_gerry[1] Please take a look at the larger image to see the notations; I specifically discuss the traffic diversions, volumes, etc. which resulted in this drastically different route.

So, remember I said I wasn’t in a rush, yes? That’s true, I wasn’t. But, in real life, here’s what difference between 10 and 30 minutes means:

  1. If your family decides to eat out for an evening, which restaurant you choose
  2. Which shopping mall you visit
  3. What school you send your children to or you yourself go to for further education
  4. What park / recreation center / beach you visit
  5. What job you take

Add in the fact that I was doing this by car, and I didn’t see public transportation having any major fast routes except on an already further south slow-moving thoroughfare, suddenly those traffic diversions and volumes take on an entirely different cast.

Now, I’m not pointing a finger; I don’t think this was a deliberate activity. In fact, I think some of the traffic diversions have just cause – they help control flow, prevent accidents, etc. That said, it’s created an effective “traffic gerrymander” which has isolated one neighborhood from the next, and the demographics reflect that.

We’ve already seen visualizations Eric Fisher did on the racial divide in major US cities, but can we talk more about the causes? I don’t think it’s as simple as gentrification, deliberate racial isolation, or politics; could there be actual geographic, topographic, or in this case, engineered traffic elements which enforce these type of barriers?

I think it’s worth a look.

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