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Want Less Congestion? Make Drivers Pay

Your Jan. 6 editorial, "A Week Stuck in Traffic," begs for solutions to one of the most vexing problems of metropolitan life - congestion.

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There are several schools of thought on congestion. The old school, which brought society its current traffic problem, would have more roads built. Few metropolitan areas have the money to add new lanes or the space to squeeze them in, but even more important, a greater number of roads invite more single-occupant cars and more congestion and pollution.

Another school argues that depleted public transit budgets have left people with no alternative to the car. Transit services are financially strapped, but less than 5 percent of the public rides transit, suggesting that transit can contribute only modestly to reducing congestion.

A third school suggests congestion will remain intractable until we properly charge motorists for using roadways. Many businesses vary the price of their goods with demand. Restaurants, theaters, hotels, airlines, and phone companies all charge more during peak hours and less during other times. It is time to apply the same thinking to roads.

Early experiments with variable road pricing are promising. A 10-mile road in Orange County, Calif., charges $2.50 for use during peak hours and 25 cents during the off-peak. High-occupancy vehicles of three or more travel free. More than 30,000 people each day elect to use this reliable alternative to the free and highly congested parallel freeway. A dozen other localities are planning to implement congestion pricing in the near future.

Traffic congestion will never disappear entirely, but with a little common sense and political resolve all of us can recapture valuable time lost to traffic.

Michael Cameron

Oakland, Calif.

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Environmental Defense Fund

US: answering the call for help

A friend points out that we tend to appreciate that with which we agree. With that warning in mind, I wish to express my appreciation for and agreement with the Dec. 23 opinion-page article, "The Willingness to Help." The author's portrait of our country as being the rightful and responsive "911 to the world" illustrates the responsibility attached to living in a nation of people who have consciously decided to be their brothers' keepers. Be it in Somalia, Zaire, Rwanda, Bosnia, or in the homes of any future "wounded neighbors," we do represent the best this world has to "define the face of our times." I applaud the author for calling our attention to our higher calling as a nation.

In his delightful collection of wisdom, "Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion," David Brinkley shares these remarks with Margaret Thatcher. They provide a Thatcheresque amendment to the author's contention that "history has brought us to a place" where we man the phones for world security. Brinkley writes: "About the war in the Gulf, she said, 'Only one nation really has the power to defend freedom in the world. That is now and in the foreseeable future, the United States. European nations are not and never will be like this. They are the product of their history while America is a product of philosophy.' Or, history created Europe. America was created by Americans" - Americans who will continue to answer the call.

Ron Schreer

Rockford, Mich.

Humiliation serves a purpose

I was very pleased to see the prominence on Page 1 of your Dec. 17 article, "Humiliation Comes Back as Criminal Justice Tool." I have long supported this approach to restraining crime in many instances. Humiliation is not tearing people down, as the ACLU claims, and it is so much better than a prison sentence.

Humiliation and public ridicule can serve well and are adaptable. One of the ways to combat teenage smoking, in my judgment, is to convince people it is stupid - a dumb habit. No one likes to be considered dumb, and smart people don't smoke.

George C. Scott

Locust, N.J.

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