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Posted at 01:59 PM ET, 01/12/2011

Traffic engineering and bloodletting

Before the rise of modern medicine, doctors all around the world practiced something called bloodletting. The basic idea was that illnesses were caused by bad blood, which had to be removed. A whole profession rose up around the theory and practice of bloodletting. It dominated medicine for generations.

But there was a problem: People who should have been getting better after bloodletting kept dying. George Washington is the most famous example. On the day he died, enough blood was intentionally removed from his body to fill a 12 pack.

As the 19th Century rolled on, humanity’s grasp of science improved and we eventually learned that removing large amounts of blood weakens patients and doesn’t treat most illnesses. Rather than helping people, bloodletting actually made them worse. Doctors who were trying to help people had actually been murdering them.

In short, the fundamental theory behind bloodletting was completely wrong.

Sound familiar? It’s a lot like 20th Century traffic engineering. At the advice of traffic engineers, America spent the latter half of the 20th Century building larger and larger roads in order to relieve congestion, which only got worse and worse with every subsequent enlargement. We rebuilt our civilization around universal car use, and then discovered that when everyone is forced to drive everywhere for everything it actually reduces our mobility.


[Continue reading Dan Malouff’s post at BeyondDC.]

Dan Malouff is an Arlington County transportation planner who blogs independently at The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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