Latent demand has been recognised by road traffic professionals for many decades, and was initially referred to as “traffic generation“. In the simplest terms, latent demand is demand that exists, but, for any number of reasons, most having to do with human psychology, is suppressed by the inability of the system to handle it. Once additional capacity is added to the network, the demand that had been latent materializes as actual usage.
The effect was recognized as early as 1930, when an executive of a St. Louis, Missouri electric railway company told a Transportation Survey Commission that widening streets simply produces more traffic, and heavier congestion. In New York, it was clearly seen in the highway-building program of Robert Moses, the “master builder” of the New York City area. As described by Moses’ biographer, Robert Caro, in The Power Broker: