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What Would It Take To Improve Your Commute?

December 3, 2012 Leave a comment

In October, Washingtonpost.com’s Dr. Gridlock blog asked a very poignant question that I’ve been itching to answer for awhile now: Money or power what would it take to improve your commute?

Basically, the question is if there were no limits to how much money or power it would take to implement your ideas, what would you do?  I tried to reply on the comment board, but due to technical difficulties, couldn’t post there.  So, I decided to post my response here.  There are several ideas I would implement simultaneously because there is no “one size fits all” solution to this problem — it’s SO BIG! 

– Agree with Teacher26 on this: more strict driver education classes to teach new drivers etiquette as well as school them on the unwritten “rules of the road” (Slower Traffic KEEP RIGHT, Pass on the Left, Proper Merging Techniques, Turn Signals: They’re Not Just for Show, The Perils of Distracted Driving, How Not to Play the Part of the Idiot Driver, etc). 

– Execute a robust PSA campaign to educate already-licensed drivers who continue to practice bad driving habits and not obey the above unwritten “rules of the road”. 

– Extend all metro lines out to what is now considered the greater D.C. metro area and plan/build an additional system of metrorail lines that would allow for suburb-to-suburb commuting to/from dense urban greater D.C. metro areas. 

– Two-tier the entire length of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway/295 between cities and make both tiers three lanes each way. 

– Offer major mass transit routes to adequately connect the greater Washington D.C. and greater Baltimore metro areas together because they have both collided years ago. 

– Eliminate all HOV lanes wherever they exist as they are a waste of space. 

– Implement congestion pricing to control use of high-use roads/highways. 

– Expand high-speed rail so that we can commute to other cities up/down East Coast in two hours or less. 

– Build a tunnel from VA to MD along American Legion Bridge and add two-tier capacity to the bridge. 

– Build another tunnel connecting DC/MD for Metro’s blue line. 

– Build a 95 highway bypass so out-of-area traffic can stay off local highways.

– Incentivize more Fortune 500, 100, 50 employers to any part of P.G. County so that P.G.’s large white collar population no longer HAS to commute to Montgomery County and VA for a decent paycheck. 

– Provide more affordable family-size living options in VA and Montgomery County. 

– Implement more transit-oriented development all over using Metro as the basis.

– Mandate that employers provide more telework options whenever feasible so that there will be less need for commuting at all!  

These are just a few that I couldn’t wait to jot down.  If I gave it some more thought, I’m sure I could come up with many more — all of which are desperately needed, in my opinion, to combat what is now the worst traffic in the country

What ideas do you have?  What would it take to improve your commute?

WTOP Beltway Poll Examines Transportation Hot Topics Among Area Voters

Poll Measures Public Opinion on New Potomac River Bridge Construction, Higher Gas Taxes, and Raising Area Tolls

Earlier this month, WTOP Radio 103.5 FM announced the results of its first WTOP Beltway Poll of 2012, conducted by Heart and Mind Strategies, measuring public opinion on a number of “hot topic” transportation issues across the Washington metropolitan area.

The poll reveals strong support of new Potomac River bridge construction, support of funding for area transportation projects, and strong opposition to higher gas taxes.  This comes in the wake of intense opposition to Governor O’Malley’s proposed gas tax hikes

The WTOP Beltway Poll includes the following findings on transportation issues across the Washington metropolitan area:

•59% of residents across the region believe now is the time to increase funding for transportation projects to help promote job growth and regional benefits from improved transportation.
•Two-thirds of area residents (67%) across the region support the construction of a new bridge across the Potomac River to help ease area traffic congestion.
• Support for new bridge construction is strongest among Maryland residents at 69% compared to 65% in Virginia and 58% of those polled in The District.
•Despite the support for increased transportation funding, 78% of those polled oppose higher gas taxes.
•The question of increasing area tolls divided public opinion with 46% in favor and 52% opposed.

“This in-depth look at hotly contested transportation issues is the first of our 2012 series of WTOP Beltway polls. WTOP conducts the polling through our partnership with the respected Heart and Mind Strategies to compare and contrast the views of voters in Virginia, Maryland and DC,” said Mitch Miller, News Director, WTOP Radio. “We look forward to sharing in-depth analysis on a variety of important issues on WTOP Radio and WTOP.com.”

The WTOP Beltway Poll polled 551 participants in the WTOP listening area from February 20 – 23, 2012. The comprehensive findings of the WTOP Beltway Poll can be found online at www.WTOP.com.

Virginia Raised Highway Speed Limits?

Yep, that’s right, folks!  Washington Post reported that Virginia has raised its highway speed limit to 70 mph on various parts (597 miles to be more exact) of interstate highways.  The change took place in areas that are rural or less populated with the purpose of lessening commute times and allowing traffic to “move at a more consistent speed.”

Could we do this in Maryland…? Please???

Many people have had mixed reactions to this news.  Some people want the speed limit to stay the same, citing issues such as lessened safety and fuel efficiency as the causes for concern.  Supporters say that upping the speed limit just makes sense because most people already drive 70 mph or higher anyway. 

In the Baltimore-D.C. metro area, I’ve personally noticed that many drivers tend to drive around 70 mph on a regular basis.  Those who drive at 65 mph or lower often attract tailgaters and create traffic jams behind them — particularly those who choose to do this in the left-hand lanes.  Then — you know the drill — aggressive drivers will tend to jockey for position to get around the jam, causing a sticky situation to get even stickier.  

When I was a kid, most people usually didn’t drive that fast.  I think it’s mostly because local car trips just didn’t take as long as they do now — one of the consequences of urban sprawl.  So, to make up time, people just drive faster. 

Many Maryland interstate speed limits are only 55mph.  Some states’ speed limits are even higher.  Now that Virginia has raised its speed limits, do you think there’s any chance that Maryland would consider following suit?

The ICC: the Most Technologically Advanced Toll Highway in the U.S.

February 22, 2011 3 comments

The Intercounty Connector (ICC) will be unique in that it is the only all-electronic toll road in the U.S that can collect tolls at highway speed.  That’s right — there are absolutely no toll booths to collect money, so you don’t have to slow down to pay.  The ICC will use the E-ZPass system, an electronic toll collection system.  Many other U.S. toll roads already use E-ZPass nationwide, but drivers on those roads still have to slow down to about ten miles per hour or less for their E-ZPass to be read properly.

Can you imagine not dealing with the hassle of having long waits in traffic congestion to enter a toll highway?  There is another all-electronic toll road collection system currently in place in western Canada, also the first of its kind. 

How is electronic toll collection possible?

This high tech solution entails antennas “reading” the vehicle-mounted E-ZPass transponders and deducting the cost of the trip from the driver’s prepaid account.  If the vehicle doesn’t have a transponder, cameras will take pictures of the vehicle’s license plate and the owner will receive a “Notice of Toll Due” in the mail along with a $3 surcharge.

The first stretch (7.2 miles) of the ICC will now open at 6AM Wednesday February 23.  Until March 7, no tolls or surcharges will be collected.  The remaining two stretches will open later this year and by spring of next year.

New E-ZPass offices are now open in Gaithersburg and Beltsville Maryland (MVA) for those who want to sign up.  Toll prices have also been set, and they will vary depending on what time of day you pass through.  

A word to the wise: you might want to stick to the speed limit as the E-ZPass antenna reads your transponder.  If you zoom past at a higher speed than the posted speed limit, you could end up with a nasty speeding ticket.  Happy driving!

O’Malley’s Light Rail or Ehrlich’s Bus Rapid Transit: Which One is Better for Us?

October 13, 2010 4 comments

O'Malley and Ehrlich Televised Debate 10/11/10

On one hand, you have O’Malley’s plans for light rail.  On the other hand, you have Ehrlich’s bus rapid transit system.  Which one do you think is better for Washington, D.C. metro area commuters? 

As per usual, there are plenty of pros and cons on each side.  Bus rapid transit would involve setting aside bus-only lanes (not sure if this means stealing existing lanes from automobile traffic or not) along portions of existing routes.  The light rail would be built along an existing route and would not create additional traffic

Baltimore Sun’s Michael Dresser says Ehrlich’s bus rapid transit system would be a little cheaper to build — estimates are $1.2 billion — as opposed to $1.68 billion for O’Malley’s light rail project.  However, at an estimated $5.9 billion, the annual operating costs for buses quickly turn that positive on its head — light rail would only cost about half of that — an estimated $3.2 million annually.  

Ehrlich — who is not opposed to not building anything at all — says the money is simply not there to build.  Light rail proponents at Maryland Transit Authority disagree, saying that money could be made available soon through President Obama’s long-term transportation bill.  

Developers, proponents of transit-oriented development, the Prince George’s County council, the Montgomery County council, and a host of area businesses like the idea of light rail because it has a permanency that rapid bus transit does not that would make it ideal for becoming hubs of future business activity, creating much-needed jobs in the area.     

There are more pros and cons of both, but I’ll stop right here.  Personally, I’m for O’Malley’s decision to go with light rail.  It would be a shame to waste almost a decade of planning and the $40 million that MTA has already invested into deciding which way to go, only to implement the more expensive of the two — or even worse — nothing at all. 

Do you have an opinion about this one way or another?  Don’t be shy – I’m very interested in learning your thoughts.

The Power of Suggestion: Traffic Signs Could Relieve Gridlock; Alter Driving Behavior

August 27, 2010 3 comments

 

Tell me...do you think this would work?

What if we could help ease traffic congestion by merely installing traffic signs?  Nothing fancy here.  These signs would simply suggest a desired driver behavior to achieve a desired outcome: moving traffic along in a more expeditious manner. 

Highways all over the country already have these.  Imagine my awe as I rode past, staring at them with my mouth wide open as I had an “ah-ha moment.”  There was a sign that blatantly said: “Steep Upgrade, Maintain Speed.”  Wow, what an idea!  A sign that strongly suggests that drivers hit the gas pedal to maintain speed because — pay attention now, this is deep — we are now driving on a steep incline on a highway, and in order to not slow the people down behind us, we need to STEP ON IT.  What a novel idea!  Why haven’t the transportation authorities in MD, VA, and D.C. metro area caught onto this??  

 

We could use this one, too!

Study explained traffic jams

Years ago, I remember watching a news story about a traffic study that explained why traffic jams and slowdowns occur on our highways.  Among their conclusions were: (1) rubbernecking to see the source of a police stop; (2) rubbernecking due to a disabled car or accident; (3) sheer volume; (4) curvy highways; (5) hilly highways (the steeper the grade, the slower traffic gets); (6) construction and or repair.

We have many highways that are curved and are downright hilly in this area.  I understand slowing down a little for curves in bad weather, but not to the degree that most people do.  I’m quite sure they were built to accommodate highway speeds (at least during fair weather).  But, for some reason, people don’t compensate for hills by simply accelerating.  Guess they just feel that they don’t need to or are not paying enough attention to notice that their car is slowing down.  I wouldn’t want to be a passenger in that car! 

Wake up, people!

I believe that this problem could be helped just by strategically installing the right signage.  Traffic merging onto I-95 North is always slow because there are two steep upgrades before you even get to Exit 33 Rt. 193.  After this exit, traffic usually speeds up exponentially (with some exceptions, of course).  I am convinced that merely suggesting that people accelerate to maintain their speed would go a long way to relieve congestion caused by hills.  It’s worth a try!  

Tell me…what do you think of this solution?  Don’t be shy — leave a comment.

Governor Martin O’Malley Walks the Talk of Easing Traffic Congestion and Bringing Jobs to Underserved Areas

August 9, 2010 1 comment

 

Transit oriented development in Ballston Commons, Virginia

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is what Governor Martin O’Malley is embracing by moving the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) into Prince George’s County.   Transit oriented development is defined as an area with residential and/or commercial mixed-use buildings that are strategically anchored to a source of public transit, thereby maximizing its access and use. 

In an unprecedented move by O’Malley, hundreds of jobs could potentially now be held by those who live in P.G. County — something that has been long overdue.  This move is the result of O’Malley’s Smart, Green, and Growing initiative, a key component from his 2007 Executive Order to focus development around Maryland’s transit facilities.  O’Malley has invested millions in infrastructure and mass transportation, and this newest development would be the culmination of all these initiatives.

P.G. County is the most wealthy county in the U.S. that has a mostly black population.  Many residents are highly-educated and are skilled at working white collar jobs.  Yet, for decades, this county has been underserved by businesses (small and large) that could supply the kind of high-paying white collar jobs these residents are accustomed to.  P.G. County provides amenities that other surrounding counties can’t: cheaper land and commercial space, proximity to D.C., and acres of underutilized available commercial space.  This ongoing lack of business development has not been because of a lack of demand from P.G. residents.  Many P.G. County residents would absolutely jump at the chance to finally be gainfully employed in the county they live in – a luxury that Northern Virginia and Montgomery County residents have enjoyed for decades. 

This is just the start of what is to come.  Smart growth is the wave of the future, and it is the antidote to urban sprawl.  The benefits for P.G. County residents will be accumulative.  As more agencies and businesses relocate near other transportation hubs in the county, residents will reap shorter commutes, housing closer to their jobs, less pollution from traffic, less wear/tear on their cars, better health, and a better quality of life that comes with more sustainable living.

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