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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?

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Sharks — I Mean, Police —Everywhere (on the ICC)! Part II

October 16, 2012 Leave a comment
Commuter Pulled Over on ICC

Another commuter getting a ticket on the ICC

In my last post, I talked about how (in my humble opinion) the MD Transportation Authority Police and Montgomery County Police presence on the Intercounty Connector (ICC) has gotten way out of hand  — sort of like how the overwhelming shark presence must feel to those poor seals shown on the Planet Earth Pole to Pole Episode.  And I talked about how frequently the police pull over commuters on the ICC.  Well, keep reading, I told you I was going somewhere with this notion.  

While I am grateful for the improvement in the reliability of my commuting time, there is still something that prevents me from optimizing it further.  I am talking about being permitted to drive at a speed that is comfortable for me without fear of getting a speeding ticket.  Disclosure: despite what you spend to drive on this highway, you can’t really make any decent time unless you drive way over the 55 mph speed limit. 

They say it takes about 20 minutes to drive from one end of the ICC (Gaithersburg) to another (Laurel) at the current posted speed limit.  That time could be lessened if speed is increased.  The road capacity is sufficient to accommodate this.  To get the value out of the opportunity cost to drive on this road, it seems to me that (if we need to) we should also be able to manipulate our speed to get there faster, as long as we drive safely.  I thought that was the whole point of building it in the first place!

For months, there has been talk that the ICC’s 55 mph speed limit may be raised.  Opponents say that it most likely wouldn’t be raised to more than 60 mph because that is what the road was built to handle.  That won’t work, as it would only shave off a measly 1.5 minutes.  I’ve noticed many more motorists safely travelling at speeds surpassing 70 mph — and making better time in the process. 

Some people prefer to drive slower, and that’s perfectly fine (just stick to the right-hand lanes, please).  If you don’t want to drive over 70 mph, please don’t.  But I think I should be able to if it will help “improve the quality of life” for me as the officials promised that the road is purposed to do.  

Do you think the speed limit on the ICC should be raised?  At which speed would you be comfortable driving if there was no fear of getting a speeding ticket from the police?

Sharks — I Mean, Police — Everywhere (on the ICC)! Part I

October 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Shark Catching and Eating a Seal

Have you seen the Planet Earth Pole to Pole Episode that shows seals risking their lives daily by swimming across a shark-infested body of water off the cost of South Africa just to feed themselves?  Well, everyday I think of those poor seals and feel like I am one of them when I see police cars all up and down the Intercounty Connector (ICC).

“How can you compare your measly commute with those poor seals swimming for their lives,” you say?  Because, the ICC is literally crawling with MD Transportation Authority Police and Montgomery County Police cars everyday.  On both legs of my trip, I drive past someone that they’ve pulled over, everyday.  Most of the time, it’s probably for speeding.  You see, the speed limit on the ICC is only 55 mph.  That’s pretty low, in my humble opinion, for a tolled highway that is supposed to improve commutes across Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.

Officials claimed that this highway would “…increase community mobility… facilitate the movement of goods and people to and from economic centers…provide cost effective transportation infrastructure…”  They also said that, without it, the “ lack of mobility limits job opportunities, interaction between communities, and access to government and community services, and contributes to a decrease in the quality of life.”

Don’t get me wrong — it has done this, from what I understand.  But (please excuse me if I am about to offend anyone for saying this) it is almost as if we (commuters) are literally paying a hefty price just to be constantly monitored and harassed by police.

Feel that the term “harass” is too harsh?  I chose this word because the police presence is so overwhelming most times — more than I’ve ever seen on any highway I’ve ever driven.  Even if you don’t speed, it is alarming and unnerving!

If I didn’t know any better, I would think that the heavy ticketing is Maryland’s way of trying to recoup some of the costs of building the thing — sort of like a speed tax — like what D.C. seems to have finally admitted to.  I am assuming that most people are using it (just as it was intended), as a means to provide daily, reliable, predictable commute times.  But, here’s my thing: I didn’t sign up for or anticipate the overwhelming police presence and daily monitoring.  It’s downright menacing.

Do you feel that the police patrolling on the ICC is out of control?  Or is it on point in your opinion?  Don’t be shy, I wanna know what you think because I’m going somewhere with this.  Please weigh in below!

The ICC is FINALLY Here!

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, technically, the ICC has been open since February of this year.  And I still haven’t driven it yet.  Why?  Because the limited portion that was open (Contract A – from I-270/370 to Georgia Ave) was absolutely of no good use to me. 

I – like so many others – have been waiting for Contracts B and C (from Georgia Ave to I-95) to open.  These are the ones that would make a palatable difference in my daily commute. 

As of Tuesday November 22, Contracts B and C are set to open.  Hallelujah!  The last section, Contracts D and E, are scheduled to continue construction in spring 2012.  Their opening will be determined at a later time.

While I am not at all excited to have to pay for a decent commute, I am very excited that my daily commute could be cut roughly in half from now on.  Here’s to less money in my wallet in exchange for more time back in my day!

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!

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