Traffic Congestion Problem Has Reached the Boiling Point

Pot of Boiling Water from SerVE Photography

Pot of Boiling Water

Traffic congestion is costing us more than just time spent idling in traffic.  According to a report released by TRIP, Maryland’s roads are in desperate need of repair due to congestion delays and increasing traffic volume.  Another cost of traffic congestion is road rage has been on a steady incline in recent years.

And there are other contributing factors that make the problem worse, such as Federal policies that keep us stuck in traffic, by incorrectly assessing the true causes of traffic congestion instead of earnestly dedicating the proper time and energy it will take to really understand the underlying problems.  Not to mention the paradoxical prevailing attitude in the D.C. area that “someone should do something about the problem” but no one wants to pay for congestion relief

According to Driven Apart: How sprawl is lengthening our commutes and why misleading mobility measures are making things worse, a report by CEOs for Cities and the Rockefeller Foundation, urban sprawl is another contributing factor of why we spend so much time in traffic.  This report surmises that the length and grueling nature of our commutes is more a function of the way we build our cities versus how we have built our roads.  This is a very interesting concept, indeed.

If we are ever going to solve this problem, there are several things we need to do: (1) we really need to stop wasting taxpayer money by funding/supporting studies that don’t assess the true causes of traffic congestion, (2) we also need to get real about the opportunity cost of fixing or at least lessening the effects of traffic congestion, (3) we need to concentrate support behind those projects that are assessing actual causes and effective solutions, and (4) we need to mobilize our local, state, and federal governments to develop sensible transportation policies (and adequate, responsible funding) backing those efforts. 

This problem is costing us too much time out of our lives (literally), it is harming our health (i.e. high blood pressure, et al, due to road rage and general frustration), and it is costing us our overall sense of well-being — those tangible things that make life more tolerable, pleasurable, worth living — like time spent with spouses, kids, friends, and hobbies. 

We need to stop ignoring the problem, stop being complacent about the problem, and actually do something about it.  How do you view this issue?  Are you ready and willing to finally take action?

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.

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!

WTOP Beltway Poll Reveals One Hour Plus Commutes for Four in Ten Washingtonians

November 1, 2011 4 comments

Poll Shows DC Area Residents Face L-o-o-o-o-ong Daily Commutes Impacting Productivity, Health Issues & Quality Time for Area Families

Last week, WTOP Radio 103.5 FM announced the results of its most recent WTOP Beltway Poll examining local travel and traffic congestion issues for Washington metropolitan area commuters. The WTOP Beltway Poll, conducted by Heart and Mind Strategies, surveyed area residents across the Washington metropolitan region to measure average daily commuting times and the impact that growing commutes have on worker productivity levels, health and wellness issues, and quality time for area families to spend together.

The WTOP Beltway Poll, conducted by Heart and Mind Strategies, showed that 52 percent of those polled say that DC area traffic congestion is much worse than other major metropolitan areas. Of those polled, 40 percent blame population density as the main cause of traffic congestion, 33 percent blame insufficient infrastructure, and 12 percent blame existing road construction delays.

The WTOP Beltway Poll, conducted by Heart and Mind Strategies, includes these additional findings related to daily commute times for DC area residents:

  • Average round trip miles each day:
    • 32% 1-10 miles
    • 34% 11-30 miles
    • 15% 31-50 miles
    • 17% 51+ miles
  • Average round trip length of time traveling each day:
    • 32% 1-30 minutes
    • 29% 31 minutes -1 hour
    •  27% 1-2 hours
    • 11% more than 2 hours

WTOP will examine the poll findings more closely during upcoming stories on WTOP and WTOP.com. The WTOP Beltway Poll, conducted by Heart and Mind Strategies, was conducted by phone among 641 adults 18 and older in the WTOP listening area from October 10 -13, 2011. The comprehensive findings of the WTOP Beltway Poll, conducted by Heart and Mind Strategies, can be found online at www.WTOP.com. The margin of error for a sample this size is +/- 3.87 at 95 percent confidence.

Recent Allstate Study Confirms My Theory: “All Other Drivers Are Idiots!”

August 12, 2011 Leave a comment

If you were honest for a minute, would you admit that, at least to a certain extent, you’ve thought everybody else on the road must be a complete idiot because of something you’ve witnessed (or been a victim of)?  For a long time, I’ve held this theory that (I’ve kept to myself until now) pretty much all drivers tend to think they are the only sensible people on the road.  A recent survey taken by Allstate, confirms this theory. 

The survey is very interesting to say the least and reveals a marked schism in the perception of our driving abilities and knowledge versus our actual driving behavior.  Get this: although 64 percent of drivers surveyed rated their own skills as “excellent” or “very good,” they only gave 29 percent of other drivers the same score. 

So, theoretically, you could say that most drivers think their own safe driving skills, judgment, and driving abilities are twice as good as everyone else’s.  That’s a big schism in perception when you also factor in that 89 percent admit to speeding, and that 40 percent of those surveyed say they’ve driven more than 20 miles per hour over the limit.

But, according to the survey, Americans’ bad driving habits don’t stop at speeding:

  • Almost half (45 percent) say they have driven while excessively tired – to the point of almost falling asleep.
  • Fifteen percent say they have driven while intoxicated, with men almost four times more likely than women to have done so (23 percent of men versus six percent of women).
  • More than one-third (34 percent) have sent a text-message or email while driving, but the prevalence of the practice changes by age group. Those 18-29 years of age are the most likely to text while driving (63 percent) with drivers ages 30-44 not far behind (58 percent). Texting while driving decreases with older age groups; only 25 percent of those 45-54, six percent of those 55-64, and two percent of those over 65 admit to the practice.

Here are some other interesting tidbits: among all drivers surveyed, men are more likely to rate themselves as “excellent” than women (36 percent versus 26 percent), as are college-educated drivers (35 percent) compared to those with no degree (28 percent). Republicans also rate themselves higher (70 percent) than Democrats (61 percent) or Independents (61 percent). 

What’s most telling is that 56 percent of American drivers say they have been involved in an accident, but only 28 percent of them say the accident was their own fault.  

And we wonder why insurance companies just split the difference and back their own drivers’ stories nowadays.  As an aside, if you get into an accident, good luck trying to get the other insurance company to agree that their driver was at fault.  Those waters are murky at best.

Categories: Uncategorized

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?

If Drivers Have to Obey Traffic Signs, So Do Pedestrians!

Pedestrians Disobeying No Walk Sign

Something I’ve noticed lately is that many pedestrians don’t obey traffic signs.  I know you’re probably like, “wow, and drivers typically don’t obey them, either!”  But no, seriously, I didn’t really realize how bad pedestrians were with this until recently. 

As children, we were always taught in schools and by parents to obey traffic signals.  You were not to walk into the street without looking both ways first, and you were not to enter a crosswalk until the traffic sign permitted you to.  

But pedestrians these days seem to follow a different creed.  At the intersection of Rockville Pike and Marinelli Road(across from the White Flint Metro station), the pedestrians are irreverent and oblivious to the traffic signs.  Daily, I am prevented from making my right-hand turn onto Rockville Pike when it is my turn because pedestrians cross the road at inappropriate times.  

It almost begs the question: do pedestrians think that traffic signals only apply to drivers?  Do pedestrians feel that drivers should always give them the right of way, regardless of what the signal says?  

Rules of the Road by Dona Sauerburger, provides a simple explanation of the law that pedestrians (and drivers) need to follow in the D.C. metro area.  Basically, it says that pedestrians crossing an intersection on a crosswalk with traffic controls need to yield to drivers when the “don’t walk” or “upraised hand” sign is displayed.  

I don’t have a problem yielding to pedestrians when it’s their turn to cross the road.  But I’m just saying…when it’s my turn to go, can I get some reciprocity?  Fellow drivers/commuters: do you experience this while driving?  Please share your experiences!

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!

Who Turned Out the Lights on Our Highways??

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Is it just me, or have our highways gotten pretty dark lately?  And I’m not just talking about the fact that, during this time of year, days are shorter because of Daylight Savings Time.  I’m talking about the fact that someone apparently decided that highway drivers no longer need lighted streetlamps for early morning/evening commutes.

What’s going on?

I don’t have any proof really, but on a hunch, I’d say it’s an effect of The Great Recession.  We already know that cash-strapped states and municipalities have been cutting expenses wherever they can.  The result?  No light on our highways — use your own headlights if you want to see where you’re going! 

Desperate times call for desperate measures

While it’s true that desperate times call for desperate measures, what about traffic safety?  What about being able to have decent visibility on those long stretches of road — especially in cases of emergency?    

I understand that decision-makers are probably doing this to conserve because times are really bad.  But when things get a little better, will someone please turn the lights back on?

Annoying Bumper Stickers and Window Tchotchkes Making Other Drivers Aggressive Towards You?

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Offensive bumper sticker

Thinking about driver aggression, there is something I’ve been really wondering about recently.  Do other people’s bumper stickers, window tchotchkes, and rear mirror hangers make other drivers act aggressively towards each other?  I think it’s a really fair question, given all the factions in modern society. Think about that political bumper sticker on the back of your car that screams your chosen political affiliation.  Think of that religious trinket that you have dangling from your rear view mirror that shouts your devout religiosity (or lack thereof).  Think of that all those stuffed thingamajigs that you’ve got sitting in your rear window that might be objectionable to others.  Think of that rear license plate frame/surround that practically cheers for the undergraduate/graduate school you went to.  

These things can act as conduits of information about the driver that — I submit — may or may not make you a target for aggression by other drivers.  Everybody has a favorite — and a “not-so-favorite.”  At the very least, everybody has an opinion/generalization of people who make any of these associations.  You could be making enemies on the road and not even realize it! 

The reason why I brought this up is not long ago, I was wondering about who I could be personally offending with the stuff I’ve got on/inside my car.  Not many drivers have probably even given this kind of thing much thought when choosing their bumper stickers, et al.  But I thought I’d bring it to your attention for your feedback and thoughts.  Just one of those things that make you go, “hmmmmm.”

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