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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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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!

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.

Leveraging the Power of Connectivity

July 29, 2010 1 comment

Expand this highway from four to six lanes NOW!

Connectivity — it is what viable transportation is all about.  Commuters between the Baltimore and Washington D.C. metro areas aren’t currently able to go back and forth between the two metro areas efficiently and expeditiously, and it is because the two metro areas are not adequately leveraging the power of connectivity. 

We have very few commuter options between the two metropolises: either drive on I-95 or 295 Baltimore-Washington Parkway or take whichever combination of MARC and Metro trains work best for you.  That is it as far as I know (let me know of others) — and that is a darned shame. 

We need more options, people!  But, here is a little ray of light: recently, measures have been taken to allow SmarTrip users to access MTA’s facilities (buses, subway, and light rail) and MTA smart card holders to use Metrorail and Metrobus.  Isn’t that great progress??  We need more, more, more of this kind of collaboration between and amongst transportation entities! 

I’ve been saying this for a long time – lawmakers, politicians, heads of MD and DC municipal-run transportation: provide more solutions to connect Baltimore to Washington D.C NOW!  

  • Expand 295 Baltimore-Washington Parkway from four lanes to six lanes – I can’t say this enough.  This parkway is congested every day of the week at all times of the day.  It is unbearable during rush hour.  We need more capacity!
  • Create another major highway route that connects the two cities and their suburbs – even if we expand the parkway, eventually we will still need additional roads to handle increasing traffic between the two cities.
  • Expand Metro — We need to get real about the fact that the entire suburban area needs this service for more than just commuting into D.C.  Stop being so conservative when making plans to add stops.  Plan to extend at least out to the White Marsh area.  Don’t shortchange any of the surrounding suburbs!
  • Expand MARC capacity to cover all of Baltimore’s and D.C.’s suburbs and add stops that intersect with Metro for even more connectivity.
  • Develop express bus routes that usher commuters between the two cities and their surrounding areas.  

I understand that there are plans in place to address some of this but, in my humble opinion, the plans currently in place don’t go far enough.  There is so much that needs to be done to improve the connectivity between these two areas.  Everyone stands to benefit from two major metropolises that meet the needs of its inhabitants by being well-connected.  We need to get busy!

Relieve Traffic Congestion Through Increased Use of Sustainable Affordable Public Transportation

This chart helps us evaluate which options will work best.

I can admit, I am very attached to the convenience of being able to hop in my car and go wherever I want, whenever I feel like it.  It’s a necessary evil when you live in the Washington, D.C-Baltimore metro area, and I am thankful that my 13-year old Honda can still take a licking and keep on ticking.  

But, by the same token, it would also be great if I could walk out my door and have several convenient affordable and viable transportation options at my disposal.  This could include being able to walk, take a short and cheap bus/light rail/subway ride, or bike to my destination.  If everything were so conveniently located — or at least so easy to get to—maybe I wouldn’t feel the need to always defer to my car.  There are several benefits to this on all sides: improved health from more exercise, lessening my carbon footprint, saving money, etc. 

One other thing that I would really like to see is more sustainable ways to get around — the apex of which would be “green” transportation options.  These options would satisfy the goal of devising and implementing transport that would be bearable, equitable, and viable on the social, environmental, and economic levels. 

Although the upfront costs and initial sacrifices may be significant (i.e. financial resources, worsened traffic congestion), the long-term benefits would definitely be worth it — especially when you consider that the problem will not simply “fix itself.”  Since demand for public transportation solutions has quickly risen in the D.C. metro area, we need to hastily make up our minds about which solutions to use — and then implement them without further delay.

Commuting Suburb-to-Suburb Via Metro – It Wasn’t in the Master Plan

traffic congestion

Aren't you glad you're not stuck in this right now?

Are you sick of sitting in your vehicle staring at all the cars, buses, trucks, SUVs, and minivans around you while watching the Metro trains go whizzing by?  Me too.  Traffic congestion has gotten completely out of hand, and others outside the area have noticed.  Washington, D.C. has been ranked as the third-worst traffic in the country.  It is at these times that I wonder if other commuting alternatives would be better than sticking it out in traffic everyday.  

One noted way to relieve traffic congestion is through increasing use of public transportation.  But the problem in the Washington D.C. Baltimore metro area is that, depending on where you work, using public transportation is not always expedient.

I would seriously consider taking Metro to my current place of business but, to be honest, it’s just not that convenient for me — even with the subsidy my job offers.  Fact is, buses are totally out of the question because it would probably take three times longer than a car ride — in traffic.  No express buses to my destination exist.  And my job is over a mile away from the nearest Metro station — not appealing for a woman who wears heels everyday. 

But even if I decided to wear walking shoes instead, public transportation is still not a convenient solution for me.  This is because Metro was originally designed for suburban MD/VA commuting into D.C., not for suburban MD/VA commuting to other parts of suburban MD/VA.  In other words, in order for me to get to my job in Rockville, I would need to drive through traffic to get to the nearest Metro station, pay to park, ride into downtown D.C., and then ride back out into the suburbs.  To get to my jobsite, I would then need to either take a bus or walk more than a mile…not appealing, right? 

 The solution to this problem would be Metro’s purple line.  But because of major obstacles to getting the project off the ground, we do not yet know of a completion date for this light rail alternative that would connect the Orange, Green, and Red lines.

I’m all for the Purple line being part of the solution if it provides a viable alternative to sitting in traffic!  Local lawmakers really need to step up the pressure to get this project done.  If you’d like to make it your personal mantra, you can get involved by sending an email by July 23 with “yes, I support the Purple Line” in the subject line to cscott@purplelinenow.com.

Construction Delays – The Unintended Drama from Obama’s Recovery Act

July 14, 2010 5 comments

Today, I experienced a very common frustration for those of us who commute to work everyday — construction delays.  While it’s great that, due to the Economic Recovery Act, money for construction projects has been flowing into Maryland, Virginia, and D.C., the unintended result is more construction delays — and misery — for commuters.

The route that I take to work is usually heavy with traffic.  I choose this route because, even with lights and traffic, it is actually more tolerable than crawling along I-495 to work everyday.  And, for the past several months, I have been enduring construction delays, resulting in even more increased traffic congestion and longer commute times. 

We Need a Solution

One solution that I came across was Emily Cyr’s blog on How Fix Traffic Congestion, which asserts that we could use computer software that syncopates lights with each other on major routes to minimize wait times and move traffic along more efficiently.  In other words, during rush hours, these lights could be constantly adjusted to accommodate and ease the inevitable traffic ebbs/flows that occur when crews repair roads during these hours. 

Montgomery County is already using a traffic control system, which apparently has had some major kinks in the past several months.  Judging from how bad my commute through the county still is every day, it probably isn’t geared towards construction delay workarounds such as the ones that Brian Park at the University of VA’s Center for Transportation Studies talks about.      

I think that many different solutions applied at once would be the only way that we all would experience sustained collective commuter relief.  As a worker who has to commute about 25 miles to work one way every day, I would certainly appreciate the relief that this solution would provide.  The sooner we implement smarter traffic control systems, the better our collective commutes will be.

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