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My Reaction to Woman Receiving Ticket on I-95/Laurel for Driving 63 mph in 65 mph Zone‏

March 28, 2013 2 comments

Readers, I’m going to share with you a message that I sent to AAA spokesperson John Townsend on March 20 in reaction to his comments about a shocking ticket-issuing.  Some of you may agree, some may disagree.  But I need to put this out there because sentiments are high on both sides, and I want to know what you think.  Let’s continue this dialog.  Please see below:

Greetings!  I politely disagree with your comments in this news story that this ticket is sending the wrong message to the public. 
 
I think it’s sending exactly THE RIGHT message — one that we should have been sending for a very long time now — that it is completely unacceptable to impede traffic in the left lane. 
 
Too much emphasis is on the fact that the lady was adhering to the speed limit and shouldn’t have been given a ticket.  I’ll give that she was not exceeding the speed limit (I will come back to this in a minute).  But, she was also impeding the flow of traffic, which is a much worse offense.  The main reason is that it incites road rage — guaranteed every time.  Drivers get very aggressive and start to jockey for position to go around her, which has the potential to cause many horrible/fatal accidents.  Her actions were disturbing to what would ordinarily be a calm driving environment.  Her actions created a hostile atmosphere that put everybody around in real danger.  THIS KIND OF RECKLESS DRIVING IS THE REAL CAUSE OF TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS, NOT NECESSARILY DRIVING FASTER.  Realizing this, AAA should support and speak out in defense of driving habits that are safe, not incitable.
 
Coming back to the point I was making earlier, the real problem is that we have traffic laws that are totally contradictory in this country.  On one hand, we have laws that permit and encourage officers to issue tickets for “speeding” because “speeding” has been demonized and oversimplified as “dangerous driving.”  To support this, people drive the speed limit in all lanes and feel justified in doing so — after all, they are just obeying the law.  On the other hand, we have always been taught that the left lane(s) should be preserved for those who are passing all traffic on the right.  In order to obey this law, you will have to surpass the speed limit.  Further, we also have laws that permit officers to issue tickets when drivers are impeding the flow of traffic.  These contradictions make the whole ding dang proposition flawed!  Who should be considered right under any of these circumstances??? 
 
To drive on certain European highways, drivers are required to take more classes to handle their cars SAFELY.  They are trained to be better drivers, not simply penalized for driving faster.  They support the mantra that highways were built to move people/goods in the most expedient way possible, so the unhindered flow is maintained by always urging slower traffic to keep to the right, regardless of speed.  Consequently, there really is no speed limit.  But they do have an advisory speed limit. European authorities are also more enlightened in that they realize the term “reckless driving” should be assigned to someone who is carelessly driving, not merely driving faster.  You can adhere to lower speed limits and still kill/harm people due to inexperience and driving in ways that disregard the safety of all who are around!  Hello, cellphones!
 
By saying this, however, please note I am not saying that higher speeds are not a contributing factor to worse accidents.  I am also not saying that there should be no speed limits on U.S. highways.  I am simply saying that U.S. authorities are causing major problems because they are contradicting themselves, oversimpifying the issue, and encouraging worsened traffic congestion by en/forcing everybody to drive slower because of lower highway speed limits.  The focus on speed has been all wrong for too long!  And the problem has gotten worse as populations have increased!
 
Rather than saying this ticket issuing sends the wrong message, how about looking at this using the Europeans’ model, which would argue that this woman’s actions were reckless and inconsiderate to all the other drivers on the road.  And, if she wanted to drive slower to feel safer, she should just keep to the right.  The solution to this problem is higher quality, continued driver training and enforcing the law that “slower traffic keep right” on our highways instead of issuing tickets to and demonizing those who are just trying to expediently get from Point A to Point B. 
 
By the way, I am a Premium AAA member, I maintain a blog that discusses these and similar issues, and I passionately advocate for expedient travel that gets everyone from Point A to Point B SAFELY
 
Thanks!
 
Nneka Jenkins (trafficfrustrationblog.com)

As of the writing of this blogpost, Mr. Townsend has not responded to this letter. 

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?

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.

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 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.

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.

Washington DC Traffic Congestion: Several Problems

July 7, 2010 6 comments

Yes, traffic has gotten much worse in the metro D.C. area.  There are several problems that we have that aren’t being sufficiently addressed:

We don’t have enough roads/lanes/infrastructure to meet the demand.  But there’s absolutely NO shortage of vehicles, though!

Our addiction to our vehicles has been neccessitated and fueled (pun intended) by urban sprawl due to out-of-control housing construction/expansion on every piece of land that is available. 

Many of us in the Washington, D.C. area are college-educated or better.  That means that the demand for white collar jobs is very high and ultracompetitive.  However, most of the decent-paying (white collar) jobs are located in only a few major hubs (i.e Herdon/Tysons Corner, D.C., and Bethesda/Rockville/Silver Spring).  This causes those of us who don’t also LIVE in these areas (because we can’t AFFORD it) to have to DRIVE to these areas in order to pay our bills because there are, oftentimes, no decent alternatives.

If more people had viable alternatives, like the option to telecommute, more schedule flexibility, convenient commuting/travel options, conveniently located workplaces, more affordable housing located closer to workplaces, expanded infrastructure, etc., we might really be able to lick this thing!

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