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Forbes Says DMV Has Country’s 2nd Worst Traffic Congestion

I knew it wasn’t just me and here’s the proof: the DMV’s traffic congestion has been ranked 2nd worst in the country, according to Forbes.com.  And this year, we’re ranked  79th worst in the world, according to mapping and travel service TomTom.  Drivers in the DMV waste about 75 hours a year in traffic. At the height of rush hour, it takes us almost double the time to get anywhere!

Who is most affected?

Everybody!  It doesn’t just affect commuters.  Time wasted in traffic indirectly affects small/mid-sized businesses, large corporations, families, the federal government, local municipalities, and causes undue stress on everyone involved.

What can we do to resolve this?

Many solutions are needed, amongst those are strategically placed signage, increasing effectiveness of public transportation, better connectivity of major (and minor) routes, decreasing bottleneck areas that cause backups, and transit-oriented development in underserved areas.

There is no one solution.  Lots of solutions need to be deployed simultaneously to make a real difference.  It’s time for D.C., Maryland, and Virginia’s politicians to make decreasing traffic congestion a real priority – to partner with each other to decide on what is feasible, raise the money, and execute the plan (in a decent amount of time).

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. 

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 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.

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!

Ever Got Stuck Behind a Metrobus Blocking the Right Lane?

October 20, 2010 1 comment

Bus Bay

As I contemplated switching lanes to get from behind a bus about to stop during my morning commute, this thought came to me: why is it that buses always slow down the progress of traffic in the far right lane? 

It’s almost like that lane is being held hostage temporarily — you can’t drive behind the bus without being paranoid that it will stop literally at any moment.  

Since bus-only lanes aren’t always feasible, isn’t there a solution that would allow traffic in that lane to flow as freely as the other two lanes?  The answer is yes — a bus bay would be an easy fix to this problem. 

I’ve seen bus bays around the Washington, D.C. – Baltimore area, but why aren’t they used at every bus stop, considering this area is heavily congested with automobile traffic on a daily basis? 

Not having them creates delays for those frustrated drivers who get stuck behind buses at bus stops only to watch the other two lanes whiz on by.  A road rage inducer for sure. 

Just wanted to share a quick thought…what do you think?

Prejudiced Against SUVs?

October 6, 2010 1 comment

 

Courtesy of Steven Johnson

When it comes to driving, I can admit to being prejudiced against SUVs (and minivans, too, for that matter) merging in my lane ahead of me because I drive a compact car.  To others, this prejudice may seem like just a shallow opinion or preference.  But to me, this is a safety concern. 

My issue is that I can’t see around SUVs.  In a compact car, driving behind one is like driving with a wall in front of you.  Can you see through a wall?  No, not unless you’re Superman!  What makes this worse is that SUVs usually have tinted windows.      

Driving behind large vehicles creates a visual impairment that severely limits my ability to make quick decisions should something bad happen on the highway ahead in my lane.  For example, if there was a multiple car pileup ahead, I may not be able to see it in enough time to get out of harm’s way.  I also wouldn’t be able to avoid running over/into that large thingamajig in the road that would give my little car a flat tire.  And there have been many times when I had little to no notice to react because the SUV ahead of me suddenly changed lanes (without signaling) to avoid a turning car or stopped traffic in our lane.  

I am an alert driver who prides herself in knowing who is around me at all times.  That is how I was taught to drive.  So I am not comfortable driving on the road if I have a huge blind spot directly in front of me.  

My solution?  Ultimately, that people would stop buying at least the mammoth-sized SUVs and purchase regular-sized automobiles.  In the meantime, my modus operandi is to seek out a spot behind a vehicle I can see around and then change lanes.  Unfortunately for me, sometimes this means changing lanes often because — ever since the blizzard of 1996 — the roadways are evermore crawling with these menacing behemoths.  

P.S. – Another alternative would be to drive one of these nifty vehicles from the imagination of Steven Johnson — although I don’t foresee carmakers cranking out any of these for public use in the near future.  Oh well!

Merging Properly onto Our Highways: Is it a Lost Art?

September 22, 2010 1 comment

Does this driving behavior make you feel like this?

Today, as I was returning back to the office from my lunch break, I encountered a very common problem — a female driver who didn’t know how to properly merge onto the highway.  I got so angry at her apparent lack of driving skills, I didn’t know what to do!  

Here’s what she did — and this is soooo classic — instead of yielding to the driver getting off the highway (me), she decides to speed up, pass me on the right (on a short exit ramp!) and merge onto the highway ahead of me, despite the fact that I was going a little too fast for that, both of us are running out of exit ramp (!), and there was a large slowish moving vehicle in front of me.  What she should have done was to yield and then merge in behind me when it was safe to do so. 

This is really a problem that I’m noticing more and more.  And, quite frankly, it’s got me worried for my safety.  For some reason, many people do not seem to realize that: 

  • exiting vehicles have the right of way by law
  • entering vehicles are supposed to YIELD to exiting vehicles
  • entering vehicles are not to attempt to pass vehicles on the right as exiting vehicles are trying to complete their exit

Roileen Miller of Miller Driving School gave some useful merging pointers on the Road Warrior blog, including that drivers should use their signals and that entering vehicles should check their blindspots for exiting vehicles and merge accordingly.

Here is what I’ve noticed: when I wait an extra second before signaling my intent to exit, most drivers will assume I am continuing on the highway, yield, and just merge into traffic behind me.  However, if I signal before that, there is confusion because other drivers may not yield to me otherwise.  To mitigate this problem, I try to signal at a precise time that safely alerts others I am about to exit, just before I am about to pass the merging vehicle while they are still on the exit ramp.  

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  She probably passed you like that because you drive like a grandma!  Au contraire!  Those who have ridden with me will tell you I most certainly do not drive like a grandma. 

Unfortunately, many drivers these days tend to do exactly what that lady did to me today — although most of them do not go to such great lengths as to actually attempt to pass me on the right before merging!      

What do you think about this behavior?  Do you drive just like that lady?  Or does this kind of unsafe, illegal driving tick you off, too?  Tell me, and please feel free to share this blog post/site with others!

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.

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