One annoying thing about presidents telling us they feel our pain is that they don’t. They don’t drive.
They may create heavy traffic jams, but they don’t have to drive in them. President Obama, tooling around Martha’s Vineyard on vacation, causing massive delays in New York when he wants to see a play, shutting down major arteries in D.C. when he tries to get members of Congress to stop ignoring him, says he knows all about crumbling infrastructure. But does he really?
The other day, driving from Louisville to Dayton, I spent five hours bumper to bumper on a drive that should take half that time. The average Washington, D.C.-area driver spends 82 hours a year stuck in traffic, according to a report by Inrix, a traffic monitoring outfit which has an app for smarter driving, and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Nationwide, we waste an average of two days per year mired in traffic, at a cost of $160 billion.
But you knew that. You have probably said you will go mad if you have to sit for five more minutes behind that blue Honda.
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There are good developments that go along with all this time on the road, of course. We spend incessant amounts of time listening to the radio or audio books. We have informative, educational conversations with our children about whose music should be playing. Hopefully, we get out from behind our digital devices (please, please, please don’t text or use a hands-on cell phone while driving – it’s causing more collisions and making us even later) and see what is going on in the world around us.
You won’t be surprised to learn, officially, that traffic in America is getting worse. The Urban Mobility Scorecard Annual Report finds that we spend 6.9 billion hours in congestion and 3.1 billion gallons of fuel while not spinning our wheels. The really bad thing is that engineers have no idea how to accommodate millions more cars in already overcrowded areas.
The federal government says Americans drove 40 billion more miles in the first six months of 2015 than they did in 2007.
Engineers hope that as technology improves and cars automatically stop if they get too close to the vehicle in front there will be fewer collisions and more people can use the same road. But what about the car without that technology that plows into your rear? That just happened to two good friends whose 1-year-old car was totaled by a driver with three children in the backseat on a crowded road to the beach. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt, but traffic was a mess for hours – hundreds of cranky people struggling to get home or late getting on vacation.
The 10 worst places for congestion (from worst to worse) are the corridors in Washington, D.C. area, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, San Francisco-Oakland, New York-Newark, San Jose, Boston, Seattle, Houston, Chicago and Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif. But even small cities and towns are experiencing more traffic tie-ups.
The scorecard concluded: “The increase in traffic congestion … serves as a call to action for greater investment in infrastructure and technology to slow the growth of gridlock on our roadways and the economic toll it exacts on individuals and businesses.”
The good side of more construction delays is that slowly but surely more roads are being repaired or rebuilt. Also, there’s hope that as more young people flock to city life, they'll walk, ride bikes and take mass transit to get to work. Anyway, it’s a pleasant thought. The reality is that if it used to take 20 minutes to get somewhere, now allot 48 minutes. In D.C., if the drive once took 10 minutes, you’re foolish if you expect it to take less than 35 minutes.
Maybe our vacationing legislators, being driven from county fair to fundraiser to town meeting, will see how bad traffic has gotten and return to Washington to do something. Maybe.
The Washington Post talked to experts who think the morning routine of the future will be turning on the computer to find out whether to take the bus or drive a different route. Or maybe it will advise us to return to bed – it’s impossible to get to work that day.
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