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Creative Solutions Still Possible?

As usual, I didn't get to all the good questions and comments that came in during the Live Online today. I'll try to answer some of those questions here on Get There throughout the week. But I thought you might like to chew on this Live Online comment and question that I didn't have time to post earlier:

Ashburn, Va.: It seems that everybody agrees that D.C. has a traffic problem, and everybody agrees that it's getting worse. But nobody agrees about the best way to solve it. Are any politicians pushing out-of-the-box approaches to solving the traffic problems?

What if the region invested in high-speed Internet to every home (the way the government helped land-line telephone adoption). Wouldn't that be worth is if it could remove 15-30 percent of the vehicles off the road?
How about investing in remote tele-working facilities in the outlying counties? So Prince William County workers only had to commute to shared office-space in Prince William County. Doesn't everybody win?

How about encouraging flex-time through significantly reduced toll-charges in offpeak times (and significantly increased toll-charges during peak times).

How about opening up all shoulders on all major highways to buses and registered van-pools. People would ride buses if there was some upside to them. Gliding past grid-locked traffic on the Beltway sounds like a pretty good upside.

How about raising the gas tax by $2 a gallon. And taking that money and investing 100 percent of it towards finding alternatives to fossil fuels. People would be forced to weigh the costs of driving their cars. We'd pollute less. We'd lose interest in fighting wars-for-oil in the Middle East. Our next generation of children would no longer be handcuffed to oil. And our current generation would hold its place in history as a leader when renewable energy became a reality that carried mankind through to the next several centuries.

Ahhh -- but who am I kidding. Let's just throw cash at the problem, raise taxes, build more roads, keep driving gas-sucking SUVs, and pollute. That's sooooo much easier isn't it. And maybe next year, Washington, D.C. can become a winner -- maybe next year we can be the No. 1 (in the list of cities with the worst commute in the country.)

By Robert Thomson  |  September 18, 2006; 2:39 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Increasing the gas tax is a tremendously efficient way of solving (or alleviating) a number of problems: (sub-/ex-)urban sprawl, congestion, MPG ratings, foreign energy dependence, etc. Even increasing it by a dollar would leave us well behind the rates of Europe and Japan, and their economies are not collapsing under the burden. Unfortunately, such a solution will never be tenable until Americans (and out politicians) realize that cheap gas isn't a God given right.

Posted by: GhettoBurbs | September 18, 2006 3:51 PM | Report abuse

As someone who used to live in Europe and paid that "lovely" $5 gas, believe me it doesn't do hardly anything to deal with congestion or sprawl. All that happens is people buy more fuel efficient cars to offset it, and the poorer folks are pushed onto the buses.
The other ideas of putting variable tolls on highways and letting buses use the shoulder might help, putting offices out in PWC, Stafford, and all the other exurbs would definitely help significantly. I'm sure a lot of companies would put offices out there if they could get the land zoned commercial (cheap rent, educated and happier workforce).
The #1 problem I see in this area is the disconnect between residential zoning and commercial office zoning. All the areas where the offices are (Tysons, downtown, govt offices, Pentagon) don't have nearly enough nearby housing to accomodate the workforce, forcing sprawl and congested roadways.

Posted by: Z | September 18, 2006 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Telecommuting for all!! (or at least everyone who can). Except for those who spend their entire day with classified information, I am finding, as a contingency planner, that most of the white collar workforce in this area could work at home. I don't know if I want employers buying FIOS or DSL for their employees; you lose your job, you lose your access? But give 'em all laptops and VPN tokens and send them home. You can meet online to gossip, have videoconferences, grade performance by work completed, not how "busy" you look...I have to stop drinking early in the morning.

Posted by: bebp | September 19, 2006 9:22 AM | Report abuse

By all accounts the congestion charge in London has worked wonders.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 19, 2006 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, the big ploy against teleworking is now computer security...

Posted by: cb | September 19, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Gas taxes are a great idea. 2 dollars might be a bit hefty for America, and it would be pretty silly to invest ALL of it in fossil fuel alternatives- though, of course some of it should go to that!

Many new roads should be built, many more roads should be fixed, improved. Traffic lights, signage, timing, enforcement, all these things would benefit from taxes.

Keep in mind that more roads does NOT equal more gas consumption. Quite the opposite, actually! Think about how much fuel you waste in stop/go congestion. It's a tremendous amount. We're talking millions and millions and millions of gallons a year, nationwide. Get rid of that congestion, save that gas, help reduce the amount going into the environment.

Plus we'll have an efficient highway transportation system, ready to welcome the new breed of fuel efficient cars.

Efficient cars, efficient roads, efficient signage, lights, traffic control, clever interchanges and intersections. Lanes special to busses, even commuter trains. And more.

A new gas tax is the most likely candidate to bring about a new vision for our transportation network. Remember the Interstate highway system is only 50 years old, it's time for a renewed vision. Not just for highways, but for all transportation.

Posted by: jt | September 19, 2006 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I can go along with increased toll during rush hours, let those that can afford it, do it.
However, increasing the gas tax I have to disagree with because it takes me at least twice as long to commute by public transport as driving (I live near the end of one spoke and work near the end of another and the shuttle bus at the work end has limited hours of operation).
And, by the way, living in a two-income household does not afford me the luxury of moving closer to work, it would be farther for the other one; as it is, I can't afford to buy the house that I'm living in now!

Posted by: Historian | September 19, 2006 11:23 AM | Report abuse

I think the real cause of the traffic congestion problem in our region is that people feel the need to live in a large house in the exurbs (like Ashburn, for example) and then commute to their jobs downtown, or around the Beltway to another suburb/exurb. Why can't people settle for smaller housing that is closer to where they work?

Posted by: Lem | September 22, 2006 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Lem, what happens if someone changes jobs, or if you have a two-income family where people work in different locations? My mother and father live out near Fairfax City; he works downtown, she works in Centreville (she used to work near Falls Church). Their location seems like an ideal compromise for that situation. I'm sure that there are thousands of similar situations all over the area, or people whose employers move to new office locations, etc. (it's not always practical for people to move around the area just because employers move--especially families with kids). "Live where you work" is a nice idea that, I think, is not necessarily as realistic a possibility for many people as one might like.

Posted by: Rich | September 24, 2006 6:18 PM | Report abuse

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