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Each Driver Has Personal Misery Index

295 traffic.jpg
Drivers, like these in 295 congestion, don't see solutions the same way. (Thomson)

[Tim Lomax, co-author of the Texas Transportation Institute mobility study that puts the Washington area traffic at second worst in the nation, will be online for a discussion at 2 p.m. ET. Here's the link to the discussion.]

Travelers don't look at our transportation system the way traffic experts do. To the experts, the Washington transportation system is a big unfolded map stretching from the Blue Ridge to the Eastern Shore and from Fredericksburg to Baltimore.

Travelers take a GPS view. The transportation system is a line from Point A to Point B. It's the route they travel every day.

The mobility study published today by the Texas Transportation Institute is one of those big unfolded maps. It shows that traffic congestion is bad and suggests it's likely to get worse once the recession is done. On the most commonly used misery scale, using 2007 information, we rank No. 2, behind Los Angeles and ahead of Atlanta.

What does that mean to travelers, aside from telling us we have bragging rights over Atlanta? Travelers I hear from aren't measuring their misery in these grand-scale concepts of travel time index, total delay or excess fuel consumed.

When they write to me, they are rarely asking for a big solution to the big problem. They complain about a traffic light or set of lights they think are timed wrong. Or they ask when a portion of highway they use will be widened. Or they express frustration about why lanes along their route aren't kept clear at rush hour.

There's a misery index for every driver. That's the key problem local and national leaders face as they try to build a consensus for transportation improvements. The drivers slowing down now on Suitland Parkway as they approach 295 want a solution. The drives slowing down now on I-66 as they approach the Beltway want a solution. So do the drivers on the outer loop approaching Georgia Avenue.

They don't necessarily want the same solution. Many of the Suitland Parkway drivers want a seamless highway link to their jobs in Northern Virginia. Drivers on I-66, most of whom are driving solo, want a straight shot into the District. Drivers on the outer loop want the northern arc of the Beltway to be wider, or maybe double-decked.

I've been out there with them on all those routes and take every one of their complaints and suggestions seriously. In fact, I'd like to see the travel problems solved in their lifetimes. But that's not going to happen unless the local and federal leaders can get travelers mobilized to support a mobility plan that's bigger than their own routes.

How do you measure misery as you travel, and is there a solution that would help you while also helping others on different routes?

By Robert Thomson  |  July 8, 2009; 8:32 AM ET
Categories:  Congestion , Driving , Transportation Politics  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Texas Transportation Institute, mobility study  
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How do you measure misery as you travel -
Not in gallons...measured by how much longer it takes to get there over how long it SHOULD take (with NO traffic) - e.g., from Alexandria, it SHOULD take about 1.5 hours to get to Richmond; on any given day / time it COULD take up to 4 hours to go 90 miles. That's beyond my threshold.

and is there a solution that would help you while also helping others on different routes?
Baby boomer era managers join the 21st century and realize that you don't HAVE to be AT work to be DOING work or be productive. Hold people accountable for their tasks and allow them to work when they want (i.e., NOT 9 to 5) from where they want (and implement appropriate network security / technology to allow that to happen). Encourage people to travel during "off" times. E.g., on any day, I can leave Alexandria at 530am and it takes 90 min to get to Richmond. Similarly, I can leave Alexandria at 530am, and it takes 4 hrs to get to New York. Problem is, on a weekday, I have to leave Richmond at 4am to get to Alexandria in 90 min.

Posted by: robjdisc | July 8, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

To me there are four factors:
* time - how long does it take on average
* cost - all costs including gas, service, tolls, parking, and fares
* comfort - sitting on a train is comfortable, biking or walking in nice weather are fairly comfortable, driving in normal traffic and standing on a crowded train are okay, and sitting in traffic or walking/biking in bad weather is uncomfortable.
* variance - when the commute is unreliable (traffic, service disruptions, buses not showing up, etc.), it adds to the stress. Predictable is good.

I can't totally quantify this, but in general I'm willing to pay twice as much and have the trip take twice as long to be able to not drive.

Posted by: slar | July 8, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

as a cyclist commuter doing 44 miles roundtrip (five days a week), misery for me is measured by the day of the week. Thursday and Friday are typically when I'm almost too exhausted to do it.

But, I'll never get behind the wheel again. My life has improved dramatically by making the decision to rid myself of a car for commuting (still have one for family matters, of course). I don't want to sound self-righteous, because I know this isn't for everyone, but seriously, give it a shot; you might like it!

@GetThere blog: You and I both know that DC has been there before. We've had terrible traffic that was supposed to be ameliorated by lane widenings and new construction. I 270 comes to mind. Yet, here we are again. New lanes and new roads are a form of induced demand. If we build it, they will come.

The only real way to reduce traffic is a combination of initiatives that get people who have to drive off the road during peak hours, and to encourage those who currently drive but really don't need to to use alternative modes of transportation. This should be facilitated through a series of congestion fees, usage tolls, gax taxes, and improved transit access. I promise you this: any new or widened roads will only exacerbate the problem, as convenient roads encourage new, farther out developments. We will have this exact same coversation in 20 years, only all of the dollar figures will be much larger. This is a guarantee.

Posted by: supersmax | July 9, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

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