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We’re Number One… For Traffic Congestion

by ARLnow.com January 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm 2,348 86 Comments

The Washington metro area is tied with Chicago for having the country’s most congested roads.

According to a new study, auto commuters in Washington and Chicago spend about 70 hours — nearly three whole days — of extra time in the car thanks to traffic. We beat out the famously congested Los Angeles area, where commuters only spend 63 extra hours in the car each year.

Washington also ranked #1 for “fuel wasted per peak auto commuter” and #2 for “commuter stress” and “cost of delay per peak hour auto commuter” (at $1,555 per year).

In the wake of the study’s release, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group that supports additional spending on highway capacity and other transportation projects, issued a snarky press release “congratulating” the region for the distinction.

“Persistence pays off!” the Alliance proclaimed. “Years of state fiscal neglect and local opposition to planner’s priorities have finally moved the Commonwealth’s economic engine, Northern Virginia, to the top of the congestion-delay heap.”

The news comes less than two weeks after Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) announced plans to roll out billions in additional transportation spending.

Researchers with the Texas Transportation Institute, which conducted the study, came up with a number of general strategies to help alleviate traffic congestion, including:

  • “Get as much use as possible out of the transportation system we have.”
  • “Add roadway and public transportation capacity in the places where it is needed most.”
  • “Change our patterns, employing ideas like ridesharing and flexible work times to avoid traditional ‘rush hours.'”
  • “Provide more choices, such as alternate routes, telecommuting and toll lanes for faster and more reliable trips.”
  • “Diversify land development patterns, to make walking, biking and mass transit more practical.”
  • “Adopt realistic expectations, recognizing for instance that large urban areas are going to be congested, but they don’t have to stay that way all day long.”

  • JimPB

    Solution: Disburse the Federal government around the U.S. — fewer workers here mean reduced traffic; and to help solve the housing crisis in areas where the problem is acute:– put government facilities from D.C. in areas with many empty/abandoned homes.

    • mehoo

      National sprawl – great!

    • V Dizzle

      So kindof an anti-BRAC. Wouldn’t that solve the congestion problem, but create a local economic one along with de-centralizing Feds and increasing taxes?

    • Lou

      I think I heard on the radio this morning that the majority of federal jobs are not in the DC area. They can’t do much more.

    • AntiSocialist

      The solution is to stop socialism when it comes to transportation. The users of all transportation infrastructure (mostly roads, bridges, tunnels but also trains and air) do not fully pay directly for the cost, therefore they are overused. We do not have limitless transportation infrastructure so it will be rationed. Since it is not being rationed by price, it will be rationed by inconvienence.

      • mehoo

        Yeah, but what are you going to do, put toll booths on every corner?

        • AntiSocialist

          Toll booths are one way, technology offers other options that may or may not be good. You can indirectly pay by things like gas tax. Turn the roads over to private enterprise and a way will be found. At the very least, get the Federal government out of the transportation subsidy business. If states want to have a socialist system of free roads for all and tax their citizens, that’s their business. States that have developed efficiently with less need for expensive transportation infrastructure should not be punished by subsidizing states that have not developed in such a way.

          • Westover

            Some states have the means to have much higher revenue than others, and there is no real option to increase those revenues. But, we all have occasion where we need to pass through these states or have our goods shipped through the state. The Federal Interstate Hawaii System is a fair way to ensure this happens.

            That said, the HOT lanes that the county board is so opposed to are a real world solution to the direct funding by users that you suggest.

          • Westover

            *oh yeah, EZpass is the technical solution that already exists.

        • mehoo

          Gas tax – yeah, that’s what we do now. So what part are you saying is “socialist?”

          How is the federal government “subsidizing” if it’s financing all our roads with a gas tax?

          As for privatizing – the government would still have to authorize the routes and use eminent domain to get the right of way. The government already employs private contractors to build, and sometimes maintain, the roads. Not much left. And private industry fails all the time – notice the recession?

          Or are you saying the states should handle it instead? That has nothing to do with “socialism” – states are governments too.

          Get your philosophy straight and get back to us.

          • AntiSocialist

            The philosophy is simple. When you subsidize a scarce resource and offer it for unlimited use, without charging for its creation and maintenance proportionally by the people that use it, it will be over-used. If the federal government opened a free pizza place in Clarendon (subsidized by the taxes from everyone), the line would be long. If the gas tax pays 100% for all roads, bridges, tunnels, traffic control devices etc then I stand corrected. But I don’t think it comes even close.

          • mehoo

            Um, yeah, I think the gas tax (federal and state) and tolls pretty much pay for 100% of roads and bridges and stuff. Where did you think it came from?

            There have been a few attempts to use other money here and there, but that’s only because the gas tax is too low.

          • MB

            Actually, Meehoo, the gas tax doesn’t come close to paying for the roads. From the link:

            The study’s central chart shows how the nation spent $133 billion on roads and highways in 2001. This includes Federal, state and local roads, from big expressways to meandering local roads. On average, the gas tax paid for only 35% of this figure. This means that non-automobile-related taxes pay for about 40% of the total cost of the road network.

            This does not, however, mean that you have to take AntiSocialist seriously. Unless you’re into unworkable fantasies.

          • AntiSocialist

            Why take any anonymous entity on the internet seriously ? Although I don’t think I’ve said anything incorrect or even controversial. The majority of people seem to like socialized transportation. I’m just pointing out why the resource that is heavily subsidized by the federal government is crowded. It’s all very rational – give away something valuable free of charge and there will be people queued up to get their share and then some. Same can be said of healthcare. It still is up to the society to determine what is desireable to subsidize and how much.

          • mehoo

            MB: WHOA! Hold on a minute.

            Thanks for the link – I was looking for something like this. But if you look closely, while the gas tax isn’t the only source, the majority comes from transportation-related taxes, i.e. taxes on users of the system. Add vehicle taxes and tolls and you get about 60%.

            I don’t know why transportation is special and needs it’s own tax or should be funded only by users anyway. It’s just another government function that benefits people even when they aren’t on the roads. User taxes like these don’t do that much to discourage use, despite AntiSocialist’s worries. People are going to drive, and a few more cents of gas taxes won’t stop them.

          • mehoo

            AntiSocialist:

            You keep saying roads are “subsidized” or “free” without saying what you mean. Just because something is paid for by the feds doesn’t make it “free.” We pay taxes to the feds for that too. Moving it to the states wouldn’t change that, we’d still pay taxes. So do you want all direct user fees to fund roads? A toll booth on every block?

            Your views are controversial because they don’t make sense, and you don’t try to make sense out of them.

      • dss10

        1. You need to read Adam Smith’s “wealth of nations” and Samuelson’s “Economics.”
        2. If you have already, then read them again until understand them.

  • JamesE

    Teaching people how to merge onto highways would help

    • Peter

      What is the proper way to merge to merge onto highways?

      • JamesE

        What till the very last second at the end of the merge lane and slam on your brakes and cut in causing a chain reaction slow down. Also if you are already on the highway and someone is trying to merge in you speed up and block them from getting in front of you.

        • JamesE

          *Wait till

        • Elgin

          +1bajillion
          Asshats that wait until the end is one of my biggest pet peeves. To be topped only by those that go all the way to the end of the merge lane and don’t use a signal to move over once they are half on the shoulder. And, yes, I am the asshole that won’t let you in if you go all the way to the end or past it. You had several hundred yards to accomplish your merge, so you fail.

          • Kevin

            You’re supposed to use the entire merge lane to merge. Read up on the “zipper effect”

          • mehoo

            If there is only a little traffic in your lane and you’re merging into lots of traffic, it doesn’t matter when you merge. What’s the difference? If someone’s trying to merge into your lane, just let him in or go past him. If he can’t, maybe you’re speeding.

            If the lane you’re in has lots of traffic, such as when the lane is closed ahead, you should go to near the end and simply alternate, like a zipper. That’s the most efficient and safe way. Everyone merges in the same spot.

          • Westover

            Using the Zipper Effect and going to the end of the merge lane is the right way, unfortunately the self-rightious, but ignorent, usually try to block those folks doing it correctly from entering. However those that do the zipper half way and slam on their brakes as soon as they enter the main lanes screw things up too.

            Our real problem here is that we have folks from all of the Nation and the world show upwith their local driving habits and customs and expect everyone else to adapt to them. Just yesterday a guy with Washington State tags honked at me after he would not let me into the merge lane for a quarter mile or so. Had my signal on, but every time I started to move over he would try to ram me… A mile later he weaved through traffic just to give me the bird.

          • Westover

            Elgin’s ignorance of the rules of the road and self-righteousness is an example of the cause of much of the problem.

          • Elgin is the kind of douchebag that I get in front of and then give them a blast of my wipers.

          • mehoo

            Elgin has a tiny point about not using the signal – but it should be obvious someone’s trying to merge from a merge lane. Elgin, just assume someone wants to merge and give them room. Just be nice.

          • Westover

            When you are in the merge lane with no where to go except to merge, legally there is no requirement to signal, just like being in a left turn only lane, the signal in that case is a nice courtesy. Now exiting on to the deceleration lane does require a signal.

          • mehoo

            True, not required, since it should be obvious you’re merging. Good idea sometimes though.

          • Banksy

            Agree with Elgin that the “zipper” method is the proper and most efficient way to merge. I wish they would put signs on highway entrance ramps to let drivers in both lanes (existing traffic and merging traffic) know to do this.

          • Westover

            You agree with Elgin who does not understand the Zipper Method?

        • Zack

          It’s called “The NoVa merge”

          • CJR

            For five years on I-66 and Chain Bridge Road I watched those assholes always go to the end of a lane when they know they had to merge, just to try and jump in front of a car at the last moment. And there is always someone there letting them cut in line (when their lane must exit – but they use that lane to advance and jump in) (I always view those do-gooders as democrats – it is NoVa after all). After 5 years, I’m now the asshole doing the same driving tricks and easily shave 15 minutes off a 40 minute commute – and I’m a lot less stressed and frustrated. I tried to play by the rules, but too many people just give a pass to A-hole drivers.

          • Set the controls

            My dear CJR,
            One person’s “assholes always go to the end of a lane when they know they had to merge, just to try and jump in front of a car at the last moment” is another person’s prudent use of the entire roadway to execute a zipper merge, thereby allowing others in the merge lane behind him to do the same and cause as little interruption to the traffic flow in the main roadway. Democrat or otherwise I am always puzzled why people demand more roads when they don’t utilize the lane miles they already have.

          • mehoo

            All this depends on whether there is alot of traffic in either the merge lane or the one you’re merging into.

  • Don Incognito

    Makes me all the more grateful for being able to live on the Orange line in Arlington and to work in Old Town Alexandria. Fifteen minutes, no traffic, scenic drive on the GWP twice a day.

  • MB

    Funny, I was at a civic association meeting last night, and a couple of longtime residents showed us slides of Clarendon over the years (from the 30s forward). Guess what? In nearly every single one of those slides Wilson Boulevard was backed up with cars. One presenters mother walked her to school until she was 13 (late 40s) because she thought Clarendon Circle (present location of Liberty Tavern/Silver Diner/Northside Social) was too dangerous to cross on her own.

    Some things just don’t change.

    • CJR

      Can you provide a link to those slides? would be interesting.

      • MB

        They’re not online. I’m going to see what I can do about changing that. In the meantime, the Arlington library’s Flickr stream has some interesting stuff in it (and a few from the slides).

  • MktCommon

    I just moved here from LA. Imho, traffic is so much worse here. In LA, I lived 25 miles from my office and my commute was 30 to 45 minutes (mostly freeway, some surface streets) barring a sigalert (all lanes blocked). Here, I live 15 miles from my office and my commute is 30 to 45 minutes (no metro option available) ….

    • Westover

      The funny thing with LA is EVERYTHING is a half hour away, 2 miles or 30 miles, it always seems to take 30 minutes. 😉 This has always been home, but I <3 LA.

  • GeorgeOrwell

    widen 66 inside the beltway so we can get to and from our jobs.

    • Westover

      to and from jobs, church, schools, shopping, etc.

    • mehoo

      Pointless, especially since you’ll just hit a bridge that’s no wider anyway.

      • Lou

        They’re already widening it. Including bridges.

        http://bit.ly/i6UWPQ

        • mehoo

          No, I mean the Roosevelt Bridge, at the end.

          • Lou

            They widened the westbound lanes.

          • Westover

            Roosevelt Bridge is not the choke point, the red light at the end of the bridge in the District is the hold up there. Further out we have a big congestion problem at East Falls Church that they are finally taking care of and at Ballston/Fairfax Drive.

          • GeorgeOrwell

            DC is not the employment destination anymore. I drive thru Arlington — Lee Hwy, Washington Blvd., to avoid getting on I-66 at Spout Run or Ballston. I’m not the only one. Get this thru-traffic off our streets.

          • mehoo

            Westover – whatever the choke point is, the point is that there will always be a choke point. Widening doesn’t fix that.

          • Westover

            Sure it does. The issue at the end of the Roosevelt Bridge is that it is the end of the highway, the problem with the choke points further up I-66 is that you have three and four lane sections narrowing down to two lanes where they are not removeing much of the traffic. The choke points near Exit 69 in both directions have been the cause of deadly accidents even. It is both a congestion, and a safety issue to have the road widened at these places.

          • mehoo

            A few “spot improvement” to relieve accident-prone choke points further up is fine. Adding an entire new lane or two and expecting traffic to zip into DC every morning at 60 mph isn’t going to happen.

  • Rover

    As a resident of Northern VA for nearly 40 years, I can say I’ve seen politicians blunder “smart growth” time and time again. It continues to happen. High density development continues to occur near public transit infrastructure that can’t handle the volume. Suburban sprawl continues to happen where this is little or no public transit and roads that can’t handle the volume. For years the builders have gotten away with murder for the added tax money coming into the jurusdictions for the politicians to do what they wanted with. None of them, regardless of political offiliation, did a good job growing infrastructure smartly. Greedy bastards they all are, and I’m bitter to have seen a wonderful area in the 1970’s grow into a place rather unpleasant to go anywhere by car (or crowded decreped rail for that matter).

  • mehoo

    “High density development continues to occur near public transit infrastructure that can’t handle the volume. Suburban sprawl continues to happen where this is little or no public transit and roads that can’t handle the volume.”

    Yeah, but what are the options? High density in the middle of nowhere? Low density that covers a thousand square miles? Just shutting down all development?

    • Westover

      A lot of Metro stations have been under utilized while others are over capacity. I assume that is his point.

      • Rover

        Very true. Metro didn’t think they needed to add parking at many of the stations. Bad decision, because those go underutilized.

        • jan

          yes, they created “kiss and ride”, assuming housewives would take hubby to the station. Remember that the planning occurred in a different era.

          • Westover

            Kiss and Ride is still heavly utilized.

          • mehoo

            So now spouses drop their significant others off on their way driving to work. Same thing.

    • Rover

      Make the developers responsible for infrastructure improvements (or infrastructure money) rather than have them build a million homes on a farm with all the cars dumping out onto a country road. Make them build the roads. Make them contribute money for more buses and trains. Contribute to a fund to add tunnels under the river so more trains can run. How do you think all the extra commuters from the Silver Line are going to impact single track operation under the Potomac? Do you think any of the high rise developers on the Orange Line in VA contribute to this? Nah. Where does all the tax money go? To transit? Nah. Did the folks who develope(d) in Tysons and Loudoun contribute to the Silver Line. Nope. Yes, your house or condo will cost more. But don’t you reap the benefit for wanting to live on the Silver or Orange line? Or, don’t you reap the benefit in your house if you don’t have to dump onto a country road with 10,000 other cars? You should pay for that, or sit in gridlock. The politicians and builders chose the later. I will say Arlington did fight for the Orange line in the 1960s, but have not done much since other that to build high density development around it. 50 years later our solution is to dump another rail line into it and bring in more people. Great job.

      • Westover

        Actually there have been special tax districts created around those stations.

        • Rover

          I can’t dispute that. But, where does the additional tax money go? There’s the rub.

          • Westover

            Supposedly to help fund some of the Metro needs.

          • Rover

            Westover: I merely need to note train accidents, broken escalators and elevators, poor track condition, and lack of platform personnel. Like I said, where is the money going? Maybe it is all going to transportation in the tax district. But, if so, the tax is not high enough to sustain the benefit received.

          • mehoo

            Well, you can’t just assume there’s no benefit. Without the taxes, breakdowns and service might be even worse. The taxes may be too low, or the money not used wisely, but we can’t know that just by riding around.

          • Westover

            The tax alone is not enough, and really never could be. Rail Transit systems are extremly expensive to build and then to operate. It does lessen traffic for a period of time, just as adding road lanes does. But eventually the population groth catches up. Our society needs to decide if it is worth the expense.

          • mehoo

            Transit systems allow for denser growth, reducing traffic by more than just the people riding it. It shortens and eliminates other car trips because people can walk or bike or do multiple errands on one trip, transit or otherwise. And it keeps people from moving out to the outer suburbs and getting on the highways even further out, creating more traffic there and closer in. It’s about alot more than just getting people off the road and on trains.

          • Rover

            It is too bad the metro rail planning didn’t continue to develop with the vision of the 1960s. It seems nobody really realized there would be business growth in the burbs, and that a rail system from suburb to suburb would be needed. Everything goes into the city, and so many people work outside of the city now. That certainly adds to the cars on the road.

      • GeorgeOrwell

        HB3202 — enacted in Virginia in 2007 added 12.5 cents onto the real estate tax rate for commercial property in Arlington, Virginia. — that is roughly a 13% increase — solely to fund transportation projects.
        in 2010 it is expected to raise $20 million… where does that go? Pet projects.
        hard to find info, but here is some on the “transportation investment fund” funded by developers:
        http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/ManagementAndFinance/cip_09_adopted/07/file65994.pdf

  • dss10

    The problem is the drivers… Plain and simple. There is no excuse just look in the mirror. The roads are terrible here, poorly maintained and engineered, but its drivers inability to: merge, maintain speed, or look in their rearview mirror that that causes most congestion and worse yet accidents. I’ve had friends from Europe, Asia, and South America all comment at how terrible people drive here. When some one from turkey rolls their eyes you know that there is a problem…

    • JamesE

      My favorite is the people going below the speed limit in the left lane that will not get over.

      • mehoo

        Yes. And people speeding in the right lane so the slow ones can’t get over.

        And dammit, you idiots, there’s something called a turn signal. Use it.

        • Rover

          Yes, please do! And, no left turns from the right lane please!

      • CJR

        Mine is people going slow in the left lane, while letting everyone from the right lane jump in front of them!

  • K

    Increase the car tax to pay for transportation.

  • AsherYuki

    Why keep talking about making more roads or widening the roads. There is a cheaper solution – Telework.

    My whole division is now teleworking and only goes into the office for meetings. In March, you will hotel (reserver a desk) for the time that you are in the office,but there will never be enough cubes for the whole division as we will never be there at the same time.

    Why can’t more people just do this and it will solve soooo many problems – stress, traffic, less sick time, lower insurance costs, etc., etc. etc.

    • Westover

      That works for many jobs, and there is a push for teleworking, but it does not work for every job or every worker.

      • AsherYuki

        Agreed but if it is implemented in half of the businesses in the DC area it would solve the traffic woes.

  • Bender

    We’re Number One… For Traffic Congestion

    And that’s on purpose. It is the intention of the Arlington government to obstruct and impede the free flow of traffic, to make personal transportation as inconvenient as possible, so as to coerce people into even more inconvenient and unreliable public transit, or to pack people like sardines into hyper-dense areas. This is their urban village paradise.

    • Arlingtonthen

      +1

  • OfficeNerds

    The study show’s the WASHINGTON region as #1… not Arlington County. Most of the blame are these dummies who insist on driving their cars everywhere, BY THEMSELVES to go to the same damn areas! They’re all coming from Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudoun Counties anyway. We’re our own worst enemy. Build wider freeways, and more and more people who may have turned to carpooling or taking buses from areas not served by metro will once again be attracted to the less congested interstates I-95 and I-66. Development in no-mans land will continue, and in 10 years we’ll be back to where we are now, bitching and moaning about traffic. We NEED Metrorail down 95 to Dumfries, and we NEED metrorail west to Gainesville. Every train doesn’t have to start and end at those terminals, but they could be every other train going that far. Metro should also run express trains to make them more attractive… example, a train beginning in Gainesville during the morning rush only stops at Gainesville, Manassas, Centreville, Fair Lakes, Fair Oaks, then no stops until Ballston, Rosslyn, and so on. Traffic is only diabolically bad around here in the morning and evening on weekdays, other than that, it’s pretty dead. Let’s address the real issue and not be stuck with infrastructure that’s under-utilized most of the time.

    • OfficeNerds

      I have never been in bad traffic outside of the peak commuting hours around here, unless an unforseen wreck closes all lanes of traffic for a medivac helicopter to land. Go up to NYC, where I grew up, and it is not uncommon to be stuck on the Cross Bronx Expressway, the Belt Parkway, or the Van Wyck at ANY hour of ANY day. This could be at midnight, noon, or 3am, doesn’t make a difference. They could also be smooth sailing at rush hour times, completely unpredictable. Bulldozing more neighborhoods in favor of wider freeways is NOT the answer.

    • Arlingtonthen

      Don’t forget to add metor parking lots with enough parking so that new metro extensions can be used otherwise it’s not going to work. If people can’t park, they will just drive all the way into work.

  • Chief

    Note, as discussed in more detail over at greatergreaterwashington.com, that this study measures congestion based average speeds traveled during commute, not time of commute. Smart growth, almost by definition, could not improve an area’s standing in the study because it doesn’t necessarily achieve shorter commutes through higher highway speeds.

  • Set the controls

    On a more tactical level, traffic lights:

    1. on inter-jurisdictional roads should be coordinated to a much greater degree, especially between Arlington and Fairfax County.

    2. should be much more reliant on sensors than on timed light cycles. I find it infuriating to wait for a light when there is no opposing traffic.

    3. should probably have longer green and red cycles.

    4. Roads like Carlin Springs Road, Glebe Road, Arlington Boulevard, Columbia Pike are jam packed at rush hours (all three, including lunch time) and neighborhood roads are empty. Arlington discourages traffic on residential streets and arteries are preferred, however there is a lot of excess capacity out there during the day. If the county designated a few more convenient through routes, the streetscape wouldn’t have to change. I for one wouldn’t mind going over a few speed humps to avoid some snafu on Glebe Road.

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