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The 5 biggest roadblocks to great WA transportation

Enough of unproductive rhetoric. Here's what we really need to do to fix the Washington state transportation quagmire.

Crosscut will host "What Moves You: Transportation and Arts," a Civic Cocktail happy hour in partnership with CityClub and the Seattle Channel, Wednesday, April 3rd at 5:30 p.m. Learn more and register here. 

Let’s rise — just for a moment — above the gruesome gruel of the regular transportation conversation. Forget the war on cars and bikes, where to put streetcars, how to finish the new SR 520 bridge and how much more money to spend on light rail. Instead, consider this:

What are the five biggest transportation challenges facing the Puget Sound region and Washington state?

It’s a good exercise, liberating from tired thinking and sobering as a judgment of our long-term progress. Here are my picks.

Challenge #1: We must reduce transportation’s dependence on fossil fuel, and especially oil and especially imported oil. This is the fundamental sustainability issue in transportation: Oil’s cost is killing us. It drains our personal, communal and national treasure, to say nothing of driving us in strange directions on domestic and foreign policy. Directly meeting the fossil fuel reduction challenge would move the needle on a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions too, even if we in Washington are relatively small contributors as compared to others.

How can it be done? Vastly higher fuel efficiency in some vehicles, electrification in others and private consumer choices driven by market forces — higher oil prices and real or contrived scarcity. Not to mention a national policy and investment tilt toward freight rail and seizing a host of opportunities intermingled with the next, second, challenge.

Challenge #2: We must use existing transportation assets more efficiently. We can do much more of transportation’s task with what we have. We just need to demand more attention to operations efficiencies: smoother traffic flow, more reliable travel times and laser focus on speed and transit reliability improvements. We need to step up to serious stewardship of our transportation system through adequate maintenance and preservation of our huge — and woefully neglected — existing transportation infrastructure.

At the very center of the efficiency challenge is a simple solution: Real-time variable pricing — tolls on constrained capacity freeways that go up at times of high demand. This is not just a play for more revenue. Better use of the system by market allocation of roadway — transportation bandwidth, if you will — has a much larger payback.

A highway lane kept free-flowing by variable tolling achieves startling efficiency, moving twice as many cars in an hour as a jammed “freeway.” Free flowing roadway corridors also assure fast, reliable, customer-attracting transit service. That is, as opposed to the endless waiting and incredible cost of creating altogether new transit alignments. With modern roadway pricing, we can unlock huge capacity gains from investments we have already made in our roads and infrastructure. It must be the key outcome of the tolling discussion.

Challenge #3: We must change the way we fund transportation services and facilities. The gas tax cannot be the dominant pillar of public transportation finance. This is true for a host of reasons, including the necessity of reducing fossil fuel use (See Challenge #1, above). Existing custom, broad public acceptance and the appealing administrative simplicity of gas taxes have all been huge barriers to change.

Re-thinking probably has to start from viewing roads, highways and transit systems as utilities, like water, sewer, gas and electric systems. We will have to adapt the best models of utility funding — an area fraught with its own problems — to the transportation arena. Higher reliance on users pay principles and more scrutiny and insistence on economic measures and our return on investment will have to become more prominent.

Challenge #4: We must fix the regional transportation planning, decision structures and processes for our state. We seem to have more unconnected silos for transportation management and decision-making than the Palouse has silos for wheatThe legislature, a governor, city and county executives and councils, ports, Sound Transit, the Puget Sound Regional Council, a bushelful of DOTs and a basket-load of commissions and boards are all pushing disjointed spending and infrastructure agendas. These frustrate cohesive, balanced approaches to regional and statewide transportation futures.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 7:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Some prudent ideas here from a man with perspective.

crossrip

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Here’s what would happen if you asked Dow Constantine, Dwight Pelz, Frank Chopp, Ed Murray, Mike McGinn, etc. about MacDonald’s suggestions: they’d start up their low, threatening chant “The silos will stay. The silos will stay. The silos will stay. . . .”

crossrip

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 7:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Well Mr. MacDonald has been excited about charging people by the mile for over a decade.

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2002102955_tollproject28m.html

Cameron

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 1:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Cameron,

The news article you found references the Puget Sound Regional Council Traffic Choices Study which in an amazing and clever experimental design tested the effect of region-wide road charging on the behavior of drivers in 275 volunteer households.

A cash price per mile varying by time of day (off-peak discounts!) was applied to every highway and arterial road in the central Puget Sound region. The Traffic Choices Study Summary Report is already a classic among transportation aficionados, and it should now be read and absorbed into the thinking by everyone who care about efficiency and effectiveness in government investment:

http://www.psrc.org/assets/37/summaryreport.pdf

Quoting the report:

1. Observed response of drivers to tolls suggests there is a dramatic opportunity to significantly reduce traffic congestion and raise revenues for investment.

1.1 Motorists made small-scale adjustments in travel that, in aggregate, would have a major effect on transportation system performance.

1.2 When approached systematically, variable road tolling, with investments of toll revenues, could make excessive reoccurring congestion a thing of the past.

1.3 The scale of the revenues confirms the theoretical expectation that “optimal” tolls would support expanding transportation supply when and where it is needed most.

1.4 While most revenues are generated on a small portion of the toll roads, the secondary road network (arterials) should not be ignored, as diversion causes real problems with revenue loss and displaced traffic.

1.5 Users demonstrating a willingness to pay for high value roadways could expect that improvements would be forthcoming.

1.6 Done right, network tolling could provide broad benefit, including lower vehicle emissions, fewer accidents, travel time savings, improved roadway performance reliability, and lower operating costs.

1.7 A conservative analysis of the benefits of network tolling in the Puget Sound region indicates that the present value of net benefits could exceed $28 billion over a 30-year period.

Unquote

Wait, there's more .... download and read the report.

jniles

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 7:43 a.m. Inappropriate

As always McDonald ignores the basic transportation premise that it should be about moving people and things more efficiently and economically from one place to another. No mention of the fact that we are actually increasing congestion with current megaprojects intentionally designed with reduced access and capacities, while adding billions for extras and amenities to accommodate special interests.

Good list of new buzz words though.

jmrolls

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 1:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps MacDonald is too subtle in his reference to the basic transportation premise of "moving people and things more efficiently and economically from one place to another."

Quoting MacDonald: "Silo-centered loyalties, affections and biases tend to run to modes of transportation delivery (rail cars, automobiles, buses ferries, bicycles), not functions of the transportation task (getting many someones or somethings from Ballard to Capitol Hill, for example)."

jniles

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 2:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Now just work the “efficiency” and “economics” back in…do the math…call us back. It will also provide a better understanding of his next paragraph about our managers and politicians being accountable for these sub-optimized projects with reduced access and capacities and bloated budgets providing they “really do” focus on the “performance” of our transportation system.

jmrolls

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 7:55 a.m. Inappropriate

"Real-time variable pricing — tolls on constrained capacity freeways that go up at times of high demand. This is not just a play for more revenue. Better use of the system by market allocation of roadway — transportation bandwidth, if you will — has a much larger payback."

I envy the lifestyle of Mr. MacDonald and others who have the luxury of timing their use of the roadways around "times of high demand," but what does he expect those of us living in the real world to do?

Like most people, I don't choose to travel at rush-hour: I travel when I do because I have to be at work when the boss says I have to be at work, which is pretty much the same time everyone else has to be at work.

There isn't a single highway lane that will be kept free-flowing by variable tolling - it will simply allow the state to take advantage of a vast majority of workers who are locked into a traditional work pattern.

I'm not against the state collecting more money to pay for transportation infrastructure: jack the gas tax to the max, reimpose a progressive MVET based on vehicle weight and value, and charge a Vehicle Miles Traveled fee to account for non-gasoline-vehicle use of our roads. Just don't pretend like an overly-simplistic scheme like real-time variable priced tolling is going to make a meaningful contribution to solving our transportation challenges.

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

The Puget Sound Regional Council Traffic Choices Study virtually tolled every highway and arterial in the region and made 275 volunteer households who lived in the real world experience that reality.

Hard to believe how PSRC did that until you read the report:

http://www.psrc.org/assets/37/summaryreport.pdf

jniles

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 8:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Ol' Doug. Still trying to toll everything. There is so much low hanging fruit, that no one wants to talk about.
How about some encouragement of employers to stagger shifts? How about realizing 405 HOV lanes are underutilized. How about doing demand sensitive pricing on ferries? Already do it on 167.

And my favorite, how about stop spending about half of our project dollars on transit, and "offsite remediation" (read more mosquito breeding ponds).

Ah, but we manage our transportation dollars defensively, not offensively. We talk freight mobility, then ignore it when the rubber hits the road. (no pun).

And folks, t'aint gonna get better. New Secretary Lynn has no credentials other than being a greener, and her new chief spinmeister used to work for Algore and has a reputation as a political operative above all, so we know what to expect from that crew.

Sad day, it is. Almost wish for getting old Doug back, at least he is right in about 40% of his items.

The Geezer has spaketh.

Geezer

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 8:14 a.m. Inappropriate

MacDonald doesn't have a clue about the real world. No one has yet figured out a public transit system which takes me where I want to go, when I want to go. Until they do, I will keep my automobile, which I will drive without the use of adaptive cruise control, variable tolling, or any or the other wet dreams of Transportation Planners. Why don't they get a real job. Oh, that's right. They have zero skills.

jwesmoore

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

What an elitist, social engineering perspective. Here are few other things to ponder:

Funny that there was no mention of reforming Doug's old agency, WSDOT.

The only mention of ferries was in reference to their "siloed" constituency. Ferry users pay 60-plus percent of operating costs; transit riders maybe 20 percent.

Love that SLUT cable car? How cost-effective was that expensive boondoggle?

We're about to start drilling a waterfront tunnel -- the most expensive option for the viaduct -- that will DECREASE throughput, INCREASE congestion on I-5 and downtown streets, INCREASE the potential for horrific accidents (let's hope there's never a fire down there) and that already is needing more money. To say of the potential engineering problems drilling through all that fill.

Doug also pays nothing but lip service to freight movement.

Concerns like these and mentioned by other commenters, combined with the toll-everything mentality, are going to make it very difficult to get any public support for transportation "reform".

Posted Tue, Apr 2, 9:48 a.m. Inappropriate

AMEN!

mspat

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

A real discussion of transportation will center on housing, especially affordable housing. More and more transportation is created to reach workers who move further and further away from their jobs in order to be able to find affordable housing. If we subsidized workers housing in core areas where transportation alternatives already existed we could cut all costs dramatically. Thats it in a nutshell.

chapala21

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

“If we subsidized workers housing in core areas where transportation alternatives already existed we could cut all costs dramatically.”

Well, that vision of density around train stations doesn’t jibe with how I’d like to live, but there certainly are examples of it around the world.

The “subsidized workers housing” you think is such a great idea looks like this:

http://www.bezbrige.com/images/stories/galerija/21/home/01.jpg

http://www.bezbrige.com/images/stories/galerija/21/home/03.jpg

http://www.bezbrige.com/images/stories/galerija/21/home/06.jpg

http://www.bezbrige.com/images/stories/galerija/21/home/07.jpg

http://www.bezbrige.com/images/stories/galerija/21/home/08.jpg

http://www.bezbrige.com/images/stories/galerija/21/home/09.jpg

http://www.bezbrige.com/images/stories/galerija/21/home/10.jpg

crossrip

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 9:44 a.m. Inappropriate

I like the emphasis on fixing transportation, rather than the quixotic quest to get people to live in places that will fix transportation. The latter is worth encouraging, but it has far less pay off than what Doug is recommending. One reason to suspect the efforts to get people to live closer to where they work: people, particularly with dual-income families, change jobs frequently.

Doug is also right that you won't make major fixes without changing the Balkanized governance structure. I would favor powerful regional governance, rather than more state authority. As things now stand, to get a highway done in Seattle area, you need to buy off the rest of the Legislature by putting unneeded highways in rural districts.

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Making the grid more efficient is the best solution, and one that we used to use to gauge whether or not it was worth spending the money on transportation projects. Building out transportation network for a future with self-driving cars is better planning than a transit-based future. Transit will never be as effective for the wide range of origins and destinations being taken on any given day, and by spreading out the work centers, the commercial areas and the residential areas you alleviate bottlenecks in the system. The individual vehicle is the most efficient, cost- effective way to move people from origin to destination, especially when there are multiple destinations.

Self-driving cars can greatly reduce the impact of bottlenecks, and the more self driving cars you have the fewer traffic signals and stop signs you need to have. The smoother traffic will flow at the I-5/520/Mercer interchange. Freeway merges will be easier, and cars will actually match speed with the traffic they are merging with instead of puttering on the freeway at 40 mph. They can be electric, and can be charged while they are on the highway.

The future of transportation isn't all transit - the individual car isn't going anywhere. We need to remember that when we are designing our roads.

talisker

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

"A highway lane kept free-flowing by variable tolling achieves startling efficiency, moving twice as many cars in an hour as a jammed “freeway.” "

How about one example where this has actually happened?

Since they put variable tolling on the 520 bridge, traffic volumes have fallen, they have not risen. So, the 520 tolls have resulted in fewer vehicles using that highway, not more.

Lincoln

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 2:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Two charts in a WSDOT presentation from last September show that traffic volumes per hour on SR 520 are higher since the tolls were put on than pre-toll.

The presentation is at http://www.ibtta.org/files/PDFs/Stone_Craig_1348596717406_9.pdf

The two charts are titled "Traffic volume: westbound I-90" and "Traffic volume: eastbound I-90."

Other charts in this presentation show the travel times are very reduced post-tolling compared to pre-tolling. SR 520 is jammed up in peak periods much less often.

Cross-Lake tolling is not yet sufficiently fine-tuned to illustrate decisively MacDonald's point.

However, the numbers emerging from traffic counts show that SR 520 even in the present environment -- too-high tolls during mid-day and wide open opportunities for diversion to free passage -- is evolving along the lines MacDonald forecasts.

jniles

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 5:21 p.m. Inappropriate

You trust ANYTHING with the words Craig Stone in the link?

That guy is the biggest teller of untruths, is dismissive of the sheeple (called a public meeting for comment, then wouldn't let the publis speak) and weasel--would not answer my direct questions.

No, anything wiht his name on it is NOT to be trusted.

Weasel, he is.

Geezer

Posted Tue, Apr 2, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

If 520 tolling was as successful as you suggest, why would the transportation community be suggesting tolling I-90 because 520 revenues did not meet projections?

As long as there is any way at all to avoid a tolled road, I will use it. The state and related transit folks are discriminating against the vast majority of us who are forced to pay for transit projects that we can't use.

While all this fantasizing may be fun and create very well paid positions for the folks who spend their days modeling these imaginings, the rest of us are out working and getting on with our lives in our cars, which now and for the foreseeable future provide the only reasonable way to get everything done in our very busy lives. I'd like to see even one of these models that took a real family with kids to take to school and to recreational activities, two jobs, grocery shopping, visiting family and friends, doing volunteer work, who could get it all done by transit in 10 hours of a day when the each of the various activities took place an average of 10 miles from home. It is not possible unless everything's within walking distance. And building tenements into every neighborhood will not move all the other businesses people need any closer than they are now.

I agree with those who reject this kind of dreaming.

mspat

Posted Sat, Apr 6, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Please put your hands behind your head and step away from the WSDOT pipe, sir.

"Travel times are very reduced" on 520? Duh. That's because traffic on the bridge has fallen 40% since tolling went into effect. 520 has become what most of us predicted, an expressway to Microsoft, Google and the East Side's more affluent communities, used by those who can afford it most.

But gee, ain't it great that Medina, Clyde Hill, Hunt's Point, et al are being "reconnected" with a pricey park lid the rest of us are paying for? Think how much that's increased efficiency on 520.

Jones

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 10:44 a.m. Inappropriate

There is an internal incongruity in point number 1: The author states that a reliance on oil "drains our personal, communal and national treasure" and that part of the solution to that expensive problem is "higher oil prices and real or contrived scarcity." If the high cost of oil is a problem, you do not solve that problem by making the cost of oil higher. And talk of "vastly higher" fuel economy is not a practical solution for the foreseeable future. The only way to achieve that economy (barring a major technological breakthrough) is by trading off vehicle size, speed and/or safety. A car the size of a Smart with a zero-60 time of two minutes might solve that problem on paper, but nobody is going to buy such a car unless the price of fuel has reached such a point that the economy has already been crippled. (I'll remind everyone how smoothly rush hour traffic flowed in the months following the panic of 2008.) One thing the author ignores is the natural gas revolution that's currently underway (and totally unpredicted by government central planners). If vehicles that have the carrying capacity to haul CNG fuel are given additional incentives to use it, and we're talking large vehicles likes trucks, buses, and delivery vans, the demand for foreign oil will go down without causing economic paralysis.

dbreneman

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

I won't rip into the fact that this person had the opportunity to leave our roads in a different condition while running the agency, but will add my opinion that what we have today is a pretty sad state of affairs.

Here is a point that I don't understand. As a community, we blame the State of Washington for all of our Road issues. Not that they don't deserve plenty of it due to their inability to manage the budget in a most cost effective manner, but the Counties and Cities own this issue as well.

Would you not agree that it is completely irresponsible that the Counties and Cities haven't gotten together and developed plans for alternative routes beyond our Interstates - which are designed for improving INTERSTATE traffic.

For example - how to you get from South Renton to North Woodinville without getting on an Interstate? Why haven't the cities of Bellevue, Renton, Kirkland, Redmond and Woodinville as an example developed a master plan to build their own roads to interconnect the communities?

Why are all of their plans to simply shuttle traffic to the Interstates? Irresponsible planning is why - they shuttle the responsibility and cost to their commmunity to the State. Quite frankly, I'd love to take a leisurly drive some days on roads that interconnect the communities.

And what about our Legislature? Why! Why can't you pass a bill that states something like this - For every x number of cars a community engineers to enter onto the Interstate, they must develope local roads to move x number of cars parallel to the Interstate. Pass a law that FORCES the Counties, and City's to build infrastructure to enhance the local traffic in the communities, which will come from new developments as it should.

One last question - when will we get a I205, or 605 or something to shuttle traffic away from Downtown Bellevue and Seattle, and bypass completely these areas. Do we really need all of the trucks from Vancouver moving through Everett, Kirkland, Bellevue and Issaquah to get over I90? Seems they should bypass these areas and free up their lane of traffic.

Common sense planning - is it asking too much?

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Blah, blah, blah. Build a freaking subway, or give your job to someone who will. There's no point in making life terrible for those who own cars unless you create a meaningful and viable mass transit alternative.

Stop screwing around and get it done.

Posted Mon, Apr 1, 1:25 p.m. Inappropriate

I thought this was an April Fool piece and as such, it's very good, entertaining and meaningless at the same time. Good Job!

Djinn

Posted Tue, Apr 2, 2:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr MacDonald is untrustworty. Don't trust a word he says, for behind them are corrupt plots he'll carry out behind our backs on behalf of rich and powerful automobile-related business interests. Criminally he rigged cut-cover tunnel studies to affect the 2007 vote, and participated in rigging subsequent cut-cover tunnel and surface/transit option studies though he had then quit the Highway Robbery Department like a rat deserting a sinking ship.

Mr MacDonald is a ruthless misanthrop who expects the bore tunnel will undermine historic and modern building foundations above. He expects actual building collapse in an earthquake with a death toll in the hundreds, even thousands. Developers expect to profit from the rebuilding though replacement structures are likewise vulnerable to unrepairable damage and collapse. Seattle is a national disgrace.
Go to hell, MacDonald.

Wells

Posted Tue, Apr 2, 6:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Although much can be said for being "comprehensive," this piece demonstrates the pitfall of losing one's focus when mistaking "comprehensive" for "comprehend." Although once an official, the author's focus is generally not buried in miles of the currently favored abstractions used by officialdom to pull as much wool as deemed necessary.

First the wool and then the plainer English it confutes, or does it?

"Transportation" has far too many meanings to do much but obscure. The one thing it clearly is not is "land use," which unfortunately is the one thing it's becoming higher and higher fashion to mentally substitute when talking up or pushing the other, e.g., 'transit communities.'

Ditto: Transportation dependence, transportation assets, transportation services and facilities, transportation planning, decision structures and processes, and transportation/information technology—his five 'challenges.'

The close then abruptly switches to campaign-sounding sound-bites:

"Forget nostalgic “visioning” on behalf of old streetcar systems..."

" Don't argue over big highway capacity projects with 1990s planning visions or look to other cities and countries — everywhere but to our own unique neighborhoods and geography — for the only transit prescription that will be “world class” to lay down in Seattle."

How strange are we human beings, for nonetheless, the factions do not refrain in the least from responding as though exactly what he means/conceals is not in the least concealed. Alas, each faction sees it different.

afreeman

Posted Wed, Apr 3, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Transportation is not land use?

how about the situation in Ballard where local businesses fight tooth-and-nail to maintain parking on city right-of-ways instead of allowing the missing link of the Burke Gilman trail to be built? This would have a significant impact in how people are moved through the area.

I would say transportation is quite a bit about land use, particularly in already developed areas where change is important to responsible growth.

jeffro

Posted Wed, Apr 3, 11:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Most certainly an interesting topic for MacDonald, et al to parse beyond abstractions and sound-bites, on that I would agree!

afreeman

Posted Tue, Apr 2, 10:31 p.m. Inappropriate

U nailed-it afreeman.

I've long predicted 2 dozen historic buildings lost.
As these are condemned slowly, they are evacuated & remain empty for months or years.
New buildings suspect to unpredictable alterations in subsurface water flows from upper
hillside water table areas; waters, plentiful and powerful enough as wsdot drawings infer, first soften,
then silt above and along the DBT crown, perimeter, length and bottom.
The DBT will roll voids of wet space in higher volumes of air pocket and/or water.
QUAKES HIT in N/S waves of 7.5 and larger shift soils leaving air pockets under foundations.
A good shake later, a corner slips, a cornice, a weak door frame, a wall.
I'm predicting a modern building will fall. I won't tell you which one.
Decide for yourselves, chickensh*t idiots and your
idiotic idea to reroute truck freight up/downhill through Queen Anne,
instead of leaving freight on commercial Elliott.
Oh and the beach idea? Not good for fish after all.

Wells

Posted Thu, Apr 4, 5:05 a.m. Inappropriate

On more than one occasion I have witnessed the morning commute being stymied by our own DOT trucks. One morning in the pouring down rain I was a carpool heading to Renton. We were cruising along just fine South on I-5, East on 520 then we got to I-405 and traffic was jammed. Once we were able to get in the carpool where traffic was moving ok. To my surprise, the reason traffic was clogged up was because 3 DOT trucks occupied 3 of 4 lanes on South 405, doing maybe 40 mph.
I bet it happens regularly, but it's only visible if you're a carpool.

salmonjim

Posted Thu, Apr 4, 8:44 p.m. Inappropriate

No matter how well-intentioned anyone's efforts are to improve commute times, they will always remain roughly the same. Here's why. Here's an excerpt from an article in the Wall Street Journal. This quote says it all,

"For all the stories of ever-worsening commuter nightmares, the kvetching, the studies, most commuting experts say an average person's commute time has barely budged for centuries."

So in 10 or 20 years, when we have cars that talk to each other and self-driving Google cars and Apple cars and Facebook cars, guess what? The commute time for the average person is still going to be.... about the same.

Commuting Has Always Been a Necessary Evil
By Suein L. Hwang
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
June 21, 2002

Just imagine when driving to work didn't mean long hours of stop-and-go, of pushy minivans jockeying for split-second advantages and of annoying DJ teams on the radio. Imagine the open road from doorstep to desktop.

Dream on. Those days never existed.

For all the stories of ever-worsening commuter nightmares, the kvetching, the studies, most commuting experts say an average person's commute time has barely budged for centuries.

According to new U.S. census figures, average travel times to work from 1990 to 2000 increased by only about three minutes. Between 1980 and 1990, it grew by about 40 seconds.

Commuting, you see, has its own theory of relativity, postulated by U.S. Department of Transportation scholar Yacov Zahavi many years ago. He argued that people in every society in every era budget roughly the same amount of time for daily travel -- about half an hour one-way -- to accomplish routine tasks.

Whether we're walking, or riding horseback, carriage or bullet train, the average commute time stays about the same.

What about congestion?

Actually, complaining about congestion goes back further than commuting itself. Frustrated ancient Romans barred delivery carts during daylight hours to ease the jam. "People have complained about traffic congestion through most of history," says Martin Wachs, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley.

We don't commute because we have to. We commute because we choose to.

Posted Fri, Apr 5, 1:47 a.m. Inappropriate

MacDonald, you make me want to vomit. You hate automobiles and drivers, except when it's time to find someone to pay the bills. Want to know why so many people in this state utterly despise the agency you headed? Go look in the mirror. It's just disgusting that someone who wants to ruin transportation was ever put in charge of a state department of transportation. No wonder Washington State's road network is an increasingly decrepit mess. You helped.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Apr 5, 8:10 a.m. Inappropriate

We have plenty of discussion about hardware and engineering on the facility side, how about on the user side? Better driver education, which would address some abominable driving habits and lack of awareness contributing greatly to inefficiency, would be cheap by comparison.

Posted Fri, Apr 5, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

You tantalize by saying this would not be "tired old" case for "solving" our transportation problems, and then you ignore cause and effect by not noting how our continued rewarding of population growth makes any "solution" just a temporary "amelioration." How do we reward it? By providing many legislative rewards for huge numbers of illegal and legal immigrants, and now push for something called "comprehensive reform" that essentially just increases both kinds of immigration. Its not possible to pursue unlimited growth, and maybe sitting in congested streets gives at least some a clue that "solutions" posited do not work with population control.

Posted Fri, Apr 5, 2:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Doug has it right. It's time for us to grow up in the Puget Sound region, instead of the incessant griping about what bothers us most about our commute. The world has changed, and we must too, if we hope to continue as a player in the world economy.

daveQA

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