Reducing that annoyance to a formula, the researchers set a fairly high standard: How much extra time commuters should build into their scheduled to be late no more than one workday a month, despite encountering sleet storms, crashes and motorcades.
If the ratio is 3.00, a traveler should allow an hour for an important trip that takes 20 minutes in free-flowing traffic.
The D.C. region is No. 1, with an index of 5.72. The average for the 15 Very Large Urban Areas was 4.08. Los Angeles and New York were second and third. (Don’t use the index as a guide to your own travel preparations. It’s showing us that when travel is disrupted, the impact is severe and widespread.)
At this point, you might be thinking about what a great country this is, where researchers can find employment telling you what you already know about traffic congestion. And yes, the categories covered are broad. But there are enough of them over enough time to give us quite a bit to discuss.
Three decades of indexes and measures point in the same direction: Congestion costs us time and money we could put to better use. Some of us have the luxury of making individual decisions that cut the personal cost. We can live close to work or to a transit station. But what should we do as a region?
The mobility report says that although big urban areas tend to share the same congestion issues, each region needs to find its own “projects, programs and policies that achieve goals, solve problems and capitalize on opportunities.”
And that isn’t a task confined to government transportation agencies. The most effective strategies are ones that combine the efforts of government with those of business and civic leaders, and travelers, the report says.
We haven’t failed to act. The mobility report notes the positive effects nationwide of managing road networks and improving public transit. The decades covered by the studies overlap with the completion of the Metrorail system, the expanded use of high-occupancy vehicle lanes, the creation of high-occupancy toll lanes, the addition of real-time traffic and transit information and more creative use of lane space.
Have we done enough, and do we want to invest more to accelerate improvements?
Yes, we’re the capital of commuter pain, but perhaps that doesn’t hurt as much as it used to, since the pain isn’t increasing as sharply. Are we now willing to endure the costs in time and money that it takes to get around the D.C. region? Have we become comfortable with the things we call congestion?