Columnist

“Answer me one question,” Scrooge says to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?”

In this season when the past and the future are as much with us as the present, some planners looked at the legacy this generation could leave for the next. Such imaginings need not be Dickensian to matter.

If we could help create an environment in which people spent more time with friends and families and less time worrying about getting there, our contribution would be impressive. And it would be all the more impressive in a region that by many measures does the poorest job in the nation at getting people from place to place.

James C. Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, put our travel goal this way when speaking Wednesday to the regional Transportation Planning Board: “To not be the worst.”

Robert Griffiths, one of the region’s senior transportation planners, followed with a forecast of a shadowy future.

One of Griffiths’s jobs for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board is to present a vision of how people will get around in a quarter century. His forecast is constrained by how things are now — by what transportation projects we’ve agreed to pay for.

The list of commitments from the region’s governments is long, impressive and expensive. Among them are big transit projects including the Silver Line, the Columbia Pike streetcar in Virginia, the streetcar line on
H Street and Benning Road NE, the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway in Maryland.

Also on the list are 1,200 new miles of roadway lanes, including the ambitious Interstate 95 Express Lanes project in Northern Virginia. Twenty-five highway interchanges will be improved.

This is by no means Scroogian. But even with all this investment, we hardly make a dent in many things we find unacceptable.

According to the forecast for 2040:

●Lane miles of congestion, a standard measure of poor traffic flow, will increase by 71 percent.

●The total number of trips taken in the region will increase by 24 percent.

●Vehicle miles traveled, another standard measure of road use, will increase by 23 percent.

●The ways in which we travel will not change significantly. About two in every five trips will be done by solo drivers. About 7 percent of daily travel will be done by transit, same as today.

●The population of the outer suburbs will grow at the fastest rate, suggesting that many people will continue to have long trips to work.

●Job growth will be greatest in the outer suburbs of Virginia, but the highest concentration of jobs will be in Fairfax and Montgomery counties and the District. So today’s east-west commuting pattern, a stress factor on travel by highway and bridge, will remain.

Griffiths doesn’t present this forecast with an outstretched, bony finger. In fact, he points to some good news: The share of daily travel by solo drivers declines somewhat, while the share accounted for by carpoolers increases — as does the share for biking and walking.

About 30 percent more trips will be made by transit and 45 percent more by biking or walking. Those are big gains, but we haven’t done enough. So many people drive alone that an increase of only 16 percent by 2040 means that the most congesting, most polluting form of travel pretty much will keep up with the growth of more efficient methods.

Despite the planned investments in relief, the region’s roadways will remain among the most congested.

This is where the ghost question comes in. And an answer was offered by Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman, a transportation board member.

“This is what the future looks like,” he said, “if you don’t do this and that thing that needs to be done.”

Shyam Kannan, Metro’s chief planner and also a regional planning board member, put it a bit more technically, referring to the 2040 forecast as the “difference between a constrained model result versus an aspirational result.”

The forecast can deal only in what we’ve actually pledged to do. For example, we haven’t pledged to maintain Metro in a state of good repair beyond 2020. And we haven’t pledged the money to expand its capacity, which could be done in part by making all the trains eight-cars long at rush hours.

That is bad for this era’s commuters, but even worse for the future.

Our job as members of the community isn’t to accept the forecast as though etched in stone. Our job is to aspire.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.