In 1966, director Bruce Brown made the iconic surfer film, Endless Summer. The movie suggests that if you only had the time and cash, you could keep summer alive all year long by chasing the sun between hemispheres. Oh, to wish and hope for such a thing is why we play the lottery, but when you are like me and are lucky to get one of the numbers right on the MegaSpin, you need to pack up those dreams and get ready for the traffic. Yep, even here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, schools are back in session, beach towels and chairs are packed away, and smell of burgers, dogs and corn on the grill is just a memory.
All summer long, we kidded ourselves that traffic was not that bad on the roads and except for accidents, bad weather and special events, we were able to get to work in a "reasonable" amount of time. So now the weather is starting to get cooler and you remember all those meetings and projects you put on the back burner at work and said, "I'll get to it after Labor Day." Well, Labor Day is here and gone, so get ready to attack that pile. But while you are psyching yourself up, remember, you will probably have a good chunk of time to think while you sitting in traffic.
Here in the Washington, D.C. area, we have the triple whammy. Back to school traffic, construction on several of our major roadways and the sad fact that any amount of rain or other bad weather seems to cause half of the region's drivers to lose all ability to effectively operate a motor vehicle (it's really true, ask anyone who ever lived here). To make matters even more fun, we are also playing the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) shell game with tens of thousands of our civilian and uniformed military personnel.
As some of you know, I am actually a transportation planner by profession and have looked at many of these types of issues in cities throughout the country and abroad. The answer is pretty simple and it doesn't require billions of dollars (we don't have) to build new roads, transit systems and garages. The real solution to peak (rush hour) congestion is to spread out or reduce the peak. We actually have a fair amount of road and train capacity in this area (drive or ride during the middle of the day or on Sunday and you will see). It's just that everyone wants to be in the same place at the same time. If you can take, say, 10 percent of the people off the road or train during the peak two hours, you get the summer effect on the commute. People still drive in the summer (sometimes even more miles), they just don't tend to do it in peak hours on the commute roadways.
There are good ways to reduce peak congestion and there are bad ways. I think we can all agree that nine percent unemployment is a bad way. Flexible work hours and locations are a better way. The key is that we don't all telework on Friday or Monday. It doesn't even have to be full-time telework to make a huge difference. If everyone stayed off the roads during rush hour just one day every two weeks, we would reduce traffic by 10 percent. The amount of money it would cost to increase capacity by that same 10 percent would even make a Wall Street banker skip a heartbeat.
If you are interested in this aspect of work and travel, I recommend you try to join us on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Building here in D.C. for the Fall Telework Town Hall Meeting. Virginia's Secretary of Transportation, Sean T. Connaughton, will join us to talk about this very issue and some of the programs Virginia has to address these issues. While I doubt Secretary Connaughton can promise us an endless summer, Virginia is working on ways to help us love telework all year round. Perhaps Virginia will start a new campaign -- "Virginia is for Telework Lovers"...