You could say that the impact hit me head on as soon as I read the first line.
The average American commute grew to just over 27 minutes one way in 2018, a record high, according to data released in September by the U.S. Census Bureau. This was reported in The Washington Post's October 7th, 2019 article by Christopher Ingraham, "Nine days on the road. Average commute time reached a new record last year."
So let's put this into perspective.
My commute one way from Alexandria VA to work in Arlington is 27 minutes, covering a distance of 6 miles.
My work commute one way when I lived in WV was also 25-27 minutes
The difference? I was traveling a distance of 26 miles in WV!
This is not a new problem. In 2007, The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a statement and call to action regarding what they termed as "...the growing crisis of traffic congestion." The report presented study results from 2003 when Americans were spending eight days commuting to work. NOW we are up to yet another full day lost. And as this report goes on to discuss the many consequences of increasing congestion, it is further stated that
Traffic jams are increasingly stealing from busy citizens and families their single most valuable commodity: time.
What is unfortunate in this report, however, is the initiatives being proposed at that time revert back to the same old solutions of building more highways, improving infrastructure and worse---charging people more often and at rising costs to use the highways, claiming, "Then congestion can be avoided by adjusting the price up or down at different times of day to reflect changes in the demand for its use. Road space is allocated to drivers who most highly value a reliable and unimpaired commute."
Do we not ALL highly value a reliable and unimpaired commute, especially when we need to get to work or take a sick child to a doctor? Not everyone can afford EZPass, for example, and even if they could, then we are back to the same problem of too many drivers on the roads!
And how successful has the push for more, more, more infrastructure, more technology and price manipulation been when we have only increased the number of days we spend in traffic, not reduced it? Fewer drivers would decrease the demand, thus eliminating the need to tax yet another essential utility--our way to get to work.
More drivers mean more crowded highways which not only increases time to get from point A to point B, but also causes stress and tensions to rise in ourselves and in our dealings with one another.
Three days ago I witnessed two people in the middle of a crowded D.C. street yelling furiously at one another over a fender-bender. Thankfully, neither person involved in this incident appeared to have been physically injured, but they were definitely stressed out, angry and as a result, oblivious to the additional traffic congestion they were causing by not calmly moving their vehicles to the side of the road to work out the issue in a civil manner, or at least have the argument there. Both were dressed in business attire and likely headed to work that morning, so I pondered as to what mental state they brought to their respective workplaces and potentially to any clients with whom they may be engaging.
- 66% of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving.
- Half of drivers who are on the receiving end of an aggressive behavior, such as horn honking, a rude gesture or tailgating admit to responding with aggressive behavior themselves.
The more crowded we feel, the more tensions rise and there is greater potential for physical and emotional harm that, paradoxically, crowds out our willingness and even the capacity to be more generous, mindful of our actions and speech, and grateful, all of which are the necessary ingredients to live a meaningful and happy life.
Winston Churchill wisely said: "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." Happiness in life is about balance. If we spend increasing amounts of time just getting what we need (getting to work, getting food, water and other basic necessities of life), we have less time to spend on being happy through acts of generosity or stopping to be grateful for simply being alive.
And certainly, the Post article rightfully warns that increased commute times set the stage for potentially dire consequences to our quality of life. However, there is a disconnect in a subsequent statement that suggests a cause of increased congestion to be
...new housing isn't being built fast enough.
Albert Einstein's quote is also deafening here: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results."
To truly fix this very serious problem, we must be willing to address the root cause of population growth. There's just no way around it. Building more housing does NOT reduce the number of vehicles on the roadways. It DOES reduce the amount of comfortable and quality living space that each person has to enjoy individually, and with their family and friends.
- 88% of U.S. population growth is driven by immigration.
- U.S. population, 1980: 227 million
- Annual immigration, 1980: 524,295
- U.S. population TODAY: 329 million
- U.S. annual immigration today (2017): 1,127,167
According to Census data, Congress will add another 75 million people through immigration policy alone between 2017 and 2060.
If left unchanged, this trend will continue with immigration being responsible for 95 percent of future population growth over the coming decades. Are you angry yet? Well don't blame immigrants, they are stuck in traffic too!
And for those who would say we have plenty of open spaces in West Virginia, why not go back there? Well there are no jobs there for one. But do not think the effects of population growth and its encroachment on wildlife habitat is not being felt in the Wild and Wonderful also.
Wild animal species are feeling the squeeze too. As they lose more of their habitat to developing regions, they move, as do we, to where there is opportunity, in this case, where there is open space, water, and abundant food sources.
Just how mindful are we of the root causes and consequences of our reducing quality of life for ourselves and all life?
CHRISTY SHAW is the Development Officer for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Oct 25th 2019 @ 7:40am EDT