We're spending less time, money sitting in traffic?

If you drive a car to work, unless you live in the Washington, D.C. area, you're probably feeling pretty good about your commute. According to a study released today by the Texas Transportation Institute, the average driver is spending less time each year in rush-hour traffic jams -- 36.1 hours per year in 2007, compared to 36.6 in 2006 and 37.4 hours, a record, in 2005. Wasted fuel declined, too, to 2.81 billion gallons (from 2.85 billion in 2006).

Los Angeles and Washington D.C. top the list of worst-traffic commutes, even though LA's traffic declined, from 72 to 70; whereas Washington, D.C. went up to 62 hours from 59. In my hometown, Portland, Ore., the wait times went down but are still over the national average, at 37, down from 38 the previous year.

We asked bloggers around the country if they thought their traffic improved this year; after all, we're 18 months away from the data and well into a serious recession; not to mention our ever-heightened awareness of the high environmental and health costs of sitting behind the wheel of a car
(my family's entirely car-free since 2006). While a Newark blogger says her husband's hour-long commute has been far better over the past several months, an LA blogger insists that traffic utterly locks the city down from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. each workday; traffic congestion may be "better" but compared to the worst, ever ever ever, it's hardly "good."

Here in Portland, friends say they've experienced occasionally lighter traffic and I can attest that bike traffic around rush hour is fierce. But sadly, it doesn't seem this is saving us any money. The cost in 2007 for all this traffic congestion: $750 per person in the U.S. And that's just wasted time and gas, and doesn't factor in the cost of environmental cleanup or negative health impact (not to mention emotional stress and therapy). This car culture hasn't done much good for us; and, from the looks of things, the improvement will be slow and costly.
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