Commuting can be hell, but it doesn't have to be

The number of people in the U.S. who commute to work has doubled to more than 130 million since 1960. This is according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which also found that more than 86 percent of people nationwide commute by car -- and 76 percent of them do it alone. In Virginia and Maryland, more people drive to work than in any other region of the country. Drivers here also have the longest commute -- clocking 32 minutes on average to the office. Overall, the Washington, D.C. region earned the dubious distinction of second worst commute in the nation.

I read about this in the Washington Post I rode the Metro to my office.

I'm fortunate to live in a region that provides me with transportation alternatives so I'm not stuck in traffic every day. In fact, I moved to my particular neighborhood in Maryland 15 years ago precisely because my house is a short walk to a Metro station, which provides a relatively stress-free trip into D.C.

Sure, the Metro is not perfect. Sometimes the trains are crowded (especially during rush hour and always during Cherry Blossom season), track work can cause minor delays, the escalators occasionally malfunction, and the fares invariably creep up. But I definitely save time, money and hassle being able to ride the train every weekday instead of driving. As a bonus, on my way to and from work I get time to chat, nap or read. That sure beats jockeying for position on the highway and paying for pricey parking downtown.

The Post story summed up the issue:

"The commuting statistics reflect what is fairly obvious to most people who commute: As the nation becomes more populous, it takes longer to get to work. The survey found commuting time was up a fraction, more people were commuting alone by car and the number taking public transportation declined by a hair."

That last part got my attention. Public transportation has waned a bit, according to the latest data. Part of the reason may be that unemployment is higher for a large segment of lower-income people who use mass transit because they don't own vehicles. By the same token, many people who do drive to work are forced to do so because they have limited transportation options. Clearly, urban areas offer more opportunities to utilize rail systems and bus service.

So, how to rectify this situation? Surely, as population continues to grow traffic congestion will only get worse. The solution lies in giving people more freedom to opt out of driving in favor of safe, affordable and reliable alternative transportation.

Instead of continuing on the path of the highway to hell, how about a railway to heaven or a bus route to babylon?

I'm being serious. Now is the time to truly begin moving American forward be upgrading our transportation network. This of course requires repairing aging roads and bridges and other crumbling infrastructure. Also needed is investment in the expansion of cleaner, cheaper, faster ways to commute -- like high-speed trains connecting cities, light rail lines running from suburb into towns, and comfortable coach buses carrying people who otherwise might be clogging the highways in their cars (most likely alone).

The average commuter in America spends the equivalent of a full work-week per year stuck in traffic, costing the nation more than $100 billion in wasted time and fuel. Taking action now to revamp our transportation infrastructure and expand our travel options is the best way to move America forward. 

NRDC applauds President Obama's plan to put people to work fixing America's transportation infrastructure. We're also calling on Congress, along with state and local governments, as well as the private sector, to make infrastructure investment a priority. After all, our outdated national transportation policy poses a triple threat to the nation—to our safety, to our energy and climate security, and to our economy. The current federal transportation law, which expired in 2009, is due for a wholesale rewrite. Working together, our elected leaders must take this opportunity to create a strong, coherent national transportation policy that will improve mobility, boost the economy, and protect the environment.