Daze of My Life/Traffix the Problem

by Kenneth B. Lourie

Having recently heard a radio spot from Giant Food promoting its Peapod home delivery service as a way of reducing traffic, in addition to its obvious convenience factor, I have begun to consider some other alternatives to building new roads and/or widening existing roads as a means of reducing the traffic congestion in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area - traffic congestion that has earned Washington, D.C. its rightful place in the top five (or would you call it bottom five) worst commutes nationally, based on timed travel.

Anecdotally speaking (that means there’s no empirical evidence to support what I’m about to say), in my nearly seven years of commuting in and around Montgomery County, there have been only two occurrences (regular though they may be) that have significantly reduced traffic locally: certain holidays when only the federal, state and local governments, and banks, are closed - Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Columbus Day, Good Friday, etc. - even though much of the private sector and public schools are still open; and inclement weather/SNOW conditions, which often cause the schools to close and government employees being given “liberal leave,” the effect of which is NO TRAFFIC!

Whatever other planes, trains, automobiles and buses commuters have been encouraged to utilize to reduce the stagnant flow have fallen not necessarily on deaf ears, but rather on more and more ears, most of whom belong to people who have to work, somewhere, anywhere, to support themselves and their families.

And every day it seems, adds newly licensed drivers along with new arrivals, by age, address and ability, needing/wanting to join the work force.

And as the metropolitan area spreads farther and farther from its Washington, D.C., center, many individuals have to make hard choices about where they want to live vs. where they can afford to live, and quite often those decisions have as much to do with the price as they have to do with the location/convenience. As a result, the distances many people are traveling - make that driving - seem to be increasing by the minute, with no real direct route and/or short cuts any more available. For many, traffic has become a four-letter word.

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner mowed down the cash crop on his farm in Iowa - in the middle of nowhere, basically (sorry, Iowans) - because he heard a voice saying in his head, “If you build it, he will come.” Well, as anyone who has seen the film knows, and as James Earl Jones so emphatically predicted, they came, they most definitely came. In the final scene, do you remember the line of automobile headlights shimmering off into the distance queued up, attempting to reach the field of dreams? Can you imagine the traffic problems that followed? The parking? The permitting? And that mess occurred where there were no other homes, businesses, schools, retailers or recreational facilities, none that we saw, anyway.

On the contrary, in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, we have everything, except Major League baseball, coincidentally enough. And every day the communities where we all live and work seem to be expanding more and leaving less. Every last drop of usable space is being squeezed and maybe even squandered in pursuit of profit. Until our scientists figure out how to scramble and reassemble our molecules a la “Star Trek” (“Beam me up Scotty. There’s no intelligent life here”), I fear the only solution to our endless traffic is to close the government and close the schools. A bit drastic, I admit, but drastic times call for drastic measures. No other cause seems to have an effect.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.