In Translogic episode 5.2 we took an up close and personal look at one of the most complex and sophisticated traffic monitoring centers in the U.S. The Los Angeles Regional Traffic Management Center (LARTMC) is packed with powerful computers, huge video screens monitoring networked cameras, and a bunch of really smart people. Facilities like the LARTMC actually save each motorist in major urban areas about nine hours per year in avoided delays, which accounts for about a $13 billion savings over the course of a year. Their goal is simple: Keep traffic flowing and ease congestion as much as possible. California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) public information officer Judy Gish puts it like this: "We can't really build more freeways in LA but we can make the ones we have more efficient."

L.A. is not alone in its traffic congestion. According to Inrix, a company that provides traffic information for GPS systems found in Ford, BMW and Mercedes-Benz vehicles as well as portable devices from Garmin and Tom Tom, the worst cities for traffic congestion in 2009 were:

1. Los Angeles
2. New York
3. Chicago
4. Washington DC
5. Dallas/Ft. Worth
6. Houston
7. San Francisco
8. Boston
9. Seattle/Tacoma
10. Philadelphia

See your city on the list? If so, you're probably mumbling "traffic sucks" right about now. Even if you live somewhere else, we'll bet you've complained about traffic recently. But besides the aggravation, there is a real world cost for all this congestion. According to the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI, a part of Texas A&M University), the overall cost of traffic congestion, based on wasted fuel and lost productivity reached $87.2 billion in 2007. That's more than $750 for every U.S. driver, and it accounts for one full workweek for each commuter. (In this case, wasted time is measured by the amount of time your car is stopped at a point when it should normally be moving.) There is a reason for all this congestion, as it turns out that the 100 largest metropolitan regions contribute 70 percent of our gross domestic product and have 69 percent of the jobs, according to TTI. So if you can't move away from the city to get away from congestion without losing your job, what can you do?

The common answer is "use public transportation." And as a matter of fact more people are doing so: TTI says that in 90 major urban areas, public transportation ridership is up 47 percent. But public transit suffers from the same problem that keeps motorists stuck in neutral on the highway. Public transit has grown but ridership has grown more, which is why that train is so crowded at rush hour.

So how else can you save time on your commute? According to Caltrans, a commuter using a High Occupancy Vehicle or carpool lane saves about one minute per mile traveled. So if your commute is 30 miles each way, you can save about an hour per day by riding with others. TTI found that the number of people who leave for work before 6:30 am has increased, as has the number of people working from home, all in an effort to save time spent getting to and from work.

Tim Lomax, Research Engineer with TTI has this final thought: "The best solutions are going to be those in which actions by transportation agencies are complemented by businesses, manufacturers and commuters. The problem is far too big for transportation agencies alone to address it adequately."

Translogic translation: Don't give your co-workers or employees a hard time when they ask to work from home, they may be saving you time and money.


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