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Pro-Transit Group Attacks D.C. Traffic Congestion Report As Deeply Flawed

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A report ranking the Washington region poorly for traffic congestion is missing some perspective on how people get around, transit advocates say.
Elvert Barnes via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/qxwuB9
A report ranking the Washington region poorly for traffic congestion is missing some perspective on how people get around, transit advocates say.

We’re No. 1 again. But what does it mean?

A study by researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) confirms what most car commuters already think: The D.C. metropolitan region has the worst traffic congestion in the country.

But critics of the institute’s methodology say the report rests on false assumptions and draws misleading conclusions because it ignores region-wide gains in commuting by transit, walking, and biking. In the District itself, city data shows that roughly two-thirds of all work trips are in modes other than single-occupant vehicles, for instance.

“The report's authors don't really understand the region. They are telling D.C., Maryland, and Virginia residents that at the end of the day we need to spend billions of dollars on new highway connections, new capacity, for cars,” said Alex Posorske, the managing director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a pro-transit group that lobbies against most highway expansions.

TTI’s Urban Mobility Scorecard, the first issued since 2012, found the average auto commuter in the Washington area spends 82 hours a year sitting in traffic. The region was ranked at the top — or the bottom, if you are sick of gridlock — in the 2012 report, too.

Tim Lomax, one of the report’s authors, said expanding road capacity is only one of their proposed remedies for reducing congestion, which also include additional transit investment combined with denser real estate development.

“I certainly agree with that. I just don't see that our report should reflect their preferences about what the solutions ought to be,” said Lomax in response to the coalition’s criticisms.

The transit advocates sought to poke holes in TTI’s research, pointing out that the report ranks “the cities with the strongest transit systems the worst on congestion, ignoring the much lower automobile commute mode shares in the transit cities, and therefore the lower per-commuter congestion delays,” a statement said.

Accounting for population increases

In an interview with WAMU 88.5, Posorske said the report ignores long-term trends that demonstrate driving has either declined or leveled off.

“In D.C. we’ve got 83,000 new residents in the last decade. Over that time, commute times for D.C. residents have stayed consistent. We’ve had 83,000 new residents who, by and large, do not own cars, who take transit, walk, or bike to work,” he said.

“If you move over to Arlington, from 1996 to last year we saw significant decreases in total traffic on some major arteries in Arlington,” Posorske added. “And this is at a time when they’ve added millions of square feet of new development and added 50,000 residents.”

In response to the coalition’s criticism, Lomax conceded the report’s methodology does not take into account non-car commuting modes.

“They have some good points,” Lomax said. “And they are points that we have included not only in our proposed solutions, but also in terms of our methodology.”

“We have backed away from trying to make estimates of what is happening on the transit side because we don’t have very good transit data. We don’t have good data about how people are walking. So we concentrated on where we have the data,” he said.

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