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I was in an interminable line of cars, trucks and SUVs when it occurred to me that traffic congestion is local, not metropolitan.  

I knew this since moving to the highest congestion, highest employment metro in the US.  One mile from my work and two miles from the metro, congestion was something we didn’t have to see unless we got the timing wring on rush hour.  Then we’d have to endure 2-3 blocks of congestion before we turned off on a less trafficked road on the way to metro.

Millions of people want to get to work in every metro, and there are a finite number of traffic lanes, transit lines, bike lanes, and sidewalks to get them there.  Of course, the latter two are unimaginable if work is too far away, or if journey between home and work is too full of traffic and intersections inimical to human life.  Transit is unimaginable if a route is nowhere near our homes and our work, the headways between buses or trains is too long, or connecting home and work would involve too many transfers with their own waits.

So that leave traffic for most of us.  My own commute involves dropping my wife off at the metro, then driving back to work. 2+3 miles instead of 1 mile spent driving.  This saves us 15 miles of her driving, however, so its not a waste.

The reason I wrote this today was to point out that congestion is local, even if we can only measure and summarize it nationally.  Ridge Pike is an infamous corridor in the Philadelphia area, and commuters know it.  Two lanes compress to one, then, open back up to two, determined by the property rights of neighbors and topography.  Germantown road to the north is a mush more developed corridor, with a lot more on street parking and things to do along the way.  It is slow going , but a lot more exciting than Ridge Pike.  Exciting for the walkers crossing the street, as well.  I-76 to the south has the opposite problem.  It has no land uses adjacent to it, and is designed as a free-flow freeway, but it is also the only consistent provider of two lanes or traffic to the northwest.  It gets pretty congested every morning and afternoon.

The arrangement of those  two lanes is key to where the congestion is.  On I-76, there aren’t any left turns, but there isn’t much shoulder, either.  If a car breaks down, it’s lucky if they can fit in the shoulder before their engine or wheels seize.  On Ridge pike, with no turn lanes, the congestion is all in the middle lane when people try to turn left like idiots against oncoming traffic.  On wider Germantown Pike, congestion is all in the outside lanes, where people are constantly turning into and out of parking lots and parallel parking.  The left turns get their own land in the middle lane.  Out of the way of traffic.


or turning into stores…