Chicago has the third worst automotive congestion in the country.
The traffic is unpredictable.
What can be a half-an-hour trip one day, can be a 1.5 hour drive the next, and that’s in good weather.
The proposed solution?
Create special, express lanes with controlled traffic flows. If you want to use them you pay extra.
Now, irrespective of the fact that Illinoisans are already paying for roads with their taxes, and the Illinois Tollway system, and are still driving on what are arguably some of the worst roads in the country, this idea is a perfect example of how a poorly framed problem statement can lead to mediocre solutions.
Let me explain.
The current solution is, no doubt, a direct descendant of the following:
- Chicago has the third worst traffic in the country
- There will be a 12% increase of traffic in 20 years
- We need money to help rebuild the roads damaged by this increased traffic
- We need to help the environment by reducing pollution from stuck traffic
Given the above, we naturally frame the problem statement as, “How can we improve the traffic and the ensuing impact on the environment by lessening congestion on the roads?”
Let’s see… money and land is scarce, so building new roads is not a terribly attractive option. Buuuut, charging money for using the existing roads and using technology to control the flows is something that has been shown to work in other cities. Voila! Problem solved!
Not a bad idea, but also not a good one, and also not a fiscally responsible one.
What do I mean?
If the above list included:
- The State of Illinois has a tendency to poorly budget, over-spend and under-deliver,
the proposed “pay to drive” solution probably wouldn’t even be considered a solution.
So, in the name of realism, let’s include the above statement about Illinois’ fiscal/political situation and reframe the problem as:
“In what ways can we improve the traffic and the ensuing impact on the environment by lessening congestion on the roads without using additional taxpayer money, while working within current budget constraints?”
Whoa…Since we can’t rely on taxpayers to foot the bill, nor can we rely on an overly expanded budget, what can we do???
Let’s take a step back and ask this relatively obvious question: Can we get people to work without using their cars?
It’s called: Telecommuting!
It’s an obvious solution and one that needs to be researched more deeply. Consider this:
According to a 2008 study conducted by Telework Exchange, a company that aims to increase telecommuting options for workers, around 9.7 billion gallons of gas and $38.2 billion can be saved each year, if only 53 percent of all white-collar workers telecommuted two days per week.
The study also found that 84 percent of Americans depend on their own means of transportation to travel to and from work. On average, these workers spend $2,052 on gas and 264 hours of travel time a year just on commuting alone.
Research network Undress4Success estimates that the United States could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half the time.¹
How many people could telecommute?
… 92 percent of (American) workers believe that their job can be completed by telecommuting, though only 39 percent telework on a regular basis.¹
So, while most people seem to be in favor of it, and at the same time, telecommuting technologies continue to improve, most businesses, unfortunately, still have a paranoia about having people work from home. But, if they instead structured themselves to accommodate telecommuting, and if the State and Federal governments provided incentives to people and companies to support telecommuting, this could very well take a considerable burden of the roads of Illinois and the country.
Less traffic, less damage to roads, less pollution, better productivity, and best of all, more money in the pockets of Illinois drivers.
I personally think it’s a better solution. What do you think?