Between job demands, commitments and traffic congestion, there simply aren't enough hours in the day anymore. So it's obvious more people feel compelled to multi-task in this go-go world, which begs this question: if we attempt several tasks at once, will any of them get done effectively?
I'll narrow it down to the things we try to do when we're behind the wheel, slogging through traffic congestion to and from work. In metro Atlanta, 84% of us make this trip alone each workday and it takes us an average of 36 minutes each way ... plenty of time to become tempted to:
Change radio stations, talk on our cell phones, text message or scroll through e-mails on our mobile devices, rummage through articles
piled on the passenger seat, soothe cranky children in the back seat who ask, "are we there yet?," reach for our coffee, scan the newspaper headlines, shave, eat, or get dressed.
All while driving. Did I miss anything? What's the strangest thing you've seen another commuter doing while behind the wheel?
The more "productive" we try to be while driving, the higher the risk that we're going to hurt ourselves or others. The AAA Foundation released a national study on the culture of traffic safety in 2008 that describes how many of us do some of these activities from behind the wheel. 53% of respondents indicated they talk on a cell phone while driving. 14% of respondents indicated they text while driving. And a study by Exxon is purported to have found that as many as 70% of us eat while driving.
Yikes. Here are the compelling reasons why more commuters need to look into alternatives to driving alone:
- According to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the majority of two-vehicle collisions in Georgia (46%) are rear-enders.
- Stack this finding next to the latest trend data from the Urban Mobility Report, a study we reference often with respect to traffic congestion, and you'll see that 53% of traffic congestion (delay) in Atlanta is linked to road incidents.
- It should come as little surprise, then, that a recent survey by an auto insurance carrier found Atlanta commuters are 26% more likely to get into an accident than the national average.
With more demands being placed on workers to do more work and more challenges to juggle work and personal tasks, sharing the ride just makes sense. More carpool, vanpool, rail and bus riders are stepping forward with their stories about finding ways to be productive as passengers. Certainly it's safer for everyone when "productivity" is attempted only from the passenger seat.
Welcome to the dog days of summer 2009. The sun is hot and there are burning questions to address about transportation and air quality. So, grab some shade and pour yourself a tall glass of knowledge in this edition of Merging Lanes.
Is there less traffic on the roads?
The latest edition of the Urban Mobility Report, a comprehensive study of traffic congestion in major cities, says Atlanta is no longer the 2nd worst city in the nation for commuters. We are now the 3rd worst city for commuters. Only Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. commuters waste more time in traffic and burn up more fuel going nowehere than Atlanta commuters do. Yay, us.
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But didn't $4 gas and the recession cause bigger changes than that?
Unfortunately, this new data only gets us through 2007, when pump prices had just started their painful ascent and the first tremors of economic collapse were still faint. Certainly when the 2008 numbers become available, the effect of gas prices and the sour economy will be much more pronounced. But for now, we only get to pore over the 2007 numbers, which say the average metro Atlanta commuter wasted two fewer gallons of fuel than the prior year and two fewer hours stuck in gridlock. Raise your hand if you've truly felt the positive impact of these "savings" in your commute. Stay tuned for more recent traffic data that may become available in the near term.
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So, how should employers, commuters and policymakers interpret this new data?
With a grain of salt. Yes, the region saw improved traffic conditions in 2007 and will be able to say that traffic improved even further in 2008. But it's improper to say our traffic problems are fixed. Market conditions provided temporary relief ... and market conditions are largely beyond our control. Metro Atlanta is grappling with 9.5% unemployment, which is good for the still-employed who can negotiate through lighter traffic to get to their jobs, but bad for Georgia's economic vitality. Whipsawing fuel prices cause people to drive less, but only when costs rise dramatically. One of the best takeaways from the Urban Mobility Report is this statement on the first page about how to achieve long-term improvement:
"There are many congestion problems but there are also many solutions. The most effective strategy is one where agency actions are complemented by efforts of businesses,manufacturers, commuters and travelers."
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How is Georgia's air quality faring this Smog Season?
As of July 10, Metro Atlanta has experienced 8 Code Orange days so far this smog season, when ground-level ozone concentrations were deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups. Last year at this point, Atlanta had experienced 16 bad air days. Middle Georgia has registered two such days this year, compared with three by this point in 2008. North Georgia has also racked up a pair of Code Orange days this year, versus five by this time a year ago. As we approach the midpoint in the 2009 smog season, things are looking up: we're coming out of a drought, temperatures have not consistently boiled over ... and we hope more commuters are reducing their contribution to smog by finding better ways to get to and from work.