This time around Terrible Traffic Tuesday falls on Sept. 3. That’s the dreaded day after Labor Day when local roadways, highways and byways become severely congested again after a three-month-long summer respite. It’s the day free flow travel time becomes a distant summer memory and our daily grind, the absolute worst commute in the entire nation, returns to its incessant state of abnormalcy.
It’s the day when every single school child in the Washington metro area returns or heads, in many cases on the other side of the Potomac, to school for the first time this school year and it’s when all their parents and guardians head back to their work stations. Compounding matters, nearly 341,000 Washington area residents will return from their Labor Day holiday weekend trips throughout the day on Tuesday, Sept. 3. In fact, 42 percent of all local holiday travelers are returning on that day or later, making for an uglier than usual go of it during the AM peak hours and the PM peak hours.
The traffic preseason is over. Area workers, children, drivers, commuters, transit riders, carpoolers, pedestrians, and cyclists will face back-to-school congestion delays and lose any extra space gained during the summer months on those less crowded metro trains, buses, commuter trains and car pool lanes. The back-to-school jump is greatest during the morning commute with 60 percent of motorists needing to be on the road by 9 a.m. during a typical day in September as opposed to just 36 percent in August, the Transportation Planning Board reports.
“On Terrible Traffic Tuesday, we will once again feel every inch of being in the most congested area of the country,” said Mahlon G. (Lon) Anderson, who first coined the term Terrible Traffic Tuesday. “Take a cue from the proverbial early bird and get an earlier start on the roads than normal in order to keep your day on track and save money on wasted fuel,” said Anderson, who serves as the Managing Director of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
In the Washington metro area, 707,000 of 811,500 travelers will make their last holiday trek of summer by automobile, or 87.1 percent of Labor Day travelers. This is an increase of 2.7 percent over the 688,200 people who traveled by vehicle for Labor Day in 2012.
September 3 also marks the first day of school for many Northern Virginia school districts, which when added to the rest of the Washington metro area districts means that there will be at least 800,000 students heading into the classrooms that day. Area roadways will also be packed with over 5,000 school buses each day during the 2013-2014 school year.
If the past is prologue and our guide, traffic will jump back up by 26 percent come September. That means that the average 20.4 minute daily delay that drivers experienced around here in July and August will return to an average of 25.8 minutes during September. In 2011, the average daily delay per traveler on most of the major limited-access highways in the region dropped 18% at the beginning of summer – between June and July – from 25.1 minutes to 20.6 minutes, the TPB says.
“Traffic congestion typically increases right after Labor Day which will motivate commuters seeking to save money and time to use commuting options other than driving alone to and from work each day,” said Nicholas Ramfos, Commuter Connections Director. “Carpooling, vanpooling, taking transit, telecommuting, or using a bicycle or walking also helps commuters with balancing their quality of life on a daily basis.”
The Washington metro area is the titleholder of most congested of the very large urban areas. Each year motorists lose 67 hours in traffic delays and waste 32 gallons of fuel while idling in traffic at a cost of $1,398 per commuter, according to the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2012 Urban Mobility Report. Within the District itself , only 33.3 percent of city residents drive to work alone, compared to the 39.6 of the dwellers who take the Metro system.
What will our commute look like come Terrible Traffic Tuesday (and every other work after that until next summer) when everyone returns to the daily grind? Well, the metropolitan Washington region added almost half a million new workers in the period from 2000 to 2011, according to a new study by the Transportation Planning Board (TPB). The TPB study even reveals all the way we get to work. According to the TPB’s eye-opening analysis:
- The percentage of area commuters driving alone to work has decreased slightly from 67.2 percent in 2000 to 65.8 percent in 2011.
- Workers commuting on public transit increased almost 4 percent—from 11.8 to 15.4 percent.
- The percentage of people carpooling also declined from 13 percent in 2000 to 9.7 percent in 2011.
- In the District of Columbia, for example, a greater percentage of workers now take transit (40.2 percent in 2011, 32.3 percent in 2000) than drive to work alone (33.6 percent in 2011, 39 percent in 2000).
- Arlington County leads Northern Virginia jurisdictions with 30.6 percent of workers taking transit.
- In suburban Maryland, Prince George’s County’s has the highest percentage of workers taking transit—19.4 percent of commuters.
- Across the region, biking to work has grown over the past decade to 0.7 percent. In D.C., the percentage of bicycle commuters grew from 1.4 to 3.5 percent.
- The percentage of people who worked at home increased slightly from 4 to 5 percent.
- Loudoun County leads all local jurisdictions with 7.3 percent of people working from home.
- The percentage of people who walk to work remained fairly constant—it accounted for 3.2 percent of area commuters in 2011.
- Between 2000 and 2011, there have been decreases in commuters who live in D.C., Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and work in Fairfax County, Fairfax City and Falls Church.
- There have also been decreases in commuters who live in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties who work outside the D.C. region.
Such is the nature of the nation’s worst gridlock that Commuter Connections is exhorting Washington area residents to celebrate “car free days: over the three-day period from Friday, September 20th through Sunday, September 22nd.
AAA Mid-Atlantic advocates on behalf of its nearly four million members in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. It provides a wide range of personal insurance, travel, financial and automotive services through its 50-plus retail branches, regional operations centers, and the Internet.