Ever since I started driving myself to school, one thing has become very apparent: we waste a lot of time in our cars.
For example, my regular 20-minute commute can take up to an hour in peak traffic. It’s so agonizing to waste time in the morning that I now wake up at 6:30 a.m. just so I can make it to school before traffic becomes a true nightmare and I spend double the time to make the same 13-mile journey.
While it might seem that traffic is just the price that we must all pay for low-density, far-flung suburban communities, it doesn’t have to be like this.
Traffic is really simple math: too many cars trying to get on the roads all at the same time. Since doubling the width of roadways isn’t entirely feasible, at least not in the short term and not without massive new capital outlays, I propose we fix the other half of the equation – time.
Have you ever noticed that Sacramento has very short spans of rush hour? We are not L.A., where the traffic begins to form at 5 a.m. and doesn’t let up until 10 a.m. No, here in the “City of Trees” rush hour usually lasts from 7:10 a.m. to 8 a.m.
If our traffic seems to be so insignificant in comparison to other cities then “Why should we change anything?” you might ask.
Not only does traffic reduce productivity, but the mere physical stress congested freeways bring can lead to congested arteries and shorter life spans.
In Singapore, a small island nation with not enough land for road network expansion, an innovative solution was created – time shifting.
In Singapore, riders of the public transit system are incentivized with either discounted rates or cash prizes to shift their daily schedules. In addition, large employers are courted by the government to shift their own operating hours to begin at off peak hours, to blunt the harshest parts of rush hour. What the transportation agencies there have discovered is that doling out prizes and having companies comply is far cheaper than building more roadways.
Sacramento is in a unique position for this type of traffic management to work. Although few Sacramentans take public transit to work, this city has one major employer – the state of California.
If all government offices were shifted to begin work at 9 a.m., 70,000 people would be shifted to a different time on the roadways. Considering Sacramento’s entire population is only 475,000 people, that’s nearly 15 percent, more than enough to make a dent in peak rush hour traffic.
For an even more noticeable change in traffic patterns, other leading private employers (Intel, Sutter Health, UC Davis Health System) could also make the switch. If they were all coordinated, nearly 114,000 people would get to work at a different time, taking the top edge off of rush hour traffic by moving nearly 25 percent of local area cars off the road.
Another case of easy switches would be to change public-school hours by 30 minutes. Not only would this change parent-drop-off patterns, but Sacramento Unified and Elk Grove Unified are two of the area’s largest employers, thus creating another tidal shift in traffic patterns.
While I often advocate large new infrastructure investments, those developments are expensive and take time to build. But this time-shifting technique would cost next to nothing.
So why don’t we stop sitting in bumper-to-bumper, and start shifting our way to better days?