- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

Happy motoring it's not.

For Washington's 7.6 million commuters, the daily grind has become five minutes longer and more surly, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and a recent survey of the nation's aggressive driving habits.

The Census Bureau calls its findings "Journey to Work," and for good reason. It is a journey an endless one.

According to figures released yesterday, the average one-way commute grew from 30 minutes in 1990 to nearly 35 minutes in 2000. The figures are based on the "long form" census taken two years ago.

Driving trends are the same elsewhere: The average commute to work throughout the country was 24 minutes in 2000 compared with 22 minutes 10 years earlier. In 1980, it was 21 minutes.

In these parts, the morning drive rumbles to life around 5 a.m. and keeps rumbling for about five hours, according to WTOP radio traffic reporter Bob Marbourg, who has covered commuting since 1979. The evening drive revs up between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., and can roll on past 7 p.m.

"Nobody does this for fun. It's out of necessity," Mr. Marbourg said. "People do it because they want to live in a certain school district, or in a house they can afford. Or maybe their job has moved way out somewhere."

Time had indeed marched on. Back in 1960, for example, a tenth of the nation about 6.4 million people walked to work, according to the census.

Meanwhile, gridlock has been turned into a cottage industry here. Almost 200 video cameras spy upon the area's crowded roads, transmitting live images to traffic reporters and savvy drivers alike on the Internet. In addition, Smart Traveler the "commuter news channel" can be seen on area cable TV.

But Washington faces a double whammy. The fourth annual "Nerves of Steel" aggressive driver survey reveals that Washington ranks third in the country for rude, aggressive drivers bested only by Boston and Miami.

According to the survey, 70 percent of us acknowledged we drove at least 10 miles over the speed limit and another 58 percent had run yellow lights. Another 41 percent regularly drove while chatting on a cell phone, and 36 percent changed lanes with no signal. In addition, 35 percent honked their horns unnecessarily and 27 percent habitually double-parked their cars.

Washington received an overall "D" grade, as it did last year. Boston and Miami both got "F."

"Maybe they're racing to get to the day care center, or late for a meeting or a night class," WTOP's Mr. Marbourg observed. "Aggressive driving is a symptom of unbelievable frustration. But there's no excuse for it. When will people realize that if they drive smoothly and safely, they will actually help ease congestion?"

Other cities have their own impertinent driving specialties, however, the survey found.

Boston boasts the most "rude gestures," with 45 percent of the driving populace gesticulating en route. Denver had the most tailgaters, and Detroit and Miami the greatest number of those who drink while driving.

Mr. Marbourg, meanwhile, praises Washington drivers. He receives up to 200 phone calls each day from drivers who want to give him eyewitness updates of the latest lane closures.

"I've got an extra 10,000 pairs of eyes out there now, thanks to cell phones," Mr. Marbourg said. "These are drivers who are fighting back. They want to be part of the solution."

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