The people who want to dramatize the traffic congestion in the Twin Cities are doing it again — making big numbers out of trivial little numbers.
“Motorists wasted 24.5 hours behind the wheel” the Star Tribune headline blares today in its story about the Twin Cities being the 16th worst city in the country for traffic congestion, which isn’t that bad considering we’re the 14th largest city in the United States, and we spend a fair amount of time driving in winter weather.
But a whole day wasted? Just sitting there, putting our makeup on, texting our friends, and singing “Freebird?”
The story itself tells a slightly different tale. Traffic is growing here because a lot of people weren’t driving a few years ago; they didn’t have any jobs to drive to. The Twin Cities is becoming an economic success story.
“The big picture is that that the total amount of travel peaked in the U.S. a few years ago and it’s been declining ever since,” says David Levinson, the transportation guru at the University of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune. “We have some ups and downs during any given year depending on the price of the gas and whether the economy is doing a little bit better or not. Certainly [congestion is] more than in 2009 during the depths of the recession.”
You can’t make a headline out of that.
How about this one: “We’re commuting 12 hours less now.”
Or so another report last year would seem to indicate. A Texas A&M study — the Urban Mobility Report — said we wasted 34 hours of time in our commutes. Which is it?
In the big scheme of thing, it doesn’t matter because 24 hours or 34 hours is fairly trivial. As I wrote last year, assuming you take two weeks of vacation a year, you’re “wasting” 4 minutes per commute. Twenty-four hours of wasted time a year is less than 3 minutes per trip.
How can we get some of that time back? Easy. Here are some methods:
Watch fewer commercials: If you watch two hours of TV a day, you’re wasting 242 hours just watching the commercials.
Take shorter showers: On average we spend 43 hours a year in the shower.
Go on a diet: We spend 406 hours a year eating.
Learn to love dust: We waste 218 hours a year cleaning the house.
Curiously, Americans are supposed to good at multitasking, so this shouldn’t be a problem: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend only 20 minutes a day “thinking or relaxing.” If everyone just relaxed during their commute, we can increase that number by 30 percent.