A new study out of Northeastern University found that Washington, D.C. has the worst "traffic resilience" in the entire country, meaning area roads are incapable of handling unpredicted traffic surges.

It's no secret that Washington, D.C. has some of the worst traffic in the entire country. A recent study found that the worst traffic hotspot in the entire United States sits in a small stretch of I-95 between Woodbridge and Fredericksburg, Virginia. While everyone knows that the District of Columbia has horrendous traffic, a new study thinks that it might have figured out why: traffic resilience (or lack there of). Most traffic studies focus on how efficient roads or highways are, essentially how able they are to move a large number of people on a predictable basis. "Traffic resilience," on the other hand, measures a metro area's ability to absorb extra traffic when adverse events increase gridlock beyond what is seen on a day to day basis. This includes a region's ability to handle additional traffic from sporting events, construction, bad weather, or other emergencies. The study published out of Northeastern University shows that a city's "traffic resilience" doesn't necessary correlate with its day-to-day "traffic efficiency." What that means is that even if a city is notorious for having hellish commutes, that doesn't necessarily translate into an inability to handle spontaneous traffic-causing events.
“What we show is actually these two measures are not really correlated with each other,” explained Maksim Kitsak, an associate research scientist in the Department of Physics and Northeastern’s Network Science Institute. “One would think that if the city is bad for traffic under normal conditions, it would be equally bad or worse for traffic under additional stress events, like severe weather. But we show that is not quite the case.” Basically, even if a city has horrible day-to-day traffic, not all cities are created equal when it comes to dealing with sudden, massive influxes of cars. Los Angeles, California is infamous for its bumper-to-bumper traffic. However, the city has resources at its disposal, including reserve roadways, to accommodate for spontaneous traffic increases. Researchers concluded that the Washington, D.C. area is the least prepared out of 40 different metropolitan areas to deal with abnormal traffic events. The study looked at one particular incident in early 2016. On January 20, 2016, the D.C. area received one inch -- just one inch -- of unexpected snow ahead of a major blizzard. Meteorologists and transit officials expected a major snowstorm, but got one inch of unexpected early snow. As a result, roads and highways were not salted ahead of time and there were no plows out there to handle the snow build-up. They found that just one inch of unexpected snowfall was enough to take an already-horrendous evening commute and grind it to a halt. What was interesting is that the Northeastern researchers were not convinced that a fast governmental response would have changed all that much. Roads and highways in and around the District are simply not designed to accommodate for spontaneous traffic-causing events, they concluded. While this might seem like an unnecessary study that tells us all what we already know -- Washington, D.C. traffic is the worst -- it is actually important because most traffic studies focus on daily traffic patterns only. Few studies look specifically at traffic resilience.
On top of that, few cities have as much at stake as Washington, D.C. does. Since Washington, D.C. is the nation's capital, and houses all three branches of the Federal government and most executive departments, the city's traffic resilience is a national security issue. No city is ever truly prepared for a terror attack. Yet, since Washington, D.C. is at the bottom of the traffic resilience rankings, the nation's capital and its surrounding suburbs are actually the least prepared in the entire country to deal with traffic problems following a terror attack or other disaster. Given these realities, city planners and government officials should focus on resiliency when designing and upgrading D.C.-area infrastructure. What was the worst D.C-area traffic you have ever seen? Let us know in the comment section below!

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