A bit of rage allowed about Frederick roads

Kai Hagen

July 8, 2004

Traffic. Traffic. Traffic.

OK...sorry about that. Take a few deep breaths.

Thinking about traffic, even being stuck in traffic, may not be enough to drive more than a handful of us to the point of road rage. but few subjects are more likely to evoke such widespread agreement and frustration, not to mention a few illustrative examples or a rant or two.

The word "traffic" has become synonymous with "bad traffic." And you know things are bad when traffic is often added to the short list of inevitable things ? death, taxes ... and traffic. Not very good company.

It isn't hard to understand why we think of bad traffic as inevitable. After all, nobody likes it. It's an irritating inconvenience, at best.

Traffic wastes our time. It makes us late. It affects where we might go or when we might go there. It wastes fuel and money and contributes to increased air and water pollution. It leads to more automobile accidents and slows the response of emergency vehicles.

What's not to not like? There are no upsides.

Yet, day by day, car by car, truck by truck, road by road, the problem gets worse.

And, as anyone who spends any time driving around or in and out of Frederick County knows, we are no exception. We're all experiencing a version of what is referred to as the "Parable of the Boiling Frog."

According to the parable, if a frog could jump into a shallow pan of boiling water, it would jump out...immediately. But if the frog is sitting in a pan of cool water, and the temperature is turned up slowly, the frog's instincts don't kick in, and it will boil to death.

Now, I have no idea if that's really true of some frogs or not. But the parable is applied to all sorts of things because it conveys a more basic truth. When it comes to traffic, the temperature is being turned up on us. Slowly and steadily, our roads are more crowded, our trips more delayed, our patience tested.

While the end result won't be as unthinkable as boiling to death, there's little doubt that increasing traffic is a significant quality-of-life issue.

I'll admit I used to get a bit of perverse pleasure when hearing awful traffic reports on Washington radio stations from the relative peace and quiet of uncongested roads in Frederick County. Having moved here from an area with some of the worst traffic in the country, I truly appreciated not having to contend with it. No less so, I noticed and appreciated how civil and polite most drivers were around here.

More and more, those are starting to look like the good old days.

Since local politicians could virtually assure their re-election for life by solving the problem, you'd think everyone who ever campaigned for our votes would be sufficiently motivated to do so.

It isn't that they don't try, of course. The issue of traffic isn't ignored. It's just that the real solutions require changes most communities haven't been willing to make, and few politicians are willing to risk advocating. As complicated and controversial and expensive as they can be, most elected officials bank on new and improved roads as the easy way out.

I'm not exactly going out on a limb to suggest it isn't working.

So, we have a few choices. We can keep doing what isn't working, and experience continually worsening traffic that will make this look like the good old days. Or we can spend much larger sums of precious tax dollars to build more and bigger roads, and then more and bigger roads. Or, before it's too late, we can take a harder and broader look at how we are planning and managing growth, and how the way we build our communities affects our ability to move around and in and out of the county.

Currently, Frederick County's "Adequate Facilities Ordinance" only reviews and requires "adequate" roads from the entrance of a new development "to the nearest intersection of an arterial road or freeway/expressway with an arterial road."

In other words, the de facto county policy today is to ensure that we all make good time getting to inevitable and worsening traffic jams clogging all the roads outside of our neighborhoods.

And the bottom line is that awful traffic is one of the ways we all subsidize poorly planned growth.

I'm officially on record now as someone who isn't offering that subsidy willingly.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at