Leveling Rush Hour
This WSJ article (free version here) talks about how commuters are, in many cases, choosing to leave for work earlier (or later) to beat traffic. The article bemoans this trend as being a hardship on people. I know, personally, back in Phoenix, I would choose to leave for work 30-60 minutes earlier than I really had because I beat the stop-and-go traffic. Much smoother drive to work AND I had extra time to prep for my day (didn't really get to leave earlier as a result, but it was my choice and I didn't punch a clock).
Rather than building bigger highways with enough capacity for EVERYONE to work 9 to 5 (with everyone being on the road from 8:15 to 9:00), shouldn't we encourage this commuter self-leveling with flexible work hours and other incentives? Leveling the road usage means less spending is necessary on highways.
Leveling (or “heijunka“) is a key lean and Toyota Production System concept, a good idea in that it minimizes the resource requirements need to meet demand. Ideally, you would shape or level your demand (rather than just leveling production). You could level the demand for roads by using variable tolls (charge more during rush hour), providing an incentive for the price-sensitive to drive earlier or later. I know that idea reeks of “unfairness,” but life isn't fair.
You could also look at this problem in terms of a personal “spaghetti diagram” and waste – you could try to reduce your personal “waste of transporation” by living close to where you work. That's not always possible, given neighborhood safety, housing costs, etc.
I'm from Detroit, so I won't bring up the notion of public transporation :-) I'm sure our blog readers from outside of the U.S. (we have many) will have a different perspective on all of this.