Commuters' gulag

September 04, 2006

There is a small but memorable scene in Russian novelist and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago in which he sits upon the banks of the Belomor Canal, observing two nearly identical barges equally loaded with pine logs moving past each other in opposite directions. "And canceling the one load against the other," the author wrote, "we get zero."

In seemingly endless lines moving in opposite directions, Maryland drivers spend more time behind the wheel going to and from work and school than ever. In the Baltimore region alone, Carroll County drivers grip their steering wheels the longest, with the average commute lasting about 33 minutes, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report. The shortest commutes are for those from the city and Anne Arundel County, coming in at a bit more than 27 minutes. Many drivers experience daily doses of "extreme commuting," spending more than an hour on the road each way.

Frankly, we're a little surprised that the issues of highway congestion and long commutes haven't become hot topics in this campaign season. And if our political candidates can't promise some relief, we'll have to rely upon our own creativity. Mr. Solzhenitsyn's canal bank observation suggests one solution: Why don't some of these commuters swap jobs with the commuters driving in the opposite direction?

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