Monday, August 18, 2008

The Case for Speed

House of Representatives member Heath Shuler (D- N.C.) is agitating for the return of the 55-mph speed limit. I remember that infamous speed limit- no one followed it and all it did was to irritate drivers. In other words, it was about as successful as Jimmy Carter's plan to wear more sweaters instead of actually developing American energy reserves. However, according to Donald Sensing over at his blog Sense of Events, instead of decreasing the speed limit, now would actually be a good time to increase it- he suggests at least 100 miles an hour or more on the freeways.

To illustrate his idea, Sensing compares the time necessary to take a trip from Nashville to Memphis both by air and by car. He finds that,
Nashville to Memphis, 200 ground miles, flying Northwest Airlines flt. 457. Depart Nashville (BNA) at 0612, arrive Memphis (MEM) at 0715. Cool, just an hour, right? Of course not. You must arrive at the airport no fewer than 90 minutes earlier than flight departure (they say two hours, but let's assume you check no baggage). And you have to drive to the airport, call that 30 minutes. So you leave home at 0412. Three hours later you arrive at the Memphis airport and have to spend another 30 minutes, minimum, getting to your place of business for the day. Use more time if you checked baggage.

So you spend 3 1/2 hours getting to your destination in Memphis from your Nashville home.

If you drive, Google Maps says it would take 3 1/2 hours just to drive from BNA to MEM. Of course, you wouldn't start from BNA or end at MEM, so shave a half-hour. Still, many business travelers would consider the extra half-hour spent flying to be worth it, especially if they can use the down time to work.

So let's raise the speed limit to 100 mph. Using the same route, BNA - MEM, uses 205 interstate miles. Some of this is too congested to permit high-speed driving, probably about 20 miles. Heck, to make it easy let's say 25 miles. So you cover 180 miles in 1 hour, 48 minutes and the other 25 miles in as many minutes. That leaves 16 miscellaneous miles left, which might take you another 25 minutes. Total time, 2 hours, 38 minutes. You save, basically, an hour.

Sensing also examines the other delays built into air travel these days- the TSA security checks, the baggage-checks, the check-in lines and of course the waiting in the plane on the runway. Since airlines over-schedule, the odds of a true on-time departure are extremely low) and the airlines and the FAA manipulate things so that even if the plane officially makes an 'on-time' departure, you still won't be in the ari anywhere near your scheduled departure time.

I find a lot of sense in what Mr. Sensing suggests. For foreign trips, of course, air travel remains the only real alternative, as sea travel is too slow. However, for much domestic travel, driving actually is quicker, and less stressful than air. And if the speed limits were raised, the time involved would drop as well. Read the whole thing and see what you think- I like the idea. Not that there is much chance of our elected officials implementing it, but we proved with the 55-mile speed limit that if we push long enough, even Congress might eventually pay some attention...

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

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