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Could Telework reduce Johns Island Traffic Congestion?

This idea for reducing traffic problems on Johns Island was motivated by discussions at recent meetings of the Johns Island Council, a volunteer citizens group that serves as a liaison between island residents and local government. Since property developments that involve rezoning can significantly affect existing residents, the Johns Island Council encourages developers to present their plans at its regular monthly meetings in advance of their city and county planning and zoning board hearings. This gives residents a chance to learn about the proposed development and to voice their concerns.

A common theme of discussions at Johns Island Council meetings is that there is too much new development on Johns Island. This sentiment is partly just a desire to keep things as they are, but there are legitimate concerns about the adequacy of the existing infrastructure to support large new projects. Several Johns Island Council members have served on the boards of St Johns Water Company and St Johns Fire District, and have offered useful insight on infrastructure needs in those areas. What really gets everyone's attention, though, is traffic congestion, which is widely perceived to be getting worse. New development, particularly high density and commercial development, is generally seen as adding to the problem.

Many of the rezoning proposals we've seen lately are not simple requests for up-zoning, but rather for planned developments. The planned development zoning designation allows part of the property to be set aside as green space to offset higher density elsewhere on the parcel[1]. Often the net density requested for a planned development is less than what would be allowed under the parcel's current zoning. Another aspect of the planned development designation is that the developer commits to a detailed plan, and later deviation from that plan requires a public hearing. These constraints are regarded favorably, but some members are put off by the fact that planned developments allow mixed uses. There seems to be a general aversion to any sort of commercial development.

Both the Charleston city and county zoning regulations require traffic studies for large developments. The county requirement is based on the concept of trip generation, estimated from the number, size, and use of the planned buildings, while the city code uses a more direct computation.[2] Though the exact terms differ, both formulas implicitly assume the trip generation rate for one thousand square feet of retail commercial space to be roughly the same as for from two to 150 single family residential units, depending on the type of retail business. It is not clear whether they allow "passby" reductions, mitigation or other adjustments, but the local ordinances do corroborate the impression that commercial development generates more traffic than residential.

The conventional solution to traffic congestion is to build more roads. The cost of new roads, however, is often prohibitive, and in many cases it is argued that they actually increase congestion by encouraging low density development far from urban centers.[3] Concerns about high costs and sprawl have dominated the debate over the proposed extension of I-526 across Johns Island.

Improvements to public transportation-- bus, subway, light rail, etc.-- are also proposed as a way to reduce congestion. High construction and operating costs generally limit the feasibility of mass transit systems to dense urban areas.[4] Bus systems allow more flexibility with routes, but still depend on high ridership rates to be cost effective.

Ridesharing and high-occupancy vehicle lanes are lower cost schemes that have been used to relieve congestion, with varying degrees of success. CARTA, our local bus transit system, has a rideshare program that matches users by the starting and ending zip codes for their commutes.[5] Queries to the website suggest that there are only about a dozen users who live or work on Johns Island, highlighting the difficulty of getting commuters to participate. On the other hand, social networking and mobile phone technology have facilitated new business models for ride sharing, as evidenced by companies like Uber and Lyft. Autonomous cars, another emerging technology, could also have a profound impact on future transportation.[6]

I made the observation at one of our meetings that Johns Island is becoming a bedroom community. Many of the residents who've recently moved to Johns Island, into newly built houses or apartments, still work and do much of their shopping and other activities elsewhere. An ideal situation would be where commercial establishments mainly serve the residents of the communities in which they are located. This is a desired goal of planned developments, but it is not so easy to achieve. Developers cannot reasonably be expected to sell new homes only to people who work nearby, or require commercial tenants to hire only people who live in surrounding neighborhoods. A comprehensive approach is needed.

Telecommuting has been proposed as way to reduce the time and cost of commuting to work. The original concept was for workers to work at least part of their time at home. Setting up a telecommuting program requires a significant commitment by the employer. The responsibilities of each worker must be clearly defined, and some system of accountability must be established. In the mid 90's, when home Internet connections began to proliferate, there were optimistic predictions about how telecommuting would revolutionize the workplace. Some companies that have tried telecommuting, however, noted declines in productivity and other problems among employees working at home.[7]

An alternative approach to telecommuting, falling under the more general term, "telework", offers the potential to mitigate productivity losses of emloyees working at home, while retaining some of the benefit of reduced traffic congestion. Telework centers, located closer to employees' homes than the workplaces where they would normally commute, provide a professional work environment with up-to-date computers and software, high-speed internet access, meeting rooms, videoconferencing, and other amenities. In the mid 1990's, the federal government began subsidizing a network of telework centers in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Federal Government Services Administration (GSA) employees used the facilities, but participation by private firms never reached projected levels. The subsidies were discontinued in 2011 and many of the centers closed, but the GSA and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) have continued to support telework and flextime programs for Federal employees.[8]

Although telecommuting and telework programs have not been successful everywhere they've been tried, the number of workers participating in telework continues to grow.[9] When considering telework programs, employers are now able to examine a substantial history of both successes and failures, backed by research and supported by specialized consultants.[10] It is worth investigating whether telework could significantly reduce rush hour traffic congestion on Johns Island. Such an investigation should focus on:

  • routes used by Johns Island commuters, particularly across the Limehouse and Stono bridges
  • whether the jobs of Johns Island commuters are suitable for telework
  • willingness of employer of Johns Island commuters to support a telework program for their employees
  • interest among Johns Island commuters to participate in a telework program
  • whether telework centers would be cost effective
  • necessary equipment and amenities for telework centers
  • potential locations for telework centers
  • feasibility of using zoning rules to encourage participation in telework programs, e.g. conditioning PUD zoning on inclusion of telework center

As development on Johns Island threatens to outpace the existing infrastructure, telework may provide a viable alternative to expensive and environmentally destructive highway projects. Telework could also foster a greater sense of community on Johns Island, and prevent it from becoming just a place where residents sleep when they're not working.


[1] See Article 2, Part 7 of the City of Charleston Zoning Code, Ordinance No. 2014-153, adopted December 2, 2014, and Article 4.23, Charleston County Zoning & Land Development Regulations Ordinance, Adopted November 20, 2001 and amended November 10, 2015, for city and county zoning regulations relating to planned developments.

[2] Article 6, Sec. 54-606 of the city ordinance deals with Technical Review Committee requirements for traffic studies. Article 9.9 of the county ordinance deals with Traffic Studies, and Section 9.9.1 of the county ordinance references "trip generation rates from the latest edition of the Institute of
Transportation Engineers Trip Generation manual." See Institute of Transportation Engineers Common Trip Generation Rates (PM Peak Hour) (Trip Generation Manual, 9th Edition). For examples of typical traffic study guidelines from other jurisdictions, see Lake County, FL Traffic Impact Study Methodology Guidelines and California DOT study prepartion guide.

[3] See the Federal Department of Transportation report, Traffic Congestion and Reliability: Linking Solutions to Problems (Executive summary), Traffic Congestion and Reliability: Linking Solutions to Problems (Final report), prepared for the Federal Highway Administration by Cambridge Systematics, Inc. with Texas Transportation Institute, July 19, 2004. For an example of the argument that more roads make congestion worse, see Study: Building Roads to Cure Congestion Is an Exercise in Futility,by Tanya Snyder, StreetsBlog USA, May 31, 2011, citing Duranton, Gilles, and Matthew A. Turner. 2011. "The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities." American Economic Review, 101(6): 2616-52. For an example of a counterargument, see Puncturing the myth of more roads mean more congestion, by Jonathan V. Last, Washington Examiner, March 2, 2011.

[4] Regarding the density required for successful mass transit, see Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective, by Robert Cervero and Erick Guerra, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Berkeley, September 2011.

[5] See for information on CHATS program to encourage carpooling.

[6] On investments by Uber and Google in autonomous cars, see Exclusive: Google Is Developing Its Own Uber Competitor, by Brad Stone, BloombergBusiness. For predictions on the many unexpected changes autonomous cars will bring, possibly even obviating the need to build new roads by reducing traffic, see Driverless Cars: Optional by 2024, Mandatory by 2044, by Philip E. Ross, IEEE Spectrum, 29 May 2014.

[7] An example assessment from 1997 of the potential advantages of telecommuting may be found in Real-time Collaborative Technologies: Incentives and Impediments (Telecommuting case study), by Faris Yamini, Hari Balakrishnan, Giao Nguyen, Xavier Lopez, group project report from an undergraduate course in Strategic Computing and Communications Technology, University of California, Berkeley, Spring 1997. A more recent article describing advantages of flextime and telecommuting from an employer perspective, and listing management practices to assure their successful implementation, is The Benefits of Flextime, by David G. Javitch, Entrepreneur, June 5, 2006. Some downsides of telecommuting are discussed in Tearing Down the Electronic Cottage by Evgeny Morozov, Slate, Dec 31, 2012. Yahoo's decision to end its telecommuting program in 2013 was criticized by many commentators and analysts. See, e.g., As Yahoo ends telecommuting, others say it has benefits, by Elizabeth Weise and Jon Swartz, USA Today, February 26, 2013 and Yahoo CEO nixes remote workers or telecommuters, by Brandon Lee, VirtualizationHowto, February 23, 2013.

[8] The Guide to Telework in the Federal Government, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, April 2011, describes the Federal telework program requirements and legislative history. Government ending telework center funding, by Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post, March 3, 2011, and D.C.-area telework centers close as GSA ends funding, Federal News Radio, March 1, 2011, provide details on the cancellation of federal subsidies for telework centers. A more recent article from Federal News Radio, Changing face of teleworking, by Mike Causey, January 21, 2016, emphasizes that the closing of telework centers was mainly due to employees increasingly choosing to work from home as smart phones and other new technology made that choice more practical. Resources for implementing telework programs for Federal employees can be found at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management telework website, A best practices reference for telework programs, The GSA Telework Program Management Office Recipe Book, can be found on the GSA website. Mobile Work Exchange,, is a public-private partnership serving the requirements of the Federal telework community. Although these resources were created specifically for Federal agencies, the information in them could be applied by other organizations. Commuter Connections, a Washington, DC area network of transportation organizations and an affiliate of Mobile Work Exchange, provides on its website a list of Telework/Cowork Centers that are open to both Federal and private-sector employers.

[9] Statistics on the work-at-home/telework population in the U.S. based on an analysis of 2005-2014 American Community Survey (US Census Bureau) data conducted by can be found at

[10] An example of research on telework is Telecommuting suitability modeling: An approach basedon the concept of abstract job, by Amir Reza Mamdoohi, Mohammad Kermanshah, and Hossain Poorzahedy, Department of Civil Engineering, Sharif University of Technology, Teheran, Iran, Dec 18, 2014, which suggests a method for determining whether telecommuting is suitable for a particular job. Examples of private services for locating remote, temporary or shared office space are and TelecommutingAdvantage, an alternative work arrangements consulting agency advising private sector firms on implementing telework, flextime, job sharing and similar work programs, provides a web based online Work Suitability Assessment. In addition to these and other telework resources oriented to private sector businesses, much of the information on goverment sites, as indicated in note [8], is equally applicable to non-government workers.