AM Radio + my morning commute

In my radio days, I worked with lots of guys who would make up travel times if they were running short on time. It wasn’t difficult for them to improvise a quick “The Kennedy is 35 minutes in, 45 out. Express lanes will save you five.” Bad form?
Sure. Abuse of the public trust? Maybe, to some extent. However, I’ve got to think that if you’re getting your traffic information from a rock station, an implicit caveat emptor applies.

AM radio, however, has a reputation of being somewhat unassailable when it comes to delivering credible information. For years I’ve led myself to believe that news/talk stations applied lofty standards to their broadcasts that their FM stepchildren could aspire to, but never attain.

For the past few weeks, I’ve called that belief into question because of some horribly inaccurate traffic broadcasts I’ve heard scattered across the AM dial (”dial” being a figurative term in the 21st century). When I’m in my car, I dutifully respond to Pavlovian benchmarks like “Traffic on the Eights.” When I need to make critical decisions, like “The Drive vs. the Kennedy” or “Express vs. Locals,” I need up-to-the-minute accuracy. Lately, drive-time traffic reports on a variety of different “credible” stations have been way off. A favorite from a few weeks ago said to avoid the Express lanes because of an accident in the right lane. “That’s not going to clear up anytime soon,” the announcer said. Ten minutes later, minutes after I made the decision to take the locals, the traffic read, “The outbound Kennedy’s all tied up because of an accident in the left lane. Take the Reversibles instead.” By that point, I was already at a dead stop at Division, cursing traffic, other drivers, and anyone responsible for pushing the bad intel through to the air.

Yesterday morning, I was faced with a “Drive vs. Kennedy” decision. I was running late, and couldn’t afford to make a wrong decision. “13 minutes in the Express Lanes,” WBBM told me at 7:18. I was on the Express Lanes within ten minutes of the report. I was at the Circle 35 minutes later. Traffic patterns can change by the minute–I understand that. That being said, travel times can’t jump up in 20 minute increments in 10 minutes time, especially without an accident, gaper’s block, or similar distraction impeding the inbound flow.

I took matters into my own hands today. I took the Brown Line in from Kimball. I scored a single seat and read more of “The Stand” by Stephen King. 50 minutes inbound, Purple Line will save you 10.

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