Transportation — The Tie That Binds Our Nation

(Larry Fogel/The Washington Post)
Using public transportation as the hub and Washington Post articles, opinion pieces, photography and informational graphics as the fuel, students engage in decision making and debate about gas taxes and infrastructure funding, engineering and design, economics and personal finance.
Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 

“Our transportation network is the tie that literally binds our nation together,” the 2015 Department of Transportation’s “Beyond Traffic 2045” study states. “But it is aging and increasingly incapable of bearing the load our future demands.” This month we focus on the modes of transportation available, infrastructure needs and funding, and the influence of transportation on our lifestyle decisions. We ask students to examine transit now and in the future.


The D.C. area is a transportation showcase and laboratory. Bicycle, express and High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, where drivers pay varying prices depending on traffic conditions on I-95, I-395 and I-495; Metro rail and Marc trains; streetcars, taxis, pedicabs and buses — sharing space with pedestrians and private vehicles.


Washington Post articles, opinion pieces, photographs and informational graphics are stimulus for activities in this guide that include focus on gasoline taxes and other solutions to congestion, factors that influence where we live, identification and funding of infrastructure projects, and debate and design of future transit.



February 2015

Five Key Post Transportation Resources
Resource Graphic 

Develop Vocabulary
Economics, Reading, Social Studies, U.S. Government
Every profession has a vocabulary developed around its products and services. Transportation is no different. Use In the Know to define terms from “accessible vehicles” to “trolley,” “Uber” and “walkable.” Encourage your students to use these terms to distinguish forms of transportation and to write about infrastructure issues to be solved.


Map It
At the beginning of each year, Dr. Gridlock features the infrastructure projects and other changes that will impact commuters and tourists in the coming year. Read “10 things that will change commuting in the D.C. region during 2015.”

Locate each of the anticipated projects and other changes on maps of the D.C. region.


Teachers could ask students if any of these major projects and changes is likely to influence them, their neighborhood or people they know. Discuss ways to effectively deal with the inconvenience. Do students see the projects as improvements?


Keep the School Buses Running
Economics, Journalism, Social Studies
To introduce the topic, ask students to talk about the maintenance of a family vehicle. In addition to keeping fuel in the tank, what other basic care can owners do? What if they had to add fuel, watch the oil level and clean the windows on three family vehicles?


Imagine what it would be like to keep a fleet of 1,610 buses running on a sunny day. Drop the temperature to 20 degrees and add snow. Welcome to the world of FCPS and its transportation staff. Read “Bus fleet fights winter chill.” Discussion questions to guide reading are provided in “Behind the Scenes: Keep the School Buses Running.”


Teachers could use this article as a model for covering the departments and staffs that keep a school running. Take readers and viewers of your student media behind the scenes with your cafeteria, custodial and secretarial staffs. You might turn an article about school bus maintenance into a double truck or a series: the drivers, the routes, the roads, by the numbers (gallons per tank per bus, gallons consumed per month in your school system, oil and windshield wiper fluid).


Read an Editorial Cartoon
Economy, Environmental Science, Journalism, Social Studies
The Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles provides visual commentary on current issues that he determines deserve dialogue. As a member of the op-ed section, he is independent of the news staff.


As the cost of a galloon of gasoline has lowered in recent months, he asks readers to consider what the decision at the gas pump means. Give students “ Tom Toles | Cheap Energy.” In addition to the January 18, 2015, editorial cartoon, students have questions to guide “reading” and discussion.

Determine Where to Live
Economics, Mathematics, Personal Finance, Social Studies

In this activity, students create a profile to determine whether a residence that provides walkability or affordability is their best option. Begin by defining the terms: “affordability,” “commute,” “mass transit,” “paratransit,” “pedestrian” and “walkability.” 

Teachers might tie this activity together with creation of a personal budget. How much should they place in a 401(k) account?  How much can they afford to spend on housing and daily transportation? The Post’s Color of Money and Get There features are useful.

Give students The Post’s Local Living article "Walkability vs. affordability” to begin discussion of finding a place to live. Provide students with “My Best Place to Live” which asks them to set up a profile. To complete the chart, they will need to get into sections of The Washington Post (Real Estate, Local Living, Weekend, GoingOutGuide), online transportation sources and neighborhood guides. Read about the influence of gasoline prices on home value in "Cheap gas makes suburban houses more valuable." Students may find it interesting that as of 2013, about 4.5 percent of the District’s population commuted to work via bike, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Solve a Traffic Problem
Art, Personal Finance, Photography, Social Studies

Photographs of different modes of transportation available in the Washington, D.C., region fill the two-page handout “Solve the Problem.” Teachers can use these pages in several ways.
• Younger students can be asked to identify the forms of transportation. Which of these have they seen? Used?
• Cut the photographs into “cards.” Give students the vocabulary in In the Know and a set of photo cards to categorize the forms of transportation into mass transit, paratransit, commuter rail, heavy rail, light rail. Students will need to justify placing cards into more than one category.
• Do some research on the prices of personal vehicles that are pictured. Which are within their budgets to own? To rent?
• Which of the modes of transportation pictured is an option for commuters in their neighborhood to use? Beyond the set fares, what are the costs to consider when deciding between using one’s personal vehicle and public transportation?


D.C. Area Transportation Players
Resource Graphic 

Make Accommodations
Art, Economics, Social Studies, U.S. Government

In the DOT “Beyond Traffic 2045” study, it is projected that the “number of Americans over age 65 will increase by 77%.” About one-third of these people will have a disability that limits mobility. What accommodations are being made now by mass transit organizataions for people with physical disabilities? In “For Blind riders on Metrorail, a new Web site and phone app are designed to lead the way,” The Washington Post reports on a Metrorail service added in 2014. What additional apps do you think would be useful to other passengers?

Read about a potential additional Metro station in “Alexandria gets $50 million state loan for Potomac Yard Metrorail station.”

If you could design a new Metro station, what would it look like? What would you add to future Metro stations to better serve passengers? To improve the aesthetics of the station and surroundings?


Understand Transportation Funding
Economics, English, U.S. Government

The Washington suburbs have some of the worst traffic congestion in the U.S. — number crunchers say the average driver spends 67 hours and burns 32 gallons of gas each year sitting in traffic. This statistic is just one of the issues surrounding transportation.

Infrastructure needs, thousands of construction jobs at stake, safety of passengers and pedestrians, and the potential insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund are factors that put transportation funding in a high priority zone.

Read “Can a new Congress bail out transportation in five months?” for background on funding for transportation projects. This article provides perspective and talking points on solutions.

Transportation committees in the House and Senate, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board and the Department of Transportation are among the groups that have a role in problem solving. What do they have to say? Get acquainted with the issues, research the suggested solutions and make your decision: How should we fund projects to do the following?• Construct and maintain highways
• Replace or repair transit systems at the end of their lifespans
• Maintain, repair or replace aging bridges
• Train and pay construction and maintenance workers

Debate Congestion Abatement
Debate, Social Studies, U.S. Government

With D.C. ranking with Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston as most congested metro areas, which approach would you prefer to abate the congestion on D.C. area roads? Before making a decision, Take a virtual ride around the Beltway. Do research. Check the data.


Teachers may wish to set up this research activity and debate by sharing the DOT Blue Paper “Beyond Traffic 2045." It is graphic and approachable data for students.


Students may be placed in pairs to read further about the main recommendations made to improve congestion and travel time.


Debate the merits of each plan.
• Charge drivers for every mile they travel
• Charge solo drivers during rush hours 
• Increase federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel
• Institute or increase state taxes on gasoline
• Impose a sales tax on gasoline
• Add tolls on express lanes
• Add tolls to heavily used roads
• Place tolls on new roads
• Fund bicycle lanes and other projects
• Improve Metro service
• Encourage workplace, home and services be within walking distance
• Develop suburban bus and ride-share services


The Department of Transportation urges the public to share their ideas on how they will travel in 30 years. 


Take a Side: Who Does Benefit from Lower Prices at the Pump?
Economics, Mathematics, Social Studies, U.S. Government
In January 2015 the price of a gallon of gas had dropped to half the price of a latte. If this pricing should remain, it could influence decisions of drivers, homeowners, businesses and lawmakers.

Form groups, each with a different article to read for possible impact of lower prices at the pump. In addition to reading the articles that are given, students could do an e-Replica search to find more recent articles and opinion pieces on the same topic.

• “Cheap oil, strong dollar not welcomed by big companies” (January 28, 2015, Economy and Business page)
5 Myths about Gas Taxes (December 19, 2014, Outlook)
Oil-rich Saudis find new help in struggle to delay action on climate change: Cheap gas (January 26, 2015, Health & Science)
Cheap gas makes suburban houses more valuable December 18, 2014, Wonkblog)
As many as 25 states could have sub-$2 gas by next week, AAA says (January 13, 2015, GovBeat)
Why lower gas prices mean bigger shopping sprees (November 14, 2014, Wonkblog)


A Mixed Bag of Books with a Trolley, Train or Automobile

Investigate Safety
Journalism, Personal Finance, Social Studies

When we hear media reports of traffic accidents, we might wonder about our own vehicles, driving habits and routes. When commuters hear of Metro delays or attacks on passengers, they question the safety of mass transit options. We expect to move from place to place reliably and safely.


Form groups, each with a different mode of transportation to research. Begin with an e-Replica search. Teachers can review the procedure using “Conduct an e-Replica Advanced Search | Become an Expert” then go through the steps with students using the sample searches in the handout.


Do an e-Replica search for Washington Post articles about safety of the following modes of transportation: personal automobile, school bus [PDF], taxi, Uber rides-for-hire vehicle, bicycle, Metro bus, Metro rail.

Teachers could also introduce the question of commuter safety using the January 2014 Metrorail incident when smoke filled a tunnel and cars. Commuters suffered and tragically one passenger died waiting for rescue. View the video and informational graphic and read “10 questions for Metro about the L’Enfant tragedy.” After discussing the incident, students could use e-Replica search features to find the answers to the 10 questions posed by Dr. Gridlock.


Teachers could hold a symposium entitled “Pedestrian, bicyclist or communter?” Use jigsaw (students taking the role of experts on their form of transportation) and shared inquiry (students offer different perspectives and debate each other) approaches to achieve a rich exchange of ideas about the safety of different forms of transportation. Be sure students have the facts, data and evidence to support their arguments.


Read About the Latest Models
Art, Engineering, Journalism, Technology

Teachers could begin by asking students to tell about their favorite cars. Have any students been to an antique or classic car show such as the ones held in Westminster, Rockville and Herndon? Do they know anyone with a car or truck that was made before 1940? What qualities make a car stand out?


Read Warren Brown’s most recent car column, “On Wheels,”  or read his review of the Infiniti QX60. Note his honest appraisal. This is especially evident in  “A car that’s a pleasure to live with, not just to gawk at.” He has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982 so he can be considered a reliable source who has taken many test drives and seen many innovations.


Go into the archives of On Wheels, car reviews by Washington Post car columnist Brown. Give students “On Wheels with Warren Brown” to guide their reading of his reviews. After they have finished reading and responding to the questions, discuss his evaluations, his style and the benefits of having such a column in a publication. Teachers might end with this question: If you were to write or produce a cars column/segment for your student media, what three topics or featured vehicles would you cover?


As an extension, ask media students to use Brown’s column as a model for a car column that would appear in their school’s student media. Produce a review for print, an online news site or broadcast.


Take a Spin Through the Post
Art, Career Education, Economics, Engineering, Media Arts

Vehicles can be found in advertisements and special pullout sections, in the classifieds, in the Business section, the Economy & Business pages, News section and occasionally in the Style section.


Special events call for additional coverage. For example, when the Washington Auto Show comes to D.C., readers will be informed on many levels. Read Economy & Business article, “On display, green cars of all colors” and Style article “Lust and longing at the auto show.” Discuss with students the writer’s tone, information and audience of both. 


Read today’s Washington Post. Locate examples of vehicles in coverage and content. Teachers can do this activity using the print edition or the e-Replica edition. If using the latter, decide if students are to read through the pages or use the Search feature.


Imagine Bold Ideas
Art, Engineering, Physical Science, Technology

Annual auto shows display the latest innovations in automotive technologies. In January 2015 automakers at the Washington Auto Show displayed hydrogen-powered vehicles and smartwatch-enabled ignitions as well as concept cars.


In “Washington Auto Show roars to life with spotlight on hydrogen, self-driving cars,” Post Business writer J.D. Harrison highlights not only the most recent models of auto show carmakers, but also the announcement of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. The Department is lending $56 million to private companies that have “bold ideas about ways to build more sustainable vehicles.” 


Challenge your students to brainstorm “blue-sky” ideas. What would power their vehicle? What design features would make it aerodynamic? How might they improve on current technologies to move toward a more perfect vehicle?


Teachers could create concept car teams to collaborate. To begin the task, ask students to do an e-Replica search for “Washington Auto Show,” “automotive innovations” “car design"  and other related search terms. Student should select and read one of these articles. Summarize the main idea and present to the team. What are the main ideas? Innovations presented? Resources to check out?



Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Accessible vehicles Transit passenger vehicles that do not restrict access, and provides allocated space and/or priority seating for individuals who use wheelchairs.

Measure of a population’s ability to afford to purchase a particular item, such as a house, indexed to the population’s income



Person riding a bicycle; also called a bicycler, cyclist, wheeler


Mode of transit service characterized by roadway vehicles operating on streets and roadways in fixed-route or other regular service. When limited to a small geographic area or to short-distance trips, local service is often called circulator, feeder, neighborhood, trolley or shuttle service.


Travel between one’s home and place of work on a regular basis; commuter

Commuter rail

Mode of transit service (also called metropolitan rail, regional rail, suburban rail) for urban passenger train service consisting of local short distance travel operating between a central city and adjacent suburbs.

Heavy rail

Mode of transit service (also called metro, rapid transit, or rapid rail) operating on an electric railway with the capacity for a heavy volume of traffic.


Public services and systems; fundamental organizational structures and facilities, such as transportation (roads and bridges), water and power supplies, communication and public institutions (schools, prisons)

Light rail

Mode of transit service (also called streetcar, tramway, or trolley) operating passenger rail cars. Typically driven by an operator on board the vehicle.

Mass transit See public transportation.

Mode of transit service (also called demand response or dial-a-ride) characterized by the use of passenger automobiles, vans or small buses operating in response to calls from passengers or their agents. Vehicles do not operate over a fixed route or on a fixed schedule.

Passenger fares

Revenue earned from carrying passengers in regularly scheduled and paratransit service. Passenger fares include the base fare, zone premiums, express service premiums, extra cost transfers and quantity purchase discounts applicable to the passenger’s ride.

Peak period surcharge

An extra fee required during peak use periods (rush hours)


Pedestrian A walker, person who travels on foot
Public transportation

Buses, trains, subways and other forms of transportation that charge set fares, run on fixed routes and are available to the public

Taxi A car (also called cab or taxicab), usually fitted with a taximeter, that may be hired, along with its driver, to carry passengers to a specified destination

Mode of transit service using vehicles propelled by a motor drawing current from overhead wires via connecting poles from a central power source not on board the vehicle


An on-demand business founded in 2009, connecting riders to drivers through apps to arrange private transportation with “third party providers”


Measure of how friendly an area is to walking; walkability has health, environmental and economic benefits


Sources: American Public Transportation Association

Answers. Behind the Scenes: Keep the School Buses Running
1. 1610; 2. 20 degrees; 3. 150; 4. 10 percent; 5. 45 days; 6. 35; 7. Answers will include adding special fuel additive and heat rails for 500 buses; 8. Answers will vary, but should include arriving between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. to get vehicles started, clearing snow from the bus, clearing snow and ice on all windows; 9. Answers will include monitor weather, share information and concerns with facilities and transportation staff; 10. Answers will vary.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

English. Construct arguments that
• present a cogent thesis;
• structure ideas in a sustained and logical fashion;
• use a range of strategies to elaborate and persuade, such as descriptions, anecdotes, case studies, analogies, and illustrations;
• clarify and defend positions with precise and relevant evidence, including facts, expert opinions, quotations, and/or expressions of commonly accepted beliefs and logical reasoning;
• anticipate and address readers' concerns and counterclaims with evidence;
• demonstrate understanding of purpose and audience; and
• provide effective introductory and concluding paragraphs that guide and inform the reader's understanding of key ideas and evidence. (Expository Writing, 12.W-E.3)


Economics. Students analyze the elements of America’s market economy in a global setting
1. Explain the relationship of the concept of incentives to the law of supply and the relationship of the concept of incentives and substitutes to the law of demand.
2. Describe the effects of changes in supply and/or demand on the relative scarcity, price, and the quantity of particular products. 
4. Explain how prices reflect the relative scarcity of goods and services and perform the allocative function in a market economy. (Market Economy, E.3)


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

English. Analyze important ideas and messages in informational texts (Comprehension of Informational Text, Indicator 4)
a. Analyze the author’s/text’s purpose and intended audience
b. Analyze the author’s argument, viewpoint, or perspective
c. State and support main ideas and messages
g. Synthesize ideas from texts
h. Explain the implications of the text or how someone might use the text
i. Connect the text to prior knowledge or experience


Personal Financial Literacy. By the end of Grade 12, students will evaluate attitudes, assumptions, and patterns of behavior regarding financial decisions, and predict how they impact the achievement of financial goals. (1.12.B)


Social Studies. Analyze the effects that different world issues have on shaping international responses, such as rainforest conservation, pollution, climate change and energy sources (oil drilling, coal, nuclear) (Political Science 1.0, Indicator 3, Grade 7)


Social Studies. Analyze the ways that governments can help or impede economic activity, such as providing a stable monetary system, protecting property rights, maintaining infrastructure and providing public goods and services  (Economics 4.0, Indicator 2, Grade 7)


Academic content standards may be found at


Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Physical Science.  The student will investigate and understand scientific principles and technological applications of work, force, and motion. Key concepts include
a)  speed, velocity, and acceleration;
b)  Newton’s laws of motion;
c)  Work, force, mechanical advantage, efficiency, and power; and
d)  applications (simple machines, compound machines, powered vehicles, rockets, and 
restraining devices). (P.S. 10)


English. The student will develop a variety of writing to persuade, interpret, analyze, and evaluate with an emphasis on exposition and analysis.
a)  Generate, gather, plan, and organize ideas for writing to address a specific audience and purpose.
b)  Synthesize information to support the thesis.
c)  Elaborate ideas clearly through word choice and vivid description.
d)  Write clear and varied sentences, clarifying ideas with precise and relevant evidence.
e)  Organize ideas into a logical sequence using transitions.
f)  Revise writing for clarity of content, accuracy, and depth of information. (Writing, 10.6)


Economics. The student will develop consumer skills by
a) examining basic economic concepts and their relation to product prices and consumer spending;
b) examining the effect of supply and demand on wages and prices;
c) describing the steps in making a purchase decision, including the roles of marginal benefit and marginal cost (EPF.10)


Economics. The student will demonstrate knowledge of planning for living and leisure expenses by
a) comparing the costs and benefits of purchasing vs. leasing a vehicle;
b) comparing the advantages and disadvantages of renting vs. purchasing a home
e) calculating the cost of utilities, services, maintenance, and other housing expenses (EPF.11)


Academic content standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts, Science & Technical Subjects. Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible. (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.7


English Language Arts, Writing. Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration (Research to Build and Present Knowledge, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.7)


Mathematics. Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace. (Model with Mathematics, CCSS. Math.Practic.MP4)


Common Core standards may be found at


Next Generation Engineering Design 
Students who demonstrate understanding can:

1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision

to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles

and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit

possible solutions. (MS-ETS1-1)

2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine

how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (MS-ETS1-2)

3. Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several

design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined

into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (MS-ETS1-3


Next Generation Engineering Design standards may be found at