On any typical weekday in every city around the world, commuters sit in traffic getting to and from work. We know that traffic congestion carries a cost, measured both in human stress and in money. But how much does the daily traffic jam cost, really?
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2019 Urban Mobility Report, traffic congestion costs Americans approximately $166 billion annually and there’s no prospect of significant improvement in the foreseeable future.
Thanks to a robust economy, most cities have seen their highest traffic levels ever. (Image: TTI)
Short version: congestion is bad
The report states, “The 8‐ to 10‐year growing economy has brought traffic congestion to the highest measured levels in most U.S. cities. The myriad possible solutions–more highways, streets and public transportation; better traffic operations; more travel options; new land development styles; advanced technology – have not been deployed in sufficient numbers to restrain the mobility degradation.”
These results should surprise no one. Traffic has gotten worse, and it costs us more each year in wasted time and wasted fuel.
Drill down to any community to see traffic statistics and costs, all the way back to 1982. (Image: TTI)
Traffic won’t be getting better
The institute’s website includes an interactive map that allows anyone to drill down and find traffic congestion statistics for their own city. First use the drop-down menu on the upper right side of the screen to select the size of your city. Then select your city on the map. The most recent data in the interactive system is from 2017. However, the data stretches back to 1982. Scanning the years presents a picture of how traffic in a given community has changed over time.
The interactive system will show you what times are best and worst for traffic in your area. The system will also offer some analysis of what’s causing the congestion. The system makes comparisons to other cities and the national average. Users can compare the costs and effects of congestion over the 25-year period from 1982 to 2017.
The TomTom site presents data for any given community in infographic format. (Image: TomTom)
GPS manufacturer TomTom is also offering interactive insight into traffic patterns. The TomTom Traffic Index is an interactive website with detailed traffic information for 417 different cities across 57 countries. According to TomTom’s website, “Our Traffic Index ranks urban congestion worldwide and provides free access to city-by-city information. You, along with drivers, city planners, automakers and policy makers, can use the index to help tackle traffic-related challenges.”
TomTom collects the information from its users in the various cities. Then the company organizes the data to help individuals plan their travel more efficiently.
The TomTom site offers a traffic map that you can zoom down to the neighborhood level. (Image: TomTom)
Heading off the worst
“If you look at the individual city pages, you can see which hours are the most congested for each city,” Cohn says. “We can see that people are essentially following the same patterns in terms of departure times. We’re encouraging people to try to find ways to be flexible. For example, in L.A., the worst hour is 5-6 pm on a Thursday. So, if you know it’s the worst every week, can you make some small changes to avoid that? It’s not only helping yourself, but it reduces congestion.”
Even if your commute is fixed in time and route, combing through the data can be interesting. TomTom’s data covers the period from 2017 to 2019. More importantly, it also offers a real-time look at traffic conditions in your area. There’s a map that shows the major highways with a green-yellow-red spectrum for current traffic conditions.
If you zoom in, you can see traffic conditions on smaller highways and surface streets as well. Scroll down to see a record of congestion over the past 48 hours, and how the current traffic compares with last year’s averages.
TomTom’s site shows current and recent traffic data and compares it to city averages. (Image: TomTom)
What can you do?
The Texas Transportation Institute’s report details many ways that congestion can be addressed, such as building more public transit, building more roads, and squeezing as much efficiency out of the existing system as possible. The report also recommends reducing demand through telework, balancing demand with roadway capacity by adjusting work hours, and through smarter land use. The challenge is that most of those large-scale solutions cost a lot of money and require major government action.
What the Texas A&M and TomTom sites do is different. The Texas university site is geared more towards examining long-term trends. TomTom’s site can help individuals and organizations make better choices on a day-by-day basis.
“One of the reasons we published the TomTom Traffic Index is to raise awareness about how much information is available out there,” says Nick Cohn, senior product manager at TomTom. “Not just for the cities we’ve included in our list, but also elsewhere. It’s for making better decisions, whether that’s for individuals going to work on the road or businesses, cities, and transportation agencies that are looking to make decisions about where to invest in improving infrastructure or implementing traffic management systems.”
The bottom line is that traffic will continue to be a challenge, but maybe you can find a way to make your personal mobility situation a little better.