Every year, Inrix releases its Global Traffic Scorecard, which ranks congestion on roads in 1,064 cities in 38 countries. And every year the report tells urban commuters what they already know—traffic sucks and is getting worse.
But at least Inrix’s Global Traffic Scorecard uses data—500TB from 300 million sources covering over 5 million miles of road—to let us know exactly how much it sucks. And the report gives drivers in certain traffic-plagued cities perverse bragging rights as the most congested regions in the world.
Los Angeles was No. 1 among the planet’s most gridlocked cities, with drivers spending an average of 104 hours sitting in traffic during peak hours last year. LA was followed by Moscow (91 hours), New York (89 hours), San Francisco (83 hours), and Bogota (80 hours), while New York’s Cross Bronx Expressway won the dubious distinction as the “worst corridor,” with the average driver spending 86 hours per year stuck in traffic there.
For the first time this year, the Inrix Traffic Scorecard included the direct cost (those attributed to drivers directly through wasted time and fuel) and indirect costs (those borne by businesses that are passed on to consumers through higher prices) of congestion. This amounted to a whopping $300 billion in 2016, for an average of $1,400 per US driver.
Part of the blame is an improving economy. “A stable US economy and factors such as employment growth and low gas prices have all contributed to increased traffic in 2016,” according to Inrix senior economist Bob Pishue. “Traffic truly is a double-edged sword.”
Pishue pointed out that LA has enjoyed the sixth-largest drop in unemployment rates in the country among metro areas—but that means more cars on the road. “We’re seeing a definite impact of an improving economy on an already strained road system,” he added.
Technology Rides to the Rescue
Expect things to get worse. “The demand for driving is expected to continue to rise, while the supply of roadway will remain flat,” Pishue said. But technology could ride to the rescue.
“Up to 30 percent of urban traffic congestion in a downtown [central business district] is related to the search for parking,” Pishue noted. “So there’s a direct benefit in reducing that.”
Inrix has made big bets on parking data and solutions, so of course the company touts these solutions. But Pishue added that there are other ways tech can cut traffic.
“Intelligent traffic signals are also relatively low cost, certainly less than adding a new lane of traffic, for a big benefit,” he said. Several auto makers have already started linking their cars to transportation infrastructure, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication promises to help ease congestion and reduce the number of accidents.
One of President Trump’s biggest pushes—and probably the only initiative getting bipartisan support—is a trillion-dollar transportation overhaul that could transform how highways and infrastructure are built. Self-driving cars also promise to reduce traffic, although whether they’ll add more cars to the road and more congestion has been a source of debate; only time will tell.
So while traffic may get worse in the short term, technology could help cut congestion over the long haul. “Using big data and technology to improve operations of existing roadways offers a more immediate impact on traffic flows and mobility, while transportation officials explore strategic capital investments,” Pishue said. So it’s either trust in technology or expect to sit in traffic longer.
(Lead image credit: By Robert Jack Will)