The Texas Transportation Institute has just released its annual Urban Mobility Report, serving up in gory detail all the horrors of traffic congestion. Washington, D.C., regains its prized spot as most congested city in the United States, with Chicago number two. Friday, it turns out, is the worst day nationally for traffic congestion, with 200 million more hours of delay than Monday. And 40 percent of delays don’t even occur during rush hours — they creep up midday and overnight, when they’re least expected.
The TTI report doesn’t, however, recommend any sort of congestion pricing or charge during rush hours to alleviate traffic jams. After all, if drivers are already paying a hidden $713 tax for inefficient allocation of a scarce resource (road space), why not swap that out for a more efficient, and presumably smaller, fee? Instead, the report advocates “traditional road building and transit use, combined with traffic management strategies such as signal coordination and rapid crash removal, and demand management strategies like telecommuting and flexible work hours. Land-use and development patterns can play a positive role, as well.”
In related news, Beijing—home of the all-day rush hour—is still leading the way (by necessity) in figuring out how to break up wall-to-wall traffic. Last week, at the 13th International Conference in Ubiquitous Computing, researchers used GPS data from more than 33,000 taxicabs in Beijing to try and figure out where the congestion problems actually were. Taxi drivers, after all, tend to know more about routes and driving tactics than central planners.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that the main traffic bottlenecks weren’t always the problem. “For example,” they noted, “it may be that people from region 1 are going through region 2 on their way to region 3, in which case it may be better to connect region 1 and 3 directly, rather than trying to widen highways in region 2.” Read more about the research here.
Update: Not everyone agrees with the Texas Transportation Institute on the causes and cures for traffic jams. The group CEOs for Cities has an analysis dissecting TTI’s numbers and arguing that urban sprawl, rather than insufficient roadways, is the main driver behind increased congestion. For example, the critics note, Chicago drivers may spend slightly more time in traffic james than Charlotte, but they spend less time commuting overall because Chicago is less sprawling and more compact.