Blame worsening traffic congestion on a better economy

Published: Thursday, April 25 2013 6:35 p.m. MDT

INRIX released its annual Traffic Scorecard. (PRNewsFoto/INRIX) INRIX released its annual Traffic Scorecard. (PRNewsFoto/INRIX)

After decreasing for the last few years, traffic congestion is getting worse again, a new study says.

"In the first three months of this year, traffic congestion is up 4 percent compared to 2012," said a press release from INRIX, an international provider of traffic information and driver services. "This suggests that after a tumultuous economic year in 2012, the economy is back on the mend bringing increased traffic congestion."

The study is INRIX's sixth Traffic Scorecard Annual Report. Apparently the better the economy, the more people drive, the more traffic congestion. The increase is in line with the improvement in employment in the first three months of 2013 (plus 1.3 percent).

"Fears over recurring fiscal deadlines and ongoing debt issues last year likely fueled declines in traffic congestion, with businesses and consumers alike taking a 'wait and see' approach," said Bryan Mistele, INRIX president and chief executive officer. "While bad news for drivers, the gains we've seen in the U.S. and a few countries in Europe in 2013 are cause for some optimism about the direction of the economy."

Adie Tomer, an associate fellow specializing in transportation at the Brookings Institution, told USA Today that traffic congestion is below pre-recession levels. He also said people who are no longer working have cut back their driving patterns as well — but we don't know if that change is permanent.

So far in 2013, 61 of America's 100 most populated cities experienced increased traffic congestion. In 2012, only six cities saw increases while 94 saw decreases in congestion.

Some people may enjoy waiting in congested traffic, for example, people listening to the unabridged audio book of Moby Dick. For those people, Los Angeles is the top city to go to with the worst traffic in the nation. It is followed by Honolulu, San Francisco, Austin, Texas, New York, Bridgeport, Conn., San Jose, Calif., Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

The worst road in the nation is the Cross Bronx Expressway, where drivers waste an average of six whole days each year.

In general, the worst times to be on the road are 7 to 8 a.m. and 4 to 5 p.m. The worst morning commute is Tuesdays from 8 to 9 a.m. The worst evening commutes are on Fridays from 5 to 6 p.m.

There are costs associated with traffic congestion, according to the Brookings Institute, such as "the economic costs of congestion, including productivity losses from traffic delays, increased accidents, higher emissions, and more."

Well, "Call me Ishmael."

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