LA Wins Vehicular Congestion Contest

Metro area congestion table: international
Los Angeles places third worst in vehicular congestion globally over the past twelve months

Date released by Traffic solutions firm Inrix draws upon its vast reservoir of traffic data to break the bad news: our Los Angeles area suffers the worst traffic congestion in the nation. Our freeways are the most crowded, our drive times longest, and the time sitting in traffic (59 hours in 2012) is the most egregious waste of productivity. We’re the perennial over-achiever, battling Honolulu year-after-year for worst-city honors. We also place highly across the globe and fall behind only Brussels and Antwerp globally for time spent in traffic.

What does is say for mobility planning in the twenty-first century when Los Angeles drivers sit practically immobile for hours on end atop four out of the ten worst freeways in the US? All are decrepit and depreciating legacy assets from the peak auto era a  half-century prior, and we’re still plowing billions into expanding them in order to induce even greater demand. And look what it gets us: the hall of shame for immobility.

Metro area congestion: Los Angeles places first in US
Nothing to be proud of: Los Angeles metro area tops out the worst of the US for time wasted in traffic (tables courtesy Intrix scorecard)

Take comfort in the fact that it’s not just us. Gridlock ticked up by nearly 20% in cities like Chicago, Phoenix, New York, and Houston, according to the Inrix press release. Nationwide, the average motorist’s trip lasted 6.8 percent longer simply due to increased traffic congestion. Is this something of which we’re proud? How will a leading region in our globe-dominating nation accommodate to tomorrow’s demand for increased economic output and productivity when we can’t even agree on prudent mobility planning in an era of resource scarcity?

Yet Inrix sees a silver lining in the additional inconvenience. The firm, a “leading-provider of traffic information, directions and driver services, as well as apps and tools all designed to get your traffic-powered solutions to market” (how’s that for business jargon?) finds the culprit to be the nation’s nascent economic recovery. And that’s good news: traffic has increased nationally after a two year decline.

“Traffic is a great indicator of confidence on the ground. People hit the road as they return to work, and businesses ship more freight as their orders increase…the pulse of the economy is starting to beat faster,” says CEO Bryan Mistele.

While we don’t argue with the data, we will observe that analysts mistakenly view traffic congestion as a reflection of the state of our economy. But that’s a category error: congestion reflects not GDP-boosting economic activity or increased productivity but it’s opposite. Traffic congestion is the time and literal energy wasted when we could be doing something better than listening to drive-time radio and looking at too many billboards.

Metro area congestion table: top 25 by travel time
The Los Angeles metro area is well-represented by longer travel times…

If anything, measured traffic congestion only suggests the marginal gains in economic activity that could be ours if we move some of that mobility to other forms of time- and fuel-efficient transit.

We’ll preach to the choir in saying that nothing about motoring makes our pulse beat fast (except perhaps for the anxiety we feel while sitting in slow-and-go congestion…and the Inrix data makes no mention about clogged Westside arteries that push motorists into the aneurism zone). So we choose to ride.

Metro area congestion table: top 25 by delay time
… And well-represented in terms of travel delays too

If not now, when will we shift people to non-motor modes? With Ray LaHood’s federal DOT push for safer streets and now a new effort by the nation’s surgeon general to encourage active mobility (to combat public health scourges like obesity and heart disease) there has never been a better time to ride a bike.

Now if we can only get California Governor Jerry Brown on board with safe passing legislation and our own Beverly Hills Public Works department to think beyond paving streets in order to focus on our hazardous intersections, we might not have regrettable road rage incidents like this one to write about. If not now….