Congestion Digestion

Have you seen where Austin ranks on the new Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Urban Mobility Report? Wait, I know what you’re thinking: Every 20 minutes  some new report comes out that says congestion is bad. But the TTI report is the granddaddy of them all (although some critics may say the report uses your granddaddy’s methodology – for example, see CEOs for Cities).

Anyway, for the true transportation geeks out there (I can think of many coworkers; and calling them that is a term of endearment), you can check out the entire report on the TTI site. Or if you’d prefer to jump to all the local stats, here’s the 2010 TTI traffic report for Austin.

That’s a lot to digest. So for everyone else, here are a few highlights for our area:

  • Austin’s traffic congestion (as measured by travel delay) ranks #28 in the U.S.
  • Our “travel time index” is 1.28, meaning it takes 28% longer to commute during the peak period, third worst in the country.  (Perhaps we could improve this by convincing employers to stagger their work hours and/or use other education and incentive programs to encourage people not to drive during the peak periods.)
  • We’re #25 in terms of the congestion reduction benefit of public transportation.
  • Transit saves our citizens 1.89 million hours per year (we’d see that much more congestion without transit).
  • That congestion reduction saves more than $43.2 million each year.
  • Austin ranks #4 in the nation in the commuter stress index – a great reason to use transit.
  • Auto commuters here waste almost one full workweek per year stuck in traffic (39 hours or #15 in the country). Transit is one of the most cost effective solutions to reduce this number.
  • From 1982 to 2009, Austin has seen the greatest increase in its travel time index of any large metro area in the country (tied with Las Vegas).


8 thoughts on “Congestion Digestion

  1. Transit doesn’t actually save our citizens any time at all – it most likely costs us quite a bit of time – because there is no transit mode here that actually beats the car – no, not even the Red Line, once you factor in the shuttle bus.

    The 2000 LRT line and to a lesser extent the 2008 city urban rail plan could have saved commuters some time as it would have not been stuck in traffic AND not required a transfer to a slow, jerky, shuttlebus; but the Red Line killed both of those, as it is in the process of either killing or making useless the current urban rail plan.

      1. The only weapons I have are being right, and volume, volume, volume. I’m a full-time tech worker with a young family recovering (poorly) from spinal fusion — I can’t gladhand decision-makers all day like CM flaks and hangers-on can; but you **** well ought to be listening to me rather than them given that they got us into this hole to begin with.

    1. MattW

      The fallacy in your argument here M1EK is that you are conveniently ignoring the fact that the great majority of the time benefits of transit are realized by people who don’t use transit.

      Estimates are that 4-5% of Austin’s population ride Capital Metro each day… adding back onto our roads (I35, Mopac, 183) the cars that most of those people would use absent public transit would further congest our roads and cause delay and wasted time for all road users.

      So the point is not that riding the bus (or train) saves an individual transit user time, it’s that it has a great benefit to society.

      1. And the rejoinder is a fallacy as well – the added congestion caused by commuters shifting back to cars is negligible – we have fairly poor penetration here among choice commuters. (Granted, if somehow all those UT students drove their cars to campus where there’s no parkign for them anyways, things would get bad in the core; but relatively little Mopac/I-35 traffic is actually being displaced by bus users, as much as we would like to believe the contrary).

  2. Scott Wood

    39 hours per year stuck in traffic (I guess time spent commuting at full speed isn’t waste, somehow?). That averages under 5 minutes per trip, each way, assuming all of it is attributable to trips to and from work. Oh, the horror. The distribution is unequal, and some trips have significant delays — but the statistic by itself isn’t particularly scary.

    “Some critics” are right. The methodology is severely flawed. Besides favoring building/expanding more highways over reducing the distance people need to travel, the “travel time index” actually gets worse if you somehow speed up free-flowing traffic (e.g. a higher speed limit), while making no change at all in peak hour travel time.

    And it gets better if you make no change to the average existing commute, other than extend it by another few miles of free-flowing freeway (which you only get to after getting past the existing congestion). It also gets better if you make free-flowing traffic slower — you could get a great TTI with speed bumps on 35 and MoPac. 🙂

    As for fuel? 32 gallons wasted per person per year (for Austin, according to the study — where’s the methodology for extra fuel consumption)?

    Cutting distance between home and work would save a lot. 32 gallons is about what you’d get if congestion drops a 6-mile (each way) commute from 35 MPG to 25 MPG. Cutting the distance between home and work to three miles would save around 42 gallons instead, compared to the free-flow 35 MPG 6-mile trip, even if the short, slow trip drops MPG to 20. And a lot of people currently drive significantly farther, often in vehicles that would not get 35 MPG on a free-flow trip.

    That’s before you consider the increased use of alternate travel modes when densities are higher.

    But the way to get a low travel time index? Have people drive long distances between low-density suburbs. And with this study, you can perversely use saving time and fuel to justify it.

  3. Lafe Wilson

    And just think how much more congestion could be mitigated if Cap Metro actually had a train directly serving the major employer in the city (UT Austin) and the airport. What a shame it misses both these no-brainer destinations!

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