There’s so much to unpack in the landmark report released by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group earlier this week on transportation trends. Tuesday, we focused on the disparity between government transportation forecasts and recent realities. We also took a look at a few reasons to believe that the millennial generation – those aged 13 to 30 right now — will continue to drive less than previous generations. One of those reasons is that technology has reduced our need to drive in many different ways.
The report also makes clear the need to recalibrate our strategies around congestion. When roads get congested, calls for highway expansion grow to a deafening pitch. The reality that transit and road pricing are better solutions for congestion don’t compute amid the panic.
The most recent Texas Transportation Institute congestion report came out under the headline, “As Traffic Jams Worsen, Commuters Allowing Extra Time for Urgent Trips.” Lots of doom-and-gloom language when what they really mean is that congestion is easing.
That’s right. Reduced congestion has been one of many benefits of the reduction in miles driven over the past eight years. As of 2011 – the latest year for which data is available – congestion was about as light as it was in 1998. And it had been down at that level for four years. The annual toll on car commuters went from 43.1 hours of delay to 42 hours in 2007 and then dipped way down to 37.6 – and stayed there for the next three years. In 2011 it inched up by less than half an hour to 38.0 [PDF].
So where is all this “urgency” about “worsening” congestion coming from?