Are traffic problems growing or lessening?

For those of you in the US who must drive alot, do you see traffic congestion growing or not?

I’m not sure because I didnt drive back in say the 70’s and 80’s. I think now because even though there are more cars they have better systems now to monitor and respond to wrecks and breakdowns than they used to have (like cameras), they have better ways of communication to drivers, roads are built to handle more traffic, and they have better alternative means of transportation such as buses.

What do you all think?

I was just reading yesterday about how the various traffic apps may be contributing to more traffic problems.

My anecdotal opinion based on driving all over the country in my job is that traffic is generally getting worse. Part of this may be due to rideshare services. If true, it’s ironic because when Uber and Lyft became a going concern there was talk about how they might divert people away from their own personal vehicles and have fewer cars on the road. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to have happened.

Driving around New York as I frequently do, it certainly seems worse. Of course, that has a lot to do with that a**hole Robert Moses, who designed many of the roads there as touring parkways to be driven at 35 mph. And how do you fix that apart from nuking the place and starting over?

Here is a paper about this which goes into mathematical detail. (It explicitly links the phenomenon to Braess’ Paradox, which has been a subject of controversy here at SDMB.)

Moving from GD to IMHO.


One thing I have seen happen in several cases is that improvements in infrastructure are invariably followed by people moving to take advantage of them. The procedure goes like this:

  1. There’s a traffic bottleneck on a main route that makes the commute from an origin suburb to a nearby destination unreasonably long.
  2. A major construction project is undergone to improve the commute. Millions of dollars are spent and countless hours of construction delays ensue, but people put up with it for the sake of the easier commute.
  3. After completion the commute does indeed improve, halving the commute time.
  4. Thousands of people move to the origin suburb to take advantage of the easier commute.
  5. This influx only stops when the commute time reaches the initial unreasonable time.
  6. Profit?

In my area, it definitely feels like it’s been getting worse over the last couple of decades. I feel like there’s way more cars on the road and “rush hour” has become nearly non-stop during the week. I’m not sure I’ve noticed that a much a difference since various GPS driving apps and ridesharing came about, but I have heard the latter, especially, being blamed on some increase in traffic (that is, you have more cars just out there driving around waiting for a rideshare request to come through.)

Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but it makes sense. Another thing I’ve noticed around here is that many, many more people drive to school. When I grew up in the 80s, most people around here just went to their local public or parochial school. I don’t ever recall streets being backed up to holy heck by dropping off and picking up kids. Now, it’s a nightmare if you’re on any major artery near a school around 7:30-8 a.m. and 3-4 p.m. You can tell in the morning when CPS (Chicago Public Schools) have a day off because traffic is noticeably smoother.

So, in my mind, in my area, and the routes I’m most familiar with, there is no doubt that traffic has gotten much heavier over the past two decades.

I think it’s mainly gotten worse due to the fact that people are so inattentive and impatient. Everyone is too busy staring down at their cell phones and not paying attention to the road. The impatience is another thing, I get mad at people that back everybody else up with their slow reaction time and driving but that doesn’t mean I’m going to veer out blindly in front of other people, cutting them off or drive along the shoulder when the interstate is backed up.

The apps have had an effect, too- maybe not increasing traffic, but moving it. I remember one town in NJ that closed a bunch of local streets to non-residents, because Waze and other apps were directing drivers to those streets to avoid the bridge traffic - which of course, increased the traffic on the local streets.

I’d guess that the main factor is just that the population is rising faster than the capacity of the transportation network. The metro area I live in, which is far from the most bustling, has added 200,000 people just since 2010 (many of them in suburban/exurban housing tracts where the added population has the highest possible impact on the road network), while the road network is almost exactly the same (and the transit system brags about climbing back up to the capacity it had in the 1980s). And miles driven per person have gone up due to the economy being good. Of course there are more traffic problems.

I’ve been doing the same commute for 15 years, and it has definitely gotten worse. One big factor is parents driving their kids to school instead of having them take the bus.

Another thing locally is the town and state each control different traffic lights, and for some reason they can’t get them synchronize.

I think the US is a huge place so there is no one correct answer. In my city it has gotten much better. We are growing so it isn’t that there is less volume, but we have eliminated tons of stop lights and four way stops and replaced them with roundabouts.

They take a while to get used to but when people are comfortable with them the commute times are cut significantly. It used to take me 20 minutes to get to the main interstate… now under 10. Well, not right now because they are converting the final stop light right now but when that is done it will be closer to 5.

Yeah, that’s the “if you build it, they will come” effect.

We went through something related in my own neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights, in NYC. On a somewhat smaller scale, but nonetheless related.

Some years ago, a new park was constructed and opened to the public in my neighborhood. Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s lovely, and it’s basically my back yard, so I’m pretty happy about it.

But people from all over Brooklyn flock to it on weekends. As well they should. But many of them drive, and want to park their cars in the neighborhood, where there is a limited amount of on-street parking.

Eventually the park authorities built a small parking lot. As people became aware of it, it would be filled to capacity early in the morning.

Neighborhood residents, who now couldn’t find street parking for their cars, agitated for another parking lot. But it was pointed out by the park authorities that building more parking spaces just encourages people to drive to the park, and there is no way to ever build enough parking. The more you build, the more people will drive to the park.

Which I completely get. Even though moving my car on alternate-side days, or finding a parking spot when returning from some excursion, is now a nightmare. Especially when I have to park like eight blocks from home and get back home with two tired, possibly cranky small children, and all their stuff.

That’s life in the big city, I guess.

Look at the Urban Mobility Report:

I have to drive from the east side of WA, through Seattle and north to Canada (nearly) a couple times a year and have done this for over 10 years. It has gotten significantly harder to make that drive during that timespan. And, the I90->405->I5 stretch can be horrible at nearly all hours of the day and days of the week. It’s almost getting to the point it is easier to take much longer distance alternatives like highway 2.

It varies, some local traffic has improved with road improvements. In front of the local Community College, the traffic light use to cause problems. It was replaced by a small traffic circle and this helps traffic quite a bit. They expanded the Garden State Parkway to 3 lanes from Toms River to Atlantic City and this has helped a lot.

Meanwhile North Jersey is so congested that the highways just don’t move correctly for the better part of the day. Especially where Rt78 and the Garden State Parkway meet. But in general it is getting very bad above the Raritan River.

Yes, to a significant extent, traffic is self limiting. Areas where the traffic gridlock is severe stop developing further economically. (they don’t necessarily shrink, just remain at about the same economic and population level)

If you widen the roads where the gridlock is severe, you may see a big surge in growth followed by the widened roads clogging back up again, just with even more cars.

Oh, yes. Seattle has become a nightmare for large parts of the day. Been in stop-and-go traffic from Bellevue to Olympia. Friday afternoon. But it wasn’t afternoon when we started. :frowning:

Portland’s traffic has gotten significantly worse and is nearing that point. Companies work with employees to let them schedule their shifts to avoid peak mayhem. But at least Portland drivers are politer and don’t do so much crazy stuff as in other places.

Around Chicago, it sure seems worse. Two stretches I drive pretty often - the Eisenhower and the Kennedy inbound off 294 - tend to be jammed just about any hour of the day or night. Sure seems like ti used to follow a more predictable pattern.

This is one of the things I was going to note about Chicago-area traffic, as well.

When I moved here, 30 years ago, rush hour was not only predictable, but fairly discrete: weekdays from about 7am-9am, and 4pm-6pm, and the traditional commute direction (towards downtown in the morning, away from downtown in the evening) was usually far more congested than the “reverse commute” on the same road.

Currently, it’s common for heavy traffic to start earlier, and last longer – in the evening, it’s not uncommon to see congestion last until 7pm or later. And, the reverse commute is often not much better than the traditional commute, due, no doubt, to the fact that there are a lot of suburban areas that have become business hubs (e.g., Schaumberg, Oak Brook, Naperville, etc.)

Another factor that comes into play here is the continued sprawl of the suburbs, well out into the far counties like Kane, Will, etc. What’s often happened out there is that the road system which was more than sufficient when it was rural or semi-rural is now seriously overburdened by the influx of homeowners in those areas. Traffic in some of those suburbs is now often even worse than in Chicago. And, those areas continue to work through chicken-and-egg arguments about adding roads and lanes – will more/wider roads decrease congestion, or will they prove to be so attractive that they will encourage even more people to build in the area?

I would say worse and lay the blame at distracted-driving-fender-benders. Especially on the more major roads around here waits/commutes are a lot longer than I remember from 40 years back by 30 minutes or more. And they were darn long enough back then.