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Gridlocked Chicago: There’s Some Disagreement

Gridlocked Chicago:  There’s Some DisagreementChicago is # 1!  Unfortunately, this is not good news because the Windy City has been ranked by one study as having the worst traffic congestion in the nation.   The news was one finding of the Urban Mobility Report (UMR),  conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute, the United States’ largest university-affiliated transportation research agency.  Earlier TTI studies had ranked Chicago in second or third place.  Washington, D.C., and its suburbs currently occupy second place.

The study of 2009 driving conditions found that Chicago’s roadways have increasing gridlock, at virtually any hour of the day.  In addition to the normal time it takes to get from Point A to Point B by car, commuters in metropolitan Chicago and northwest Indiana spent 70 extra hours behind the wheel in 2009, according to the study.  Chicago’s earlier record was 64 hours of extra driving reported in 2008; 55 hours in 1999; and 18 hours in 1982.  The national average of time wasted stuck in traffic was a more manageable 34 hours.  The fact that Chicago is a nationwide shipping hub and has some of the nation’s heaviest truck traffic – plus two of the top bottleneck areas – also impacts congestion.  Additionally, Illinois has approximately 10.4 million registered vehicles, and a population of around 12.9 million, according to 2009 Census Bureau statistics

“In terms of the delay for each auto commuter, Chicago now tips the scales at No. 1, where in the last report, Los Angeles was locked in that spot,” said David Schrank, one of the report’s authors.  The average cost to each commuter is $1,738.  Nationally, traffic congestion cost $115 billion in 2009; additionally, consumers drove 4.8 billion additional hours and had to purchase an extra 3.9 billion gallons of gas.

Alter NOW finds that the report has its detractors:  Smart Growth America takes issue with some of the UMR’s findings.  “It assumes, for example, that everyone should be able to speed as rapidly down the highway during rush hour as they could in the middle of the night.  American taxpayers will never stand for being asked to turn over their wallets and their neighborhoods in order to build that kind of highway capacity“.

A June 30, 2010 study by IBM actually disputes the rankings, placing Los Angeles, New York and Houston as the U.S. cities with the worst traffic.  Topping the international list of cities notorious for congestion are Beijing, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Moscow and New Delhi.  Chicago doesn’t appear on IBM’s 20-city list.

Another mid-year 2010 study by Seattle-based INRIX, places Chicago in third place nationally.  “Between 5 and 6 p.m. Thursday is now the most-congested travel hour of the week in the Chicago area,” according to the INRIX National Traffic Scorecard.  “Last year, it was the 5-6 p.m. hour on Fridays.  The reason for the change?  It could be that more people are working part-time or ‘flex-time’, and Friday is a frequent day for flex-timers to take off or work from home,” said Chicago traffic expert Joe Schwieterman of DePaul University.  “Chicago doesn’t have a long-term plan to do much about congestion, we’re adding some lanes to the Tri-State, some work on I-80, but there’s not the construction in the works to relieve some of the worst bottlenecks“.

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