May 10, 2005
We're Number 5!

In average rush hour delays.

The annual Urban Mobility Report by traffic researchers at Texas A&M University also says Houston, with the nation's 11th largest metro area population, ranked fifth in annual delay per traveler 63 hours in 2003, the last year for which data is available.

That compared with 93 hours for Los Angeles, 72 for San Francisco, 69 for Washington and 67 for Atlanta.

The report, prepared by A&M's Texas Transportation Institute, shows traffic congestion in Houston eased in the late 1980s and early '90s after a spate of roadbuilding, but the trend has been generally upward again since then, with a few bumps along the way.

Houston's annual delay per traveler has surged from 39 hours in 1982, when the data was first compiled, and although the 63 hours logged in the most recent report is down slightly from 65 hours the previous year, the decrease is statistically insignificant.


The delay in Houston would have been 13 percent greater if not for transit, the report says. For specific areas such as downtown, the added burden would increase by 30 percent or more if transit were not available, said Tim Lomax, who wrote the report with colleague David Schrank. "And you'd have 30 percent more cars needing places to park," he added.

As in each of the past several years, TTI recommends a mix of roadbuilding, car pools, transit, working from home, signal coordination and incident management like the city's Safe Clear towing program to ease the future crunch.

"It's become increasingly clear that no single mode will solve the problem," Lomax said.

The report is here. I'll have to take a closer look to see what specifically they say about "transit" and "incident management".

Among Texas cities, delay per traveler was 60 hours for Dallas-Fort Worth, 33 for San Antonio and 51 for Austin. In 1982, when the data was first compiled, Austin's delay was just 11 hours compared to Houston's 39.

"It's due to rapid growth, and they (Austin officials) didn't build up their transportation system while they were growing," Lomax said.

"For a long time they had a policy of trying to sort of manage the growth and not add more transportation facilities. Now they have a lot more congestion," he said.

I remember my first experiences driving in Austin, in the summer of 1989. I was playing at a bridge tournament near 183 and Mopac, and staying with Binkley at his uncle's place just past the Mopac and 360 interchange on the south side. We took various routes to get there every day since we were basically tourists and wanted to see the town. Even taking non-highways like Lamar, the drive was a breeze. That would not be true now, to say the least.

As for San Antonio, most of the driving I've done there was in the 80s and early 90s, as a student and then visiting friends after I moved to Houston. You'd occasionally get stuck on the North Loop, and the 281/410 interchange, which bizarrely involves exiting the highway and going through traffic lights instead of a direct ramp like you'd expect, was a pain, but other than that, it was the easiest place in the world to drive. I can't explain why - there just aren't as many drivers there as you'd expect for a city its size. I'm not surprised its delay numbers are so much lower.

UPDATE: There's a longer version of this story here.

UPDATE: Jeb disputes the study's contentions about Austin.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 10, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

Good heavens - your Binkley link brought back Trinity memories! Brian Oxley for goodness sakes!
I remember when he was going to become the world's greatest symphonic composer - and we all believed that he would!

What is it with us composer geeks becoming computer geeks? Some common genetic trait?

I gave him a 'shout out'. Thanks for letting me stroll down Trinity U. memory lane once again!

Elizabeth H-T

Posted by: Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner on May 10, 2005 9:36 AM

Lomax's slam on Austin isn't supported by the numbers in the report. The numbers clearly show that Austin did add capacity in the 80s and 90s. Freeway lane miles went up 147%, arterial streets were up 103%, and roadways were increased 114%. The construction of freeway and roadway miles actually exceeded the population growth between 1982 and 2003 (109%).

The problem is that people have been driving further at rates ahead of roadbuilding. The miles traveled between 1982 and 2003 increased 207% for freeways, 218% for arterial streets, and 192% for roadways. The increase in miles traveled exceeded the rate of construction by 60% for freeways, 115% for arterial streets, and 78% for roadways.

I have posted more at

Posted by: Jeb on May 10, 2005 11:04 AM