September 19, 2007
Traffic congestion increases. Film at 11.

Yes, your commute is getting worse. No, this isn't a surprise.

The latest Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University says Houston drivers averaged 56 hours of delay due to freeway traffic jams in 2005, seventh highest in the nation. In 2004, Houston's delay lasted 51 hours, ranking eighth.

Topping the list was Los Angeles, where delays averaged 72 hours a year, followed by San Francisco, Washington and Atlanta, all at 60 hours, then Dallas-Fort Worth (58 hours) and San Diego (57).

"As long as the economy is good, congestion tends to increase," said TTI's Tim Lomax, who wrote the report with fellow researcher David Schrank. "More subdivisions, offices and plants get built, and transportation always lags somewhat," Lomax said.

Mayor Bill White found bright spots in the study. He noted that Houston ranked fourth in the effectiveness of improvements to get more out of its road capacity, such as ramp metering to control freeway access and incident management to get stalls and wrecks cleared rapidly.

The Safe Clear towing program reduce freeway accidents 10 percent in each of its first two years, he said.

White also noted that although the number of miles traveled on freeways and arterial streets have both doubled here since 1985, the area's "travel time index" -- the ratio of travel time at peak traffic hours compared to when freeways are free-flowing -- rose only 10 percent.

Honestly, things are better in some ways than they were back when I arrived in 1988, and worse in some ways. The freeways are generally better, especially 59, and now 610. I-10, for all of its massive cost overruns and questionable design, is on its way to being better. 45 north of the Beltway is better. 290 is a whole lot worse, but that's next to be addressed.

On the other hand, roads inside town are worse, and there's not much that can be easily done to make them better. Even without the construction projects, Kirby is a nightmare. East-west arterials like Bissonnet, Richmond, and Westheimer are terrible. Transit will help in some cases, hopefully more as we proceed, but that's more about reducing frustration and making the time you spend on a bus or a train potentially useful - you can do things like read or check your BlackBerry when you're not behind the wheel, for example. Beyond that, construction takes you only so far. Lifestyle changes, ones that require less distance and fewer trips to do the things you do now, are the next step. Obviously, that's not an option for everybody, but at some point (say, $5/gallon gas, or perhaps $5/day in tolls) they may get foisted on quite a few people.

Anyway. You can find the report and ancillary documents here. Houtopia has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 19, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The only mileage-reduction lifestyle change I can think of is to quit working.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on September 19, 2007 1:17 PM

After reading Houtopia I am reminded of the congestion that has resulted by adding rail down Main Street.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on September 19, 2007 1:21 PM