9/28/2010: New Study: LA No Longer #1 in Traffic

San Francisco, Sacramento Also Drop in Terms of Congestion

New methods to guage traffic focus on total drive time, not just delay, and show benefit of compact development

Since 1985 the Los Angeles region has held the crown as traffic central, where residents endure unbearably long drive times. San Francisco has been close on its heels.  But a new report drops LA down to #17 and San Francisco to #34.  Who filled these top spots? Nashville and Oklahoma City.

The huge drop is based on a new way of measuring; a method that is being put forward by CEOs for Cities and the Rockefeller Foundation as a smarter way to measure mobility.  The old approach, performed by the Texas Transportation Institute for their Urban Mobility Report (UMR), rated traffic congestion as the proportion of time that people spent stuck in traffic, versus moving without delay. The new measure, instead, focuses on total peak period time that people spend in their cars. 

UMR data has often been used to support decisions to build new roads and to expand roadway capacity.

“What people really care about, and what decision-makers should care about, is how much time we’re spending in our cars. This data shows that when we build more compact communities, where there are transportation choices, and jobs and homes are close together, people spend less time in their cars commuting,” says Carli Paine, TransForm’s transportation program director. “Well-designed urban areas save commuters tremendous amounts of time, which people can spend with their kids, being civically engaged, or any other way they choose.”

Driven Apart’s analysis bumps the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Los Angeles from UMR’s ranks as some of the nation’s most congested regions, and reveals that they actually are places with some of the nation’s shortest commutes:

  • San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont slides from UMR’s ranking as fifth most congested commute area to the area with the 34th longest commute time. At the same time, San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara jumps from UMR’s number 6 spot to number 22 in terms of length of commute. The Bay Area’s work to focus growth with compact land uses and provide transportation choices makes these shorter commutes possible. There’s still room to improve though, with many commuters driving into core Bay Area cities from eastern Alameda and Contra Costa counties and the Central Valley.
  • Los Angeles, which for years has topped UMR’s list as the number one most congested urban area, slides down to number 17 in the country in terms of commute time. Los Angeles’ levels of density are supporting the expansion of transportation options from bus rapid transit to new subway lines and bike lanes, so we’re likely to see LA drop even farther down in coming years.
  • The Sacramento area goes from position 23 in the UMR analysis to number 48 —one of the best in the country in terms of commute times.

Last week, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted targets for reducing greenhouse gases from driving for each of the state’s major regions as part of implementation of SB 375. The strategies that regions will employ to achieve these targets include making communities more walkable, providing more transportation choices, and locating jobs and homes closer.

“These strategies will push California cities even lower on the list of places with long commutes, and give our cities even higher ratings in quality of life,” says Paine. “After all, if you have a short trip, even if some of it is congested, it is still better than driving 60 miles each way.”

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About TransForm

TransForm (formerly the Transportation and Land Use Coalition) works to create world-class public transportation and walkable communities in the Bay Area and beyond. TransForm builds diverse coalitions, influences policy, and develops innovate programs to improve the lives of all people and protect the environment.

TransForm has offices in Oakland, Sacramento, and San Jose.