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If you are one of the estimated 120 million Americans who commute to work by car, chances are you are all-too familiar with traffic congestion. And if you think it's getting worse by the year, you're absolutely right. It is.


Until recently, the data on congestion in America's urban and suburban regions was a jumble of information. Traffic research was based on a mix of data from local, state, and federal agencies that provided a useful, but incomplete picture of daily traffic woes affecting millions.


Today, thanks to rapidly improving technologies, researchers are able to monitor and  analyze traffic flow and congestion on a level that was undreamed of only a few  years ago. While this remarkable improvement may not yet be solving the problem of too many automobiles sharing limited roads and highways, it provides the critical knowledge that can lead to better traffic management and solutions in the years ahead.


Much of the credit for leading this research revolution goes to a project called the Urban Mobility Report, published by the Texas Transportation Institute which is housed at Texas A & M University. The report has been published annually since 1984, but according to researchers at Texas A & M, the technology breakthroughs of the last few years have made huge improvements in the quality of the data.


The most recent report, published in 2010, covered the year 2009. According to the latest statistics, the dubious place of honor as America's most congested city is shared by two cities: Chicago, Illinois and Washington, D.C. In both of those urban areas, the average yearly delay per commuter was 70 hours per year. Note, that stat is "per commuter," not "per car." The table below shows the ten worst cities for congestion, measured by the "average yearly delay" caused by traffic congestion in each city. For Chicago and Washington, that adds up to almost two weeks per year lost to sitting in traffic breathing in gasoline fumes.


Urban Area

Avg. Yearly Delay

in Hours


Chicago, IL



Washington, DC



Los Angeles, CA



Houston, TX



Baltimore, MD



San Francisco, CA



Dallas – Fort Worth, TX   



Boston, MA



Denver, CO



Atlanta, GA



Seattle, WA




The Urban Mobility Report provides a wealth of additional information about the costs of urban congestion, mapping everything from additional travel time by region and excess fuel costs per commuter to what it calls the "commuter stress index." In case you are wondering, the top place for commuter stress is neither Chicago nor Washington. That distinction goes to the Los Angeles area.


All the data studied by the folks at Texas A & M indicates that the situation is getting worse. Without concerted effort, it could get a lot worse. The researchers concluded that congestion has worsened in every area since 1982. And if steps are not taken to address the problem, the next decade will see many smaller cities experiencing the same level of traffic delays and misery now felt by the largest urban areas.


So what can be done? The Urban Mobility Report makes it clear that there is no single solution to this complex problem, but rather a menu of solutions that need to be worked on in tandem. Their suggestions range from improving public transportation and adding roadway capacity to encouraging such ideas as "flex-time" at workplaces; ridesharing; more "high-occupancy" lanes on freeways; telecommuting, and even increased tolls in strategic places.


It all sounds good, and no doubt the recommendations of the researchers would provide much-needed relief, now and in the future. But implementing their ideas is also going to take political will, and that may be harder to find. In the meantime, all of us who drive to work will need to keep enduring the indignities. And maybe purchase a few more audiobooks to help pass the time.


The full Urban Mobility Report can be found at http://mobility.tamu.edu/.


About the author:- Neil Street has written frequently on consumer-related topics, including occupational safety and protective gloves in the workplace.

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