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The Average Dallas Driver Spent 40 Hours Sitting in Traffic Last Year

If you could get back the two days you spent sitting in traffic last year, what would you do with them?
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Office closures and business shutdowns in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic briefly reduced overall traffic congestion in 2020. But “briefly” is doing a lot of work there. It wasn’t long before rush hour returned with a vengeance, and your average auto commuter in the Dallas area still spent about 40 hours sitting in traffic last year, the seventh worst rate among major American metro areas. (The average auto commuter in Houston, coming in third, spent 49 hours tapping their fingers on the wheel and waiting.)

That’s all according to the latest Urban Mobility Report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, with funding from the Texas Department of Transportation and the National Institute for Congestion Reduction.

You can dig into the data for the Dallas area in more detail at this link. Those locked-down days of the spring and early summer did have a major impact on traffic congestion and delays. That 40-hour number at the top sounds rough, but in 2019 traffic congestion stopped your average North Texas auto commuter for 65 hours. Last year was unusual, obviously, and it remains the case that we’ve sure got to do something about all this traffic, according to the report’s authors. From the press release:

Although the link between springtime pandemic shutdowns and roadway traffic is apparent, the report notes, some parts of the picture are less clear. For instance, roadway traffic volume and gridlock increased steadily in the fall months even as new COVID cases and hospitalizations were surging.

Regardless of what prompts a sharp and temporary drop in traffic — be it a pandemic or an economic recession — strategies for a more lasting solution remain constant, requiring a balanced and diverse approach, the authors say.

Getting the best possible use out of the current roadway network, adding capacity (whether for cars and trucks or other modes including public transit and bicycle/pedestrian routes), and changing land development patterns all play an important role. Giving travelers more choices is also critical, as the nation’s pandemic response demonstrated.

“Flexible work hours and reliable internet connections allow employees to choose work schedules that are beneficial for meeting family needs and the needs of their jobs,” says report co-author David Schrank. “And it also reduces the demand for roadway space, which is beneficial for the rest of us.”

If anything, it shows the enormous potential contained within Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s plan to overhaul its bus network. It obviously won’t be an overnight fix, but if we can gradually get more people more comfortable—and more confident in—public transit, perhaps we can get some of that time back.

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