Look no further than traffic and commute statistics to describe what an outlier was in 2020. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute publishes its Urban Mobility Report annually, which now contains comprehensive data on INRIX traffic. INRIX’s travel numbers, drawn from numerous sources that include real-time location data from phones, have revealed numerous traffic information in this column. Texas A&M has established all kinds of rankings and costs for commuters and freight traffic and there are several interesting takeaways for Atlanta.
Traffic rankings are the least applicable statistics from studies like these, but they’re also the easiest to remember. Knowing how bad or good Atlanta’s traffic is compared to other cities doesn’t change behavior much. On the contrary, poor traffic ratings give people either the comfort or the discomfort that the traffic jams they sit in on a daily basis could be among the worst in the country. That said, Atlanta still had a bad reputation in 2020.
Slow traffic in the Atlanta metro area cost every driver an average of 37 hours in 2020, a measure that is only 12th worst in the United States. Atlanta commuters lost an average of 78 hours in 2019, 7th worst in the country. This more than halfway drop is almost in line with Atlanta’s 47% reduction in traffic delays from 2019 levels.
Atlanta drivers lost nearly 200 million total hours in traffic in 2019 before the pandemic-induced reduction in 2020. Delays in Atlanta have been increasing for decades, leveling off or decreasing slightly only around the 2008 recession. The sharp drop from 2019 to 2020 left Atlanta with delays from the early ’90s. Last year was a real anomaly.
The study’s Time Travel Index (TTI) compares the time taken for trips on smooth roads versus the length of trips during rush hour. A TTI of 1.0 means that the two times are exactly the same in terms of delay. Atlanta’s TTI for 2020 was 1.1, meaning that rush hour trips only took 10% more. This proximity to peak and regular travel has made Atlanta only the 47th worst in the United States.
TTI compares all other hours of the day to peak hour windows. Another reason Atlanta’s ratio may have been so low is that remote working environments have led to an increase in off-peak travel. Weekday trips at noon experiencing more delays than in the past, conditions are then closer to those of PM Drive.
In theory, the ranking of traffic during a COVID shutdown shouldn’t change much, as the whole world was in some sort of lockdown. A first thought on Georgia would be that the early reopening of the state should have increased the ranking of travel delays. But that was not necessarily the case.
The lack of comprehensive public transportation in Atlanta means that people’s weariness with trains and buses affects very little. Staying out of MARTA hasn’t added so many cars to the roads. But other cities, like New York, have seen hallways become clogged with commuters who don’t take trains. This trend was also prevalent in Europe with high metro density.
The drop in AM traffic has been very significant since last March. Despite more offices being opened in 2021, this trend continues. To put both this downward trend and the unpredictability of out-of-hours traffic patterns into perspective, Saturday trips in Atlanta between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. accounted for a larger percentage of weekly delays in the city. metropolitan area in 2020 only Mondays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Freight lines lose a lot of productivity in traffic, regardless of the state of the pandemic. Atlanta was the 8th or 9th worst in the United States in 2020 for total hours of delay, wasted fuel, and cost of semi-trailers. Atlanta has been 7th or 8th worst in these categories over the past five years.
The average Atlanta driver lost 15 gallons of fuel in 2020 due to traffic delays, the 9th worst in America. The 2019 traffic cost Atlantians 31 gallons each on average. So, COVID-19 travel trends have earned Atlanta drivers a tank of gas each. Total time and fuel cost was $ 869 for every Atlanta driver in 2020. Expect it to be much higher this year.
Lightening the load on the roads in 2020 has brought a lot of relief to drivers, but at a cost. Speeds, then accident and fatality rates have increased and continue to rise, despite the volume returning to the streets. If the increase in erratic and inattentive driving continues to respond to the increase in trip delays, Atlanta’s traffic figures in 2021 could end epic and in bad shape.
Doug Turnbull, Skycopter PM Drive anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also has hosts traffic podcast with Smilin ‘Mark McKay at wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.
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