How Houston's traffic congestion stacks up (so to speak)In a pretty random coincidence, the week after I write about a mobility solution for Houston, the new Texas Transportation Institute 2005 Urban Mobility Report has come out. The Chronicle has pretty good coverage of the Houston specifics. The most important thing to note is that everything is based on 2003 data, so nothing the Mayor has done in the last year and a half is in there: light timing, Safe Clear, etc. Safe Clear seems especially promising, as one stat indicates that 49% of delays are from incidents. It would be nice to see it expanded beyond the city limits to the county or even the metro area.
A few other random observations:
- If you think Houston's bad, browse through some of the stats to see the pure hell known as the City of Angels. (Fortunately, angels have wings, and they certainly need them there.)
- We look pretty good on the 1982 to 2003 stats (p.20), with only a minor worsening (ranked 38th in the country). The explanation is pretty simple: horrible congestion during the peak of the oil boom in 1982, a big crash afterward, and substantial road building since then. In other words, we started off a lot worse than other cities when the data collection began.
- Transit usage really dropped after 2001 in Houston. This was not due to forced light rail transfers (which didn't happen until 2004), but because of huge financial incentives by automakers to keep up demand after 9/11, which made new cars a whole lot cheaper, which, in turn, reduced used car values. Everybody on the margin could suddenly afford a car and stopped riding the bus.
- Dallas has a slight edge on Houston, which I'm willing to bet is because more employers have abandoned Dallas for the suburbs, reducing commutes. Houston has a more balanced and centralized geography and demographics that tends to keep employers here. (for example, moving your company to The Woodlands is really going to upset your Sugar Land and Clear Lake employees)
- A lot of the other big cities that have less congestion than us tend to either have weak economies and/or growth, or they have radically decentralized so employers are spread more evenly over the metro (which can actually make it harder to switch employers without moving).
- p.22 shows that we stack up pretty well relative to other very large cities.
- If you want to see some stats on some scary roads, check out this p.5 on HOV lanes. HOV lanes are helpful to Houston, but nowhere near as critical here as they are in LA, DC, Seattle, and Dallas where the mainlanes can take twice as long or more at rush hour (and almost three times as long on I-10 in LA!).
- To put 63 hours per person of annual delay in perspective: that's about seven and a half minutes each way each day.
My prediction? Houston's making pretty impressive efforts on mobility (here's one), especially relative to a lot of other cities. While I'm not sure we'll reduce congestion, or even stay put (although it's possible), I think we'll get worse a whole lot slower than a lot of other cities, so our rankings should continue to drop/improve.