How Much Time Do You Spend in Chicago Traffic?

A new study that tracks commuter travel claims that, out of the 51 major cities in the country, Chicago residents spend less time in rush-hour traffic than anyone else.
The report, created by Joseph Cortright for CEOs for Cities and entitled, “Driven Apart: How Sprawl is Lengthening Our Commutes and Why Misleading Mobility Measures are Making Things Worse,” ranked the commute of 51 cities and found that Chicago residents spend an average of about 31 minutes a day in peak-hour traffic, less than any other metropolitan city in the nation.
For 25 years, the industry has depended on the Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Report (UMR) for its travel information. This report has often provided justification to use billions of dollars to build new roads and highways.
Last year, the UMR reported that Chicago was among the worst in travel delays.
So, how do we fare so well on the Driven Apart study?
Apparently, it’s more about how we build our cities than our roads. It’s our land-use patterns and transportation systems that help minimize Chicago resident’s travel times during peak-hours.
The report found that residents in cities with the worst urban sprawl — Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh, N.C. and Indianapolis — spend approximately 240 annual hours in rush-hour traffic because of their commuting distances, while drivers in the top-ranked cities — Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Portland and Sacramento — spend about 40 hours less in traffic per year.

Joseph Cortright
Joseph Cortright

“If every one of the top 50 metros followed suit with Chicago and other higher performing cities, their residents would drive about 40 billion fewer miles per year and use two billion fewer gallons of fuel, for a cost savings of $31 billion annually,” Cortright reported.
The analyst says the UMR is flawed: It considers travel times but does not account for trip distances, and it exaggerates the cost of congestion by about $49 billion. Also contrary to the UMR findings, Driven Apart notes that many cities have seen a reduction in peak-hour travel times because residents are living closer to work and traveling shorter distances.
“It is more critical than ever that the U.S.’s transportation investments be guided by accurate data – especially during these difficult financial times,” said Benjamin de la Peña, Associate Director of the Rockefeller Foundation, which supported the report. “Transportation costs are often the second highest expense for working Americans, and we must make sure we are providing more transportation options to help them stretch their budgets.”
Driven Apart recommends a new system for measuring urban transportation performance that focuses on:
*Accessibility: The proximity and convenience of destinations
*Land use: A comprehensive measure of land use, trip lengths and mode choices
*Travel Speeds: Compiling better data on travel speeds and commuting patterns
*Improvements: Adopting an open, multi-disciplinary process to continuously improve measures
*Act: Guide policy and evaluate investments; don’t just raise alarms about traffic delays.
“As someone who has long believed in the impact of land uses and community design on travel behavior, I am pleased to see this thoughtful critique of our inadequate approach to measuring traffic congestion,” said Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. “This report should be required reading for anyone interested in reducing the time Americans spend stuck in traffic and improving the livability of our communities.”
Just don’t read it while you are stuck in rush-hour traffic.