Traffic congestion in the US

Traffic congestion US

The last decades have shown that peak-hour congestion in all growing regions is here to stay. It has become an inescapable condition in large American areas. It is, of course, an inherent result of the way modern societies operate. It is extremely for e.g., commuters who get frustrated by policymakers’ inability to do anything about the problem. This in consequence poses a significant policy challenge. What are the main reasons for traffic congestion? Are there any ways cities and states can move to curb it? Let’s explain if it’s possible to eliminate road congestion.

Causes of traffic congestion in the US

Let’s start with a short explanation of what traffic congestion actually is. Simply speaking, the term relates to an excess of vehicles on a portion of a roadway at a particular time which results in speeds that are slower than normal. Traffic congestion is easy to recognize – we all know roads filled with cars, trucks, and buses. Traffic congestion very often equals stopped or stop-and-go traffic. In the US, traffic congestion on urban road networks has been increasing substantially since the 1950s. It’s because the majority of people who seek to move during rush hours use private automotive cars – approximately 87.9% of America’s daily commuters use private vehicles and millions want to move at the same times of day.

The most relevant causes of traffic congestion in the US:

  • Traffic-influencing events – these are traffic incidents and work zones that cause delays. This category also includes weather / environmental conditions that can lead to changes in driver behavior.

  • Traffic demand. This category means fluctuations in normal traffic (e.g., days with higher traffic volumes than others) and special events that result in “surges” in traffic demand that overwhelm the system.

  • Physical highway events. This category includes intermittent disruption of the traffic flow by control devices (these may be railroading grade crossings or poorly timed signals), as well as so-called physical bottlenecks (the physical capacity of roadways).

What impacts does traffic congestion have?

Traffic congestion, as an economic development issue, significantly thwarts business attraction and expansion, and reduces the quality of life for residents. The following consequences of congestion seem to be the most important:

  1. Lower productivity caused by delays. This is especially annoying during the morning and afternoon rush hour. People waste time in cars, leaving them late for work and frustrated before even starting the day.

  2. Unpredictable travel times. This concerns both individuals who cannot plan their days properly but also public transportation vehicles that lose the ability to stay on schedule. This also concerns emergency vehicles.

  3. Increasing costs. According to the American Transportation Research Institute, the cost of congestion in the freight sector is over $74 billion attributed to congestion in urban areas.

  4. Safety risks. Traffic congestion may lead to frustration and even cases of road rage. This may end with dangerous driving behaviors, such as speeding, tailgating, or cutting other drivers off.

  5. Environmental impact. Congestion raises a city’s contribution to emissions released by vehicles. These emissions create harmful air pollution and contribute to global warming.

Traffic congestion – solutions

There are many ways cities and states can try to cope with the mobility challenge. One way may be to revolutionize the way that traffic lights are managed which is part of urban planning. Intelligent traffic light systems can also help to save fuel and reduce emissions. Urban planning also means restricting parking near busy intersections or just encouraging drivers to use alternative routes. When it comes to traffic congestion, public transportation may be a great help – improving bus service is one of the answers. Providing more coverage allows more people to take the bus instead of driving which reduces the number of cars on the road. Authorities can also create dedicated bus lanes for buses to give public transportation priority over other vehicles. Finally, we cannot forget about carpooling. Often confused with ride-hailing services like Uber, it is an effective way to reduce traffic congestion. Carpooling means sharing a ride to work, school, or anywhere else you want to go. Carpooling helps people travel further distances than via public transit or get to specific addresses, which is really convenient. Commuters can easily benefit from cost reductions, a smaller carbon footprint, as well as access to carpool/HOV lanes.

What about more modern solutions?

On top of the methods specified above, there are also more modern solutions to reduce congestion traffic. One of them is smart road design, a part of smart city initiatives. It includes connected infrastructure – the different parts of a city’s transportation system (traffic lights, trains, bikes, buses, cars, maps, etc.) are connected to the cloud. The IoT solution allows location, speed, capacity, and other data to be gathered, stored, and analyzed. Smart mobility may also be connected to autonomous vehicles that use sensors and software to control, navigate and drive the vehicle. Finally, proper traffic management is ultimately at the heart of reducing traffic congestion.

Jul 14, 2023


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