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Traffic Index Offers Insight into Economic Health

May 23, 2012

We Kansas Citians have gotten rather used to getting around the city with a minimum of traffic delays. According to INRIX, Kansas City, Mo., ranks 69th out of the 100 largest cities in time spent stuck in traffic. On average, Kansas City drivers spent about 5.1 hours in the last year delayed by traffic congestion. Honolulu had the worst traffic congestion, according to the index, with 24 hours (one whole day!) delayed by traffic.
On the surface, this seems like good news for Kansas City. But INRIX goes on to suggest that the cause of lighter traffic might be a reflection of something less than positive, a struggling economy.
70 of the top 100 cities saw their congestion levels drop over the past year, and a slow economy is a compelling explanation. A slower economy means fewer workers commuting to work every day and fewer goods being transported on trucks. It also means fewer construction projects that inevitably add to congestion. Furthermore, many of the 30 cities that saw increases in congestion, like San Jose, Denver, Austin and Houston, also outpaced the nation in terms of employment growth in the last year.
However, some other explanations for the decline in congestion are also possible. Have increased gasoline prices inspired us to be more efficient with our driving habits? Are we combining trips to minimize the time we spend behind the wheel? Are we more flexible in our work schedules, thereby allowing us to avoid commuting during high congestion periods?
What do you think? Check out the INRIX data here. The New York Times also has a good summary of the data here.

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