Good news, America: Traffic is getting worse

A new report says backed-up highways mean a stronger economy, with more people taking to the roads to get to work.

By Bruce Kennedy Apr 25, 2013 1:46PM

Traffic © Pixtal, SuperStockIf your daily commute by car seems worse lately, take heart: Experts say that's a sign of an improving economy.

INRIX, a global provider of traffic information and driver services, says traffic congestion is rising this year, after two consecutive years of double-digit declines. According to the firm's sixth traffic scorecard annual report, the 4% overall increase in traffic for the first three months of 2013, compared with the same time last year, suggests a better financial landscape that's in line with rising employment data.

So far this year, according to the report, 61 of America's 100 largest cities have experienced increased traffic congestion. That's a big jump from 2012, when 94 of those cities had declines. But Bryan Mistele, INRIX president and CEO, says we're not yet back to prerecession traffic levels.

"Fears over recurring fiscal deadlines and ongoing debt issues last year likely fueled declines in traffic congestion, with businesses and consumers alike taking a 'wait and see' approach," Mistele said in a statement. "While bad news for drivers, the gains we’ve seen in the U.S. and a few countries in Europe in 2013 are cause for some optimism about the direction of the economy."

Of the 15 countries INRIX looked at for is report, only three -- the U.S., Ireland and Luxembourg -- had had more traffic this year. And INRIX says congestion in Europe, or a lack thereof, helps tell the story of that region's ongoing economic crisis.

Overall traffic in Europe, down 18% last year, continues to drop -- with a 23% decline during the first quarter of this year and 81 of 94 European cities seeing decreases in traffic jams.

The U.S. cities with the worst traffic jams last year were:

  1. Los Angeles

  2. Honolulu

  3. San Francisco

  4. Austin, Texas

  5. New York

  6. Bridgeport, Conn.

  7. San Jose, Calif.

  8. Seattle

  9. Washington, D.C.

  10. Boston

And of those 10 cities, Boston -- never known for its calm approach to driving, anyway -- had the largest increase in traffic jams, at 30%, between the first quarter of this year and first-quarter 2012.

INRIX says that rise is most likely due to "the Boston metropolitan area boasting unemployment figures that were 1.2 percentage points lower than the national average in February 2013."

And if you think the rise in traffic might be affecting gas prices, think again. According to AAA's most recent Fuel Gauge Report, the national average price for a gallon of regular, unleaded gasoline is $3.52. That's 16 cents less than it was a month ago -- and down 35 cents from the same time last year.

More on moneyNOW

Apr 25, 2013 3:44PM

I work 2.1 miles from my home and wouldn't give it up for double my salary.  I have coworkers that do a 90 minute drive each way to work.  That's three hours a day committed to work but unpaid.  No thanks.

Apr 25, 2013 2:10PM
More car exhaust is good news for the economy? Do economists also measure the rate of growth of landfills? I think the economy would be better if I was able to walk more places to get what I need.  
Apr 25, 2013 5:00PM
This story just seems fishy, especially when you consider all the recent negative economic indicators out there.
Apr 25, 2013 5:17PM
Or it is just more idiots getting into accidents while being distracted while driving.  But, whatever makes you feel better...Tomorow it will read: Less cars one the road, more using public transportation.
Apr 25, 2013 5:04PM
Have you driven in the Phoenix, AZ., area lately?
Apr 29, 2013 10:08AM
I disagree with this unless you live in a place where there is NO public transportation and you NEED to drive to work, shopping, etc.  I live in NY and I can tell you that there are plenty of people out there who don't work who are driving around in their cars going somewhere, ie shopping, beach, park, school, college, to see friends, take their kids to school, activities after school, out to eat, etc.  I for one, don't drive, and ride a bike or walk. I am lucky enough to live close to my place of work, but I used to work in the city and take the train to work.  Anyway, the fact is in today's life in the big city, many families have 2 or 3 cars and not everyone in a family is going to work by car.  Problem is the cities listed above are very crowded and in CA or Honolulu people NEED to drive everywhere since they have not trains and have freeways all over the place especially in CA.  As far as NY or Boston or Washington go with heavy traffic problems whereas they have good public transportation systems, again, its a case of 3 cars to a family so everyone drives everywhere whether or not its to work or to go shopping, drop kids off, etc.
Apr 26, 2013 4:43AM
I see no change Columbus,Ohio always been congested
Apr 25, 2013 5:04PM
Gas 5 years ago $2.00 per gallon,wow I should get excited because its 35 cents below $4.00 now,more people on welfare,more time to go for a drive,Bruce Kennedy "CLUELESS"
Apr 25, 2013 4:46PM

I tell you, Philadelphia area is the top worst traffic jams in the country!!   L.A. to Boston in top ten??  makes me laugh!!   Philly is number one worst traffic jams everywhere you try and still get stuck in it!! 

Apr 25, 2013 4:39PM
my daughter and son visited recently from atlanta and got behind a tractor and harrow on the road leading out to the shop. she took a picture and face-booked her friends with the caption "oh,  the traffic is terrible!"
Apr 25, 2013 11:28PM

Oh really?  You going to stop people buying vehicles?




Build MORE and BETTER roads and stop trying to shove public transport down everyone's throat.  Public transport is a money loser and doesn't take you where you want to go.  I've done both and cars are twice as fast for half the cost. Plus you can go on your own schedule.

Apr 25, 2013 2:40PM
The solution to traffic jams = NO NEW PUBLIC ROADS OR EXPANSIONS
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