Los Angeles is still the most congested urban area in the world, according to the latest INRIX traffic scorecard. However, what is more interesting is that congestion seems to be declining in several fast-growing cities in Texas, thanks to construction of new highways.
Dallas is twice as big as Seattle and Houston is three times as big. The Dallas and Houston urban areas are both growing nearly twice as fast as Seattle’s, but Seattle is concentrating its growth in the city while Dallas and Houston allow more people to settle in the suburbs. INRIX found that congestion was worse in Seattle than either Dallas or Houston, which was a direct result of Washington’s growth-management policies.
Moreover, while INRIX’s congestion index for Seattle — and most other cities — grew worse since last year’s scorecard, the congestion indices for Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso all improved. That’s unusual in the United States, INRIX observes, but cities in Scotland and Germany have also managed to reduce congestion by building new facilities.
San Antonio’s congestion ranking is particularly impressive, as it has about half the congestion of Seattle even though it is more than twice as big. San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in America, while Dallas is ninth and Seattle is twenty-third. But, unlike Seattle or even Houston, San Antonio hasn’t concentrate people or jobs in its downtown area: Seattle and Houston both have almost three times as many downtown jobs as San Antonio, which makes them more congested.
INRIX notes that new construction is not the only way to relieve congestion. Dallas and other Texas cities used managed (i.e., variable priced) lanes. INRIX also mentions ride sharing, dynamic traffic lights, and letting people drive on shoulders during peak hours. While INRIX says “there is no silver bullet that will erase congestion,” that’s only because no city has tried city-wide congestion pricing (as opposed to cordon pricing, which is a very different thing). In any case, the INRIX data put to rest the old claim that cities can’t build their way out of congestion.