Portland traffic is “stressful and unpredictable,” according to one of the co-authors of the Texas Transportation Institute’s urban mobility report. In fact, by some measures, Portland has the sixth-most-congested freeways in the nation, after DC, New York, Los Angeles, Bridgeport, and (strangely) Provo-Orem.
There are other measures by which Portland isn’t quite so bad, though overall Portland ranks 17th even though it is the 23rd largest urban area. The significance of the freeway number is that it is based on actual measurements of traffic by Inrix, while most of the other measures are calculated based on estimates of miles of driving and lane miles of roads. The Antiplanner has never trusted these calculations because a lane mile of highway built in 2000 has a far greater capacity to move traffic than one built in 1950. Thus, the measure that ranks Portland sixth-worst is probably one of the most reliable in the report.
Portlandia supporters, of course, attempt to double-talk their way out of this. The mobility report, says one, “ignores differences in trip distances among metro areas and how trip distances have changed over time.” The Texas people disagree, saying they do take distances into account. Moreover, a look at census data reveal that the average Portland commuter takes 24.2 minutes to get to work, which about the same as in other urban areas of similar size (Minneapolis is 23.4 minutes; Denver is 25.7; St. Louis is 23.6; Cincinnati is 22.8; San Antonio 23.8). Since census data also show that 85 percent of Portland-area commuters still take autos to work, Portland’s investments in transit and bike paths have, at best, merely nibbled at the edges of the problem.