You Spend Less Time In Congestion Than You Do in Line and Buying a Couple of Lattes*

Chuck Sheketoff

Reported by the Portland Business Journal today, "Annual traffic congestion delay for peak-period travelers in Portland has increased from seven hours per year in 1982 to 46 hours per year in 2002, which is close to the average for large urban areas, according to a report by the Center for Transportation Studies at Portland State University."

That's less than six minutes in the morning and less than six minutes in the afternoon. Here's the math:

Congestion hours per year = 46.0
Congestion hours per week (divide by 50 - 2 weeks vacation) = 0.92
Congestion hours per day (divide by 5 - the work week) = 0.184
Congestion minutes per day (times 60 Congestion minutes per hour) = 11.040
Congestion minutes in Morning (divide by 2) = 5.52
Congestion minutes in Evening (divide by 2) = 5.5

*The author credits "Mr. Perspective" Paul Harris for this simple lesson and reminder.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks for the perspective, Chuck. A ridiculous thing about this study is that the media focuses on how much time you spend in congestion. The study (and media) needs to focus on how much time you spend travelling, how much pollution you release, etc. -- NOT how much time you spend in congestion.

    A person who lives and works in sprawling subdivisons might have a 40-minute commute free of congestion -- are they better off than someone who has a 20-minute commute, 10 minutes of which is spent in congestion? Doubtful. If everyone had perspective, congestion wouldn't be measured. Travelling time and quality of trip would be.

    Also, at least in the past the TTI report hasn't actually measure time spent in congestion -- it models it. Many traffic engineers have attacked the modelling as incomplete; I don't know if it's any better this year.

    But you can always (at least in this country) beat congestion with a bike. You get your exercise, save money, get to know neighborhoods, and avoid congestion. Amazing! Off my soap box saddle.

  • Rorovitz (unverified)

    I generally agree with Mr. Manvel's comments, but I think he misses a larger point.

    How does Mr. Sheketoff explain the latte calculation? And what about those of us who make our own coffee at home? What about OUR quality of life?

  • (Show?)

    Stats are funny things, though. I bet we have a "bimodal distribution" of congestion here--some people, like me, rely on public transportation and bicycle. Thus my total hours spent stuck in traffic approaches zero. But someone else has to go from their Pearl loft out to Hillsboro, or vice versa, and s/he spends perhaps a half hour or more a day stuck in traffic. That's why the 46 hour stat doesn't tell us much. In other cities, it might not be possible to avoid some commute--there you would see a more normal bell curve distribution, with everyon stuck in traffic the average 10 minutes a day.

    But there's more. According to the article you cite, Portland's congestion is up 657% since 1982.

    Portland has increased from seven hours per year in 1982 to 46 hours per year in 2002, which is close to the average for large urban areas, according to a report by the Center for Transportation Studies at Portland State University.

    At that rate, things could get far, far worse. Even doubling the time in traffic, and it's starting to become burdensome.

  • Bob R. (unverified)

    It is disingenous to take an average annual figure and divide it up to get minutes per trip.

    Congestion doesn't happen consistently from day-to-day, at least not in the Portland area. There are days when I-84 moves smoothly, and days when you can sit for quite some time.

    I now work from home, so commute issues are of less direct importance to me (I do try to avoid rush hour patterns when running errands), but if I were commuting, I can tell you that 6 minutes delay per trip might seem tolerable, but what about making 4 trips out of 5 with no delays, and 1 trip out of 5 (determined at random) with a 30-minute wait? That would be far less tolerable.

    An earlier commentor pointed out that one big issue overlooked is total length and quality of commute.

    This is why I'm a fan of moderate increases in density: If in 20 minutes at 20mph average you can reach 2000 possible destinations, but in suburbia you can travel 20 minutes at 40mph average and reach 1000 possible destinations, who is better off? (Numbers plucked from thin air). Some people think that driving fast an unhindered means getting somewhere. I prefer to be near where something actually is.

    • Bob R.
  • brett (unverified)

    The actual study is here:

    Congestion is one page of a 68-page document, and the very next page has a travel-time graph. Looks like ~150 hours per year to me. Commute time is ~24 min.

  • Michael Wilson (unverified)

    I guess it is nice for those of us with vehicles to worry about being stuck in traffic, but we've ignored those who don't have their own vehicle. I work at the Rivergate Industrial Park were Trimet's service is poor to nonexistent. With the introduction of the Interstate MAX line Trimet changed the service to the area so that today someone living near Killingsworths has to spend an hour or more and take three buses to get to work instead of the previous 15 minutes and one bus. Now that is wasted time.

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