More Money, More Problems … Especially Traffic

It’s a quandry; we really hate traffic jams, but we really love money.

Los Angeles remains king of U.S. traffic jams, with drivers losing an average of 64 hours per year to gridlock.

It’s weird how something so seemingly good could turn out to have negative consequences. In this case, it’s the economy; economic growth is a good thing, a signal that we’re finally moving past the Great Recession of the previous decade. However, as the economy grows, and more people go to work, traffic increases, which will clog our roads and constrain our rising productivity.

INRIX is a company that specializes in traffic data. From real-time traffic information to historical data encompassing dozens of countries, INRIX knows what it’s doing when it comes to cars. Recently, it released a statement that traffic congestion grew alongside the economy – and three times faster. That’s a lot of traffic.

Road Rage

More money makes us happy, but more traffic makes us unhappy. So we suppose it all sort of evens out.

However, it’s not perfect causation. Even though both the economy and traffic grew last year, prior to that, the economy (and by that, we mean our Gross Domestic Product [GDP]) continued to grow while traffic stagnated. Only now are the two trends starting to line up.

Still, INRIX found that many cities featuring job growth were also featuring traffic growth. Los Angeles remains king of U.S. traffic jams, with drivers losing an average of 64 hours per year to gridlock. That’s one and a half workweeks, sitting in traffic, likely saying mean things about the car in front of you. Other cities with both employment and traffic increases include Boston, Denver, and Salt Lake City.

However, it would be myopic to assume that the GDP is the sole factor for increasing or decreasing traffic. While it’s a perfectly reasonable hypothesis that more jobs means more people driving to work, which means more cars are on the road at once, as we mentioned above, the United States’ GDP has been growing since 2009, yet congestion actually declined at the beginning of this decade.

Not to mention the fact that we haven’t had any major expansions of infrastructure in decades. Cities aren’t really capable of adding more streets, and as the newly-graduated young’uns move back yonder city way from the boring expanse of the suburbs in which they grew up, those streets are becoming more and more crowded by the day. It’s a recipe for slow driving.

INRIX is rarely wrong with its data, and we absolutely agree that economic activity does have some effect on traffic, but by no means does correlation equal sole causation. Although we’ll take any news about a recovering economy; our jobs do depend on people buying new cars, after all.

Written by Lewis Shaw

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