Marketplace Scratch Pad

Recession = less traffic

Scott Jagow Jul 8, 2009

One thing I’ve noticed lately is that traffic seems lighter. I keep thinking it’s my imagination, since I live in LA, but the other day, I actually arrived somewhere a few minutes early. That just doesn’t happen here. A new study suggests traffic has been declining.

It’s a national study from the Texas Transportation Institute. It looks at traffic patterns from 1982 to 2007, and in late 2007, traffic started showing a drop-off for the first time in the study period.

Now, that was around the time gas was starting to spike, so gas prices were probably a contributing factor, but the researchers say it’s likely congestion has fallen even more since then. There are fewer jobs for people to drive to, for one thing, and of course, people are trying to save money and aren’t going out as much. I know I’ve cut back on driving significantly. The Wall Street Journal interviewed David Schrank, the study’s co-author:

Recession, it seems, is the only good way to reduce traffic. While congestion had never fallen nationally before, Mr. Schrank says in past recessions many regional markets saw drops in congestion hours. In the early 1990s recession, for instance, congestion dropped in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego — all very congested places that were hit hard by the loss of aerospace jobs.

Mr. Schrank says that he expects congestion to continue to shrink or at least plateau as long as the recession persists. Indicators including vehicle mile traveled (down) and passenger miles on public transportation (still up from a few years ago) are consistent with lower levels of congestion. Of course, once the economy gets better, traffic will pick up as well.

Enjoy the blessings of a recession while they last. I might even take the 405 one of these days.

On second thought… it’s not that much lighter.

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