Traffic congestion dropped by 73 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic


A traffic jam at night.
Enlarge / A photo shows a traffic jam at 1905 Street and Third Ring Road in Moscow, Russia, on March 3, 2021. Moscow ranked fourth-worst in the world for traffic congestion in 2020, with an average of 100 hours spent in jams.

Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image

In 2020, the average US driver spent 26 hours stuck in traffic. While that’s still more than a day, it’s a steep decline from pre-pandemic times; in 2019 the average American sacrificed 99 hours to traffic jams. Around the world, it’s a similar story. German drivers averaged an identical 26 hours of traffic in 2020, down from 46 the year before. In the UK, 2019 sounded positively awful, with 115 hours in traffic jams. At least one thing improved for that island nation in 2020: its drivers only spent 37 hours stationary in their cars.

This data was all collected by traffic analytics company Inrix for its 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard that tracks mobility across more than 1,000 different cities around the world based on travel times, miles traveled, trip characteristics, and the effect of crashes on congestion in each city.

And unless you’ve spent the past 12 months in a cave—in which case, gee, do I have some crappy news for you—you’ll instinctively know that there were big declines in traffic in 2020, and in particular a drop in people traveling to downtowns and central business districts.

Still, traffic didn’t actually disappear completely, and averages hide a lot in a country as large as the United States. The worst traffic of 2020 was experienced in New York City, up from 4th worst in 2019, where drivers lost 100 hours to traffic jams. But New Yorkers still spent 28 percent less time stuck in traffic, traveled 28 percent fewer miles, and experienced 38 percent fewer crashes than in 2019.

The biggest decline in traffic was seen in Washington, DC. In the nation’s capital, drivers spent 29 hours in traffic, a whopping 77 percent decrease over pre-pandemic times. However, the city only saw a 26 percent reduction in crashes and a 25 percent decrease in vehicle miles traveled.

At least three of the 25 most-congested US cities actually saw an increase in hours lost to traffic in 2020: Santa Rosa in California, where traffic increased 4 percent to 26 hours; Sarasota, Florida, where it increased by 11 percent to 29 hours; and Kaneohe, Hawaii, which in 2020 saw an 8 percent increase to an average of 29 hours spent in traffic.

Inrix’s traffic scorecard also has a top-25 ranking for European cities, showing that Bucharest, Romania, has the most traffic. Despite the pandemic, Bucharesters spent 129 hours stuck in their cars going nowhere, although the city did not rank in 2019, so we don’t know how much this changed with COVID-19. The overall worst city in the world for traffic last year was Bogota, Colombia, which also held the top spot in 2019. But even here we can see the coronavirus’ influence—despite drivers wasting 133 hours to traffic, that was still a 31 percent drop, year on year.



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