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Is Traffic Congestion Growing Three Times As Fast As Economy? 187

Posted by timothy
from the feels-that-way-in-austin dept.
cartechboy writes "Math watch time: For many traffic analysts, INRIX is considered the gold-standard. This week the company says traffic congestion surged in 2013 and grew over three times as fast as the American economy. The bad news: If true, this reverses two consecutive years of traffic declines with a six percent increase in 2013. (GDP, by comparison, grew 1.9 percent last year.) The analysts then theorize links between economic growth and traffic congestion, which makes sense on the surface. (As the economy improves, more jobs are created, so more commuters on the roads) But INRIX's theory creates as many questions as it answers. For example, the U.S. GDP has been steadily growing since 2009. So why did congestion decline in 2011 and 2012?"
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Is Traffic Congestion Growing Three Times As Fast As Economy?

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  • Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 06, 2014 @04:46PM (#46422641)

    So why did congestion decline in 2011 and 2012?

    The false equivalence between GDP and labor (and therefore commuting.)

    We're shedding workers. The labor participation rate is declining. GDP, like inflation, the unemployment rate, cost-of-living, etc. are political fictions derived from politically derived formulae.

    • The band, man, Traffic the band.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:27PM (#46423055)

      Yes, GDP, unemployment and pretty much every other measurement the government puts out is made up from whole cloth and has very little to do with reality.

    • Add to that increases in telecommuting.

      I have not added to the congestion in 5 years.

    • by Copid (137416)
      For the most part, numbers like GDP, inflation and unemployment are useful to social scientists and policymakers who know their limitations and not necessarily super useful to the public. The methodologies aren't designed to be misleading, but they are designed to capture certain details that are useful and exclude certain things that the public might thing should be included for "common sense" reasons.

      Anyway, I'd say that the decline in congestion during 2011 and 2012 might be largely due to the fact t
    • Of all the economic statistics, the unemployment rate is the easiest to understand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calls or visit a randomly selected sample of Americans, ask them if they are employed, and if they are not, are they looking for a job. While they ask some other questions, those are the basic ones used to determine the widely-publicized unemployment rate. This is not a complicated statistical formula here, subject to all sorts of evil manipulation.

      Now, you could argue that the labor partici

  • Traffic? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 06, 2014 @04:47PM (#46422647)

    Like the movie? Or Internet traffic? Or vehicular traffic?
     
    Thanks for the context in the summary, douchemonger.

    • Cars.

      "Congestion" as a descriptor doesn't apply to either of the others. Hope that helps.

      As to the inane question it asks at the end:

      So why did congestion decline in 2011 and 2012?

      Because the DOW doesn't determine if people are driving to work, unemployment does. One follows the other. The economy isn't a unified thing, and the rich can be making loads of money while the rest of don't.

      • Re:Traffic? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:37PM (#46423167) Homepage Journal

        So why did congestion decline in 2011 and 2012?

        Because the DOW doesn't determine if people are driving to work, unemployment does. One follows the other. The economy isn't a unified thing, and the rich can be making loads of money while the rest of don't.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J... [wikipedia.org]

        Interestingly, the last time we had a "jobless recovery" of significant size was around 1935, during the Great Depression... which was caused by a bunch of bankers... including Goldman... Sachs...

        Hey, am I the only one seeing a pattern here?

        • Hey, am I the only one seeing a pattern here?

          Nah, if there were a pattern then the next thing would be some fascist from Europe annexing his neighboring countries.

      • by Cimexus (1355033)

        Around here at least, ISPs often refer to 'network congestion' caused by router outages, DoS, and other things, on their network status pages etc. So it can be used to refer to data networks...

      • Congestion is a commonly used in regards to network traffic, and since /. is a technology site, that would be the first assumption for a significant share of the users.
  • Work from home (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cheeze (12756) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @04:48PM (#46422661) Homepage

    companies are starting to get smart and letting their employees work from home.

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:10PM (#46422907)

      companies are starting to get smart and letting their employees work from home.

      Yes. Why should I hire someone to commute from across town, when I can reduce congestion and hire someone to work from their home in Bangalore.

      • Re:Work from home (Score:5, Interesting)

        by hawguy (1600213) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:15PM (#46422963)

        companies are starting to get smart and letting their employees work from home.

        Yes. Why should I hire someone to commute from across town, when I can reduce congestion and hire someone to work from their home in Bangalore.

        It's true -- if it's easy to do your job from home because you don't need regular interaction with your coworkers, it's probably also easy to offshore it.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Only sometimes. If you want employees to be available for teleconferencing, or prefer for them to be under the same legal system the offshore outsourcing doesn't work out at all.

          • by hawguy (1600213)

            Only sometimes. If you want employees to be available for teleconferencing, or prefer for them to be under the same legal system the offshore outsourcing doesn't work out at all.

            Depends how often you want them to be available for teleconferencing.

            When I last worked with an offshoring company, the company had a USA based project manager that worked our normal business hours. We had an Indian based project manager/development manager that got to the office at noon our time (which I believe was midnight his time), and the developers were online by 4pm our time (4am their time) so we had a couple hours of overlap.

            The project managers were USA educated and spoke fluent english

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          You can have regular interaction via the phone, video link, email etc. You can also visit clients or the office any time. You need to be in the same time-zone though.

        • by jittles (1613415)

          companies are starting to get smart and letting their employees work from home.

          Yes. Why should I hire someone to commute from across town, when I can reduce congestion and hire someone to work from their home in Bangalore.

          It's true -- if it's easy to do your job from home because you don't need regular interaction with your coworkers, it's probably also easy to offshore it.

          Not always true. I could easily spend 30-40% of my time working from home, but the other 60% of the time is far more productive in the office than at home. So having local employees that spend 1 or 2 days a week working from home may be far more productive than a whole team in Bangalore.

          • by Cryacin (657549)
            Pleased to be flying in for 60% of time. Pleased to revert resume to HR for you sir.
        • But that doesn't mean it necessarily will be offshored. The company I work for is headquartered in Atlanta, but has a small satellite office in Scotland (because the CEO grew up there and wants to provide jobs in his hometown). I'm on the same scrum team as one of the guys over there and therefore work closely with him without any problems (all our meetings are during morning our time, afternoon his time).

          Ironically, I'm not allowed to telecommute except in exceptional circumstances...

    • So Google isn't smart?
    • by asmkm22 (1902712)

      And here I've been reading all about companies stripping away their telecommuting options...

  • by mc6809e (214243) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @04:49PM (#46422675)

    If all that money didn't increase total employment, then GDP could go up while the same number of people stayed home out of work.

    The increase in congestion is actually a good sign. It suggests that the employment situation might finally be improving.

    • by operagost (62405) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @04:52PM (#46422709) Homepage Journal
      Maybe Yahoo really had a lot of telecommuters.
    • by MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @04:59PM (#46422801)

      Or it could mean that local governments with a reduced tax base are now not taking care of roads. Or that they've cut back on public transportation and now people have to drive to work. Or that the people that have given up are now going to the beach instead. Or that people have given up on ever finding a new job, can't bear to think of the future and are jumping into traffic. Ot that the job situation is now is desperate that bosses can demand their employees not telecommute.

    • by fermion (181285)
      I know this is going sound like an attack, but congestion is due to a number of factors. In my area the congestion has increased rapidly. One factor I have seen is that there are once again many trucks and SUVs on the road. In 2010, with gas prices usually around $4, I saw a decrease in the number of these large vehicles. Now gas is back down to around 3.50, which is what is was back in 2007. Cheaper gas not only means people can afford to drive more, it means they can afford less efficient cars.

      Less

      • If your going to blame a class of vehicles for slowing things down, blame the underpowered ones.

        Acceleration is controlled by the driver, constrained by power and traction.

        • No no, it is the Ventura Freeway effect. As you double the number of cars, average speed drops by the square.

        • by Ichijo (607641)

          If the slow motorists all drove in the same lane--the one next to the entry/exit lane--they would have a negligible effect on traffic speeds. In Europe, they enforce this by making it illegal to cruise in the left lane or pass on the right. (This is also what makes the Autobahn safe, despite the lack of speed limits.) The USA only has unenforceable laws like "if you're obstructing traffic, move to the right," but if traffic can pass on the right, you are arguably not obstructing anyone.

          So let's place the bl

  • by swschrad (312009) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @04:52PM (#46422707) Homepage Journal

    layoffs in good jobs where you had to go in during rush hours. night managers at the Burger Doodle, not so much.

  • Having a job is one thing. Having a job and thinking it'll be there for a year or two is another. Everyone was financially "turtling up" so it's not a real surprise that indicators like traffic will lag behind. I was talking to a trade school instructor who said that businesses are STILL cutting back on good will perks like donations of equipment and time to students. Even the silly little fun trinkets they used to hand out at intramural competitions are gone.

  • GDP and employment (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 06, 2014 @04:54PM (#46422737)

    The article keeps trying to compare GDP with employment. GDP has been increasing but yet unemployment is stuck at about 7%.

    Why is that?

    Because the "recovery" is not happening to the average guy. We are seeing a gutting of the middle class, more folks are getting (sometimes multiple) lesser jobs, and yet, companies profits are at record levels.

    And in the meantime, the uultra-rich are getting ever more richer and scolding us peons that "we could be in India!" so shut the fuck up!

    Income and capital gains taxes at 1950s level is what we need.

    • Income and capital gains taxes at 1950s level is what we need.

      Just FYI, 1955 tax rates (with the indices adjusted for inflation) mean most everyone will be paying higher taxes, not just "the rich".

      Note that, by "most everyone", what I really mean is "everyone". The poor will be paying around twice as much as now, everyone else in the vicinity of 1.5x as much, up until you get to the "filthy rich", who will pay more (around twice as much).

      • Would love to see the math behind this. Do you have a source?

    • The article keeps trying to compare GDP with employment. GDP has been increasing but yet unemployment is stuck at about 7%.

      Unemployment peaked at 10% in October of 2009. It's now down to 6.6%, down 130bps in the last year. Still too high, but it has been declining steadily. This chart doesn't meet my definition of "stuck."

      http://data.bls.gov/timeseries... [bls.gov]

    • Double taxes on gasoline, triple taxes on coal. Everyone making up to 40000 dollars/year gets a 100% exemption from payroll and federal income taxes (to offset the higher taxes on dirty fossil fuels).
      This would fix climate change, replace the minimum wage increase, offer a serious incentive for heavy telecommuting and make alternate fuel vehicles really get going.
      There you have, either you telecommute, live close to work, or move to an alternate fuel vehicle (electric, natural gas or ethanol).
      Only the USA o

    • by khallow (566160)

      Suposedly, judges are wise beyond normal intelligence levels and must be able to interpret the spirit of the law living throughout a law's text.

      As long as the tax loopholes of the 50s are there. Else, you're just creating yet another job-destroying dynamic. But we could get the same effect of that 50s tax rate by merely doing nothing. Actual taxes paid haven't changed that much - the silly higher rates went down and the loopholes got closed.

      What has changed since the 50s is that the developed world worker is not the only game in town. There are billions of people willing to do a developed world worker's job for much less. So there are other adva

  • What about all the road construction that is going on? That can be a big cause of congestion.

  • by emptybody (12341) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:13PM (#46422933) Homepage Journal

    as the economy has come back, people have been forced to take jobs further from their homes - wherever they can get one.
    with the housing market a mess, they also couldn't easily move closer to work.
    when they can sell their houses, and move closer, or there are more jobs closer, we will see an adjustment.

    personally, i want to see traffic hell. enough that we bring back light rail as a priority.
    its stupid that we do not have lines running down the center of most highways in the country.

    • Sheesh. The amount of lack-of-self-awareness in these types of posts never ceases to amaze me. People don't live in the suburbs because they want to drive an hour every day, they live there because the schools in the city are hellholes that can't even graduate kids who can read.

      Entirely predicable and sad that this point of view has a hatred problem and greatly desires to see others suffer. Just...sad.

      • by Ichijo (607641)

        Schools in (some) downtowns are bad because the poor and minorities are zoned out of the suburbs [leagle.com] through zoning laws that raise the cost of suburban housing [streetsblog.org]. Besides raising the cost of housing, laws such as minimum parking requirements and prohibitions against accessory dwelling units reduce property rights and restrict economic mobility, all in the name of keeping the riffraff (i.e. the poor and minorities) out.

        Another factor that makes schools in poor areas perform poorly is the fact that often freeways

        • So you're saying schools are horrible because of minorities? You racist piece of trash. Go to hell, I hope your house burns down and you die in a fire.
          • by swb (14022)

            It's not because they are non-white racial groups, but that poverty and other social problems are so over-represented in those groups. This seems to have two effects, low parental participation (engagement in-school and engagement in homework, reading, and other similar learning reinforcement) as well kids who bring their at-home social problems with them to school.

            This leaves teachers and schools struggling with a whole bunch of social welfare problems schools are ill-equipped and funded to handle as well

    • by stanjo74 (922718)
      Also, gentrification is a big factor - lower-middle and in certain coastal areas, middle class people are being displaced, seeking more affordable homes further from their communities and work. Although the housing market is still a mess on average, certain coastal areas have appreciated above their 2006-7 peak, due to the ultra-easy monetary policy of the Fed.
    • by asmkm22 (1902712)

      With the low priority that most states place on road maintenance, the last thing we need is a poorly-maintained lightrail system right in the middle of that.

  • by muhula (621678) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:19PM (#46422991)
    The great recession of 2009 became the justification of many companies to lay off workers despite healthy [aol.com] revenue [huffingtonpost.com] and increasing [bizjournals.com] profits [usatoday.com]. While this may contribute to the GDP, it doesn't do much for employment.
    • by tsqr (808554)

      The great recession of 2009 became the justification of many companies to lay off workers

      Hiring isn't driven by revenue and profits, although the lack of them will certainly put a damper on things. Hiring is mainly driven by demand for goods and services, unless the business in question has undergone a revolution in automation.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:21PM (#46423003)

    But INRIX's theory creates as many questions as it answers. For example, the U.S. GDP has been steadily growing since 2009. So why did congestion decline in 2011 and 2012?"

    I know in my area, transit has become decidedly less desirable in the past year or so as it's become more crowded. A few years ago I could almost always get a seat and commute in relative comfort. Now the trains are so full that some days it skips my stop (or even if it stops to let someone off, there's not enough room to squeeze on). Biking is an option for me, so I've been biking regularly, but if that wasn't an option, I'd probably drive rather than take an unreliable train that's uncomfortably full. Equipment purchases are large capital expenses that can take years or evena decade to plan, fund, and complete, so public transit lags demand.

  • by neonv (803374) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:21PM (#46423005)

    According to INRIX, traffic in the U.S. reversed two consecutive years of declines with a six percent increase in 2013. The country's GDP, by comparison, grew 1.9 percent last year. INRIX suggests that continued economic growth will result in more traffic congestion, longer commutes, and more productivity losses.

    INRIX is getting their conclusion from one data point: last year. Even though previous years do not support their conclusion, multiple data points. As a result, their conclusion that traffic increases at 3 times GDP growth is not convincing. They need to put a lot more effort into this study. Even the article author pointed that out,

    Bottom line: roadways are complex ecosystems, and congestion results from jobs, commuters, road work, mass transit, and countless other factors. While it's encouraging to see traffic jams as symbolic of economic growth, that's not an accurate or complete picture.

    In a complex environment like this, data needs a control point and a link from cause to effect. All I see here is a very loose correlation in one year of data. Hence, this is FUD.

  • The increase in congestion due to increased economic activity and reduced unemployment isn't just a factor of more people on the road. When the economy improves, people get offered better piles of money to take jobs farther from their homes. People drive farther in a good economy. Then add in all the ancillary travel from increased economic prosperity, eating out more, buying more stuff, going more fun places.
  • Traffic in South Floriduh seems to be much worse than it was 2 or 3 years ago. Seems to be more people and more cars.

  • by bennomatic (691188) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:30PM (#46423095) Homepage
    If you look at places like San Francisco and the way wealth is pooling there, it's easy to understand why traffic congestion is growing faster than the economy.

    If you put a bunch of rich-ass people together in one highly-concentrated place, even if all of them are working from home or taking Google busses to work, they're going to need services. Grocery stores, plumbers, babysitters, teachers, restaurant workers, you name it. Many of those sorts of jobs are not ones which are compatible with telecommuting--if my garbage man starts working from home, I'm going to be pissed!--and most of them are not of an income level which would allow a comfortable residence within the city where the job is. If you're making $30,000 a year as a teacher, spending $2,000 a month on a 400 sq ft studio apartment so you can walk or bike to work doesn't leave much left over for food and the like.

    So inevitably, thousands upon thousands of workers need to commute various distances to keep their jobs and live in some level of comfort.

    I realize that SF, as a peninsula, is a fairly unique scenario: it provides a high-value destination with severely constrained access points. Maybe not the actual logical conclusion of all similar circumstances, but a useful indicator of how things might play out in areas where money is aggregated into smaller and smaller groups who then take over relatively small and very desirable locations.
    • SF has been the realm of trust fund kids and single gay professionals for decades.

      It's not like the middle class lived there prior to Google buses. The ones complaining are mad because their trust funds won't cover rent in SF proper anymore.

  • ... a part of the economic recovery involves people digging holes in the roads. So more traffic and less roads leads to higher levels of congestion.

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @05:48PM (#46423275) Homepage Journal

    See, people are too stupid to realize a bus with 60 people that gets defunded means there are now 60 more cars crammed onto the same failed underfunded highway infrastructure.

    A 5 percent reduction in transit funding results in a 30 percent increase in traffic congestion and a 25-50 percent increase in commute times.

    Penny-wise.

    Pound-foolish.

    • A problem that is further compounded by an economic environment where people are compromising a short commute in order to obtain employment.
    • by jittles (1613415)

      See, people are too stupid to realize a bus with 60 people that gets defunded means there are now 60 more cars crammed onto the same failed underfunded highway infrastructure.

      A 5 percent reduction in transit funding results in a 30 percent increase in traffic congestion and a 25-50 percent increase in commute times.

      Penny-wise.

      Pound-foolish.

      That probably depends on where you're from. In my neck of the woods only the uber poor take mass transit. Those 60 people end up loosing their jobs rather than driving a car to work. That mostly has to do with the fact that the area has one of the worst transit systems I have seen in my life. They use a spoke configuration and everyone must go into downtown to get to their destination (unless they happen to be traveling to a destination that is on their line between their home and downtown).

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      In most cities, the people that actually own and drive cars dont use the city bus system. Large cities like Chicago and NYC are the exception because they have a real public transit system and the cost of owning a car in those cities is so astronomical ($350-$550 a month for a parking spot).

      Other towns that are under 1,000,000 in population are so poorly designed and have nonexistant real public transportation to begin with, you really only have lower class people on the bus lines. In those cities there

  • by mspohr (589790) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @06:17PM (#46423553)

    I think that we need Christie to do a "traffic study" to sort this out once and for all.

  • by Trailer Trash (60756) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @06:49PM (#46423881) Homepage

    The federal government has been spending ever more money in order to prop up the GDP (remember that gov't spending is part of the GDP). In reality, the economy has been shrinking for some time except in Washington DC. And, no, we can't continue this forever or even much longer.

  • If you had a nation of perfect drivers then I suspect you could pack many times more cars on the road. But needless to say we have a bell curve. I find that there are a few smart people who are bad drivers but that many people who are genuinely stupid are also really bad drivers. So as these really stupid people start to find jobs they then drive to these jobs. So as the left side of the bell curve is being tapped for drivers you have a potential that not only are these drivers bad but that with each tiny a
  • looking at the real unemployment rates (not the new system put in place in 1994), things not improving for the common man in 2010 and 11.

    recession certainly cleared the highways around my area until last year, now people getting jobs

  • I'm sad to see that I'm the only one that thinks that congestion has gotten worse due to the abundantly clear lack of thought in traffic engineering. I think there might be two scenarios that potentially account for this: 1) I learned about the idea of planning less capacity than is required to "force people's hands" on using public transit. Idealistically, it sounds great. Like most idealistic plans, the real world doesn't work that way and it just pisses people off and, viola, traffic congestion. 2) I don
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Friday March 07, 2014 @07:27AM (#46426781)

    Private Cars is just about the most stupid thing in these times. Germans spend 4.7 Billion man hours per year in traffic jams. Mind you, this is Germany, where there are better and more roads per capita, far less speed limits and people actually know how to drive. 4.7 fucking billion man hours per year. Let that sink in for a minute. And that's like 80% of the monetary income generating population wasting that sort of time (I won't say working population, for obvious reasons).

    With that time wasted, we could send every person in the workincome population on a paid 3 week vacation each year and still have money to spare.

    Cars are an anomally, only around today for mostly historical reasons, with no sensible reason at all. Sort of like the PC keyboard or MS Windows. Only with far more negative impact on overall quality of living and the environment.

    Most populations and societies would be better of if we banned private cars alltogether and switched to e-bikes and public transport entirely. With taxis and cargo taxis for the special occasions. Would be cheaper for all, faster for all, better for the environment and we'd all be happier for it. I'd bet money on that.

    If I were a billionaire I'd pay some bankrupt German cities to ban cars alltogether and then heavyly invest in them and then sit back and watch the local economy and quality of living skyrocket.

    My 2 cents.

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