The international congestion recession is over.  In countries with recovering economies, urban areas of all sizes are experiencing the challenges seen in the early 2000s – economic and population growth and therefore congestion are increasing.

The Urban Mobility Scorecard Annual Report analyses and compares the state of traffic congestion in countries and major metropolitan areas worldwide.  Overall, levels of congestion align with each country’s economic outlook.  Nations struggling with high unemployment and low or negative economic growth last year typically recorded lower levels of traffic congestion.  Conversely, countries with strong economic growth in 2014, such as the United States, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and Luxembourg, all experienced increased gridlock on their roads.

So where do we go from here?   Most urban regions have big problems now – more congestion, poorer pavement and bridge conditions and less public transportation service than they need to help offset demand on our road networks.  Unfortunately, increased ride sharing and advancements toward autonomous vehicles alone will not solve our transportation problems.  However, there are actions departments of transportation and policy makers can take now to address the challenges urban mobility today.  INRIX recommends the following solutions to cities and governments working to improve urban mobility in our cities:

–  Get as much service as possible from what we have – Many low-cost improvements have broad public support and can be rapidly deployed.  These operations programs require innovation, constant attention and adjustment, but they pay dividends in faster, safer and more reliable travel.  Rapidly removing crashed vehicles, timing the traffic signals so that more vehicles see green lights, and improving road and intersection designs are relatively simple actions.   It all starts with data and gaining a real-time view of what’s happening across the entire system.  The I-95 Corridor Coalition has found INRIX data not only reliable but a quarter of the cost of implementing traditional sensor technology freeing up DOTs to apply those savings to add capacity or improve efficiency of existing roads in urban areas through adaptive signal timing.

–  Add capacity in critical corridors – Handling more freight or person travel on freeways, streets, rail lines, buses or intermodal facilities often requires “more.”  Important corridors or growing regions can benefit from more street and highway lanes, new or expanded public transportation facilities, and larger bus and rail fleets.   Here too, data can play a valuable role.  Through advancements in volume and origin destination analytics, transportation agencies can better identify growth trends in trips across cities helping to optimize existing public transportation services as well as determine where to best provide additional road or transit capacity with pinpoint precision.

–  Provide choices – This might involve different travel routes, travel modes or lanes that involve a toll for high-speed and reliable service.  These options allow travelers and shippers to customize their travel plans.  By adding ability to collect real-time data on public transportation services as well as roads, cities can provide travelers with tools in the form of web sites and mobile apps that help them choose the best modes as well as move between modes as challenges arise during their journey like an untimely crash.  Automakers like BMW are increasingly integrating “intermodal navigation” systems into vehicles provide drivers with invaluable insight into how they can best complete their trip when traffic delays prevent them from arriving to their destination by car on time.

–  Diversify the development patterns – These typically involve denser developments with a mix of jobs, shops and homes, so that more people can walk, bike or take transit to more, and closer, destinations.  Sustaining the quality-of-life and gaining economic development without the typical increment of congestion in each of these sub-regions appears to be part, but not all, of the solution.   Advancements in analytics such as the tool developed jointly between INRIX and the University of Maryland provide DOTs with the ability to measure the results of diversification in development patterns quickly providing the ability to adjust as necessary helping pace economic growth.

–  Realistic expectations are also part of the solution.  Large urban areas will be congested.  Some locations near key activity centers in smaller urban areas will also be congested.  Identifying solutions and funding sources that meet a variety of community goals is challenging enough without attempting to eliminate congestion in all locations at all times. But congestion does not have to be an all-day event, in many cases just increasing travel time predictability can be a positive first step towards improving urban mobility.

–  Change the usage patterns – There are solutions that involve changes in the way employers and travelers conduct business to avoid traveling in the traditional “rush hours.”  Flexible work hours, internet connections or phones allow employees to choose work schedules that meet family needs and the needs of their jobs.

Cities need to make the data it has publicly accessible via real-time APIs.  While transportation data companies, carmakers, fleets and app providers will have their own sets of data and analytics, DOTS have vast stores of real time data such as planned maintenance and temporary lane closures that would help travelers make better choices if accessible to them in their car and on their smartphone.

These are just a few of the steps and tools available to cities that can help them stem the growth of traffic congestion in their city today.  Until then, we encourage drivers to use apps like INRIX Traffic.  The app helps drivers better plan their trips with the best routes and departure times before they hit the road as well as real-time updates on collisions and other delays that help drivers navigate around the jams along the way.



Bryan Mistele
Chief Executive Officer and President