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Chicagoans waste on average 73 hours each year in traffic, study says

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Bad traffic isn’t just limited to the morning and afternoon rush hours

A multi-lane motorway packed with slow-moving cars next to a row of tall buildings and a large body of water.f
Cars backed up along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.
Shutterstock

The average Chicago driver wastes 73 hours a year stuck in traffic—well above the national average of 54 hours—according to 2019 Urban Mobility Report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Chicago ranked tenth highest in the nation when it came to the number of hours wasted by auto commuter and third in the country for cumulative time spent in traffic at 352 million hours.

In Chicago, the time and fuel spent as a result of traffic delays cost $1,307 per commuter, which was the tenth highest in the nation. When it came to the total economic cost of the city’s traffic, the yearly figure ballooned to $6.53 billion—partly due to the large amount of truck freight that passes through the Midwest.

The study, which looked at traffic conditions in 494 urban areas, also concluded that more congestion is occurring at periods beyond what is traditionally considered “rush hour.” Report author Bill Eisele told the Chicago Tribune that a third of the area’s delays happened outside the peak morning and afternoon commuting times.

A big part of the increase in traffic across the board is due to more people working. Since the Texas A&M Transportation Institute starting collecting data in 1982, the total number of U.S. jobs has grown by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, the number of hours per commuter lost to traffic delays has tripled.

While building more highways just leads to more driving and traffic—a phenomenon economists call induced demand—there are solutions that cities like Chicago can employ to improve the situation. These include investing in mass transit and providing more workers with the option to work from home.