Urban Mobility Report: Stockton traffic not so bad

Judging by the obscene amount of money being spent widening Interstate 5 and Highway 99, it would be easy to conclude that Stockton is in the grips of unbearable gridlock. However, new data from the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute suggests that Stockton area commuters actually enjoy more favorable traffic conditions than most major metro regions across the country.

On Tuesday, the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute released their Annual Urban Mobility Report, assessing traffic and congestion conditions in metro areas around the country and its effects on drivers. In 2011, congestion cost America’s commuters 5.5 billion extra traveling hours and 2.9 billion gallons of extra fuel. That’s 38 extra hours and 19 wasted gallons of gas per driver. While the national outlook is discouraging, the report tells a different story in Stockton.

According to the report’s 2011 metrics, the Stockton region consistently out performed the vast majority of major metro areas in the country. Take a look (note: higher rankings signifies better congestion performance.)

 

2011 Averages for Stockton metro

101 US metro area average

Stockton ranking (out of 101 US cities)

Yearly Delay Per Auto Commuter (hours)

12

43

100th (tie)

Excess Fuel per Auto Commuter (gallons)

5

20

101st

Congestion Cost per Auto Commuter (dollars)

293

922

99th

As you can see, the per commuter averages for Stockton are very favorable. The average Stockton area commuter in 2011 spent an extra 12 hours in traffic, consumed an extra 5 gallons of gas, and spent an extra $293 due to the region’s “congested conditions.” Compared to the 101 largest metro areas, Stockton commuters have it pretty good.

Not only does Stockton enjoy more favorable traffic conditions compared to other metro areas, the region’s congestion numbers have remained relatively stable over recent years, and in fact have declined significantly since the mid 2000s, even as the total number of commuters has slowly increased:

2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
Yearly Delay Per Auto Commuter (hours) 12 12 12 12 14 14 13
Excess Fuel per Auto Commuter (gallons) 5 5 5 5 15 10 10
Congestion Cost per Auto Commuter (dollars) 293 289 310 291 365 437 407
Commuters (thousands) 215 212 208 205 202 201 197

Stockton’s recent downward trend in traffic measures is consistent with the rest of the country which similarly has seen significant declines since the mid 2000s. .

SCL STK I5 signFurther, Stocktonians don’t have to worry too much about accounting for area traffic when making local travel plans. The report’s “Travel Time Index” measures the “ratio of travel time in peak period to travel time in free flow.” In other words, the extra time it takes you to drive somewhere when there is traffic. In Stockton, the ratio is 1.10, meaning that a trip that normally takes 20 minutes in free-flowing traffic will take an average of 22 minutes in congestion. The report’s “Freeway Planning Index,” showing “the total travel time” needed to make sure you are not late to an important event, gives Stockton a ratio of 1.74. In other words, Stocktonians forced to drive in traffic will budget just under 35 minutes for a trip that should only take 20. This seems a little excessive, though the average for the 101 US metro areas was a whopping 3.54.

While some of the report’s data appears a little circumspect (I really don’t think commuters in Washington, DC leave almost 3 hours ahead of time for a 30 minute trip because of traffic. Also, the report lists Stockton metro’s population at around 400k, which is more than 200k lower than it really is), its real value lays in the ability to compare across cities and over time. For Stockton, we can see that our traffic situation is fairly ideal, especially for a city of this size, and has actually improved since the mid 2000s, which begs the question: why is $500 million being spent to widen Interstate 5 and Highway 99? Is it really worth spending hundreds of millions because of an extra 2 minutes spent in traffic on a 20 minute drive? Definitely not, especially when you consider that building more lanes won’t alleviate congestion in the long run.

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Categories: Transportation

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

4 Comments on “Urban Mobility Report: Stockton traffic not so bad”

  1. Mike Jackson
    May 31, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    What is the intent of these articles? The I-5 widening is happening. Get over it. It will benefit the safety of those driving through Stockton which is enough justification. Quit submitting these articles!!

    • David Garcia
      May 31, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

      You’re right, the project is happening, and no one can stop or change it. I am sure the new lanes will be very pleasant for the few years until traffic reaches the same levels as today. The intent of this article is not to change anything or to complain. But if we can’t discuss the choices we make today, how will we make better ones in the future?

      I would also argue that inducing more highway travel by widening lanes will increase accidents, injuries and fatalities, not keep anyone safer. The data on this topic substantiates this. Thanks for the comment.

  2. May 31, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    Well if you have driven that stretch of freeway between Hammer Lane and downtown lately you would know that it is the worst stretch of pavement in the valley. It is literally falling apart. Traffic backups on the on and off ramps extend up onto the freeway. There are multiple accidents every morning and evening during commutes, Due to the lack of bridges across the sloughs because of the developers and NIMBYS, the freeway is the only way to get from north to south. I drive that route every morning and evening.

    • David Garcia
      May 31, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

      I agree completely that repaving is needed. That stretch is pretty horrid in terms of road conditions. Bad roads mean diminished gas mileage, high maintenance bills and more accidents. While repaving is warranted, I don’t think widening the interstate will result in better commutes in the long run. For a few years it will be nice, but once induced demand kicks in, congestion will most likely return to the same levels we see today. I suppose we will have to wait and see.

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