road during the commute, but the numbers have not declined on all roads.
“In February I noticed the drive times were much quicker,” Hogan said. Some were cut by 20 minutes. Of seven major morning routes, she found that two -Tacoma to Bellevue and Federal Way to Seattle -were “drastically diff erent.”
She has several Internet resources in which she interacts with drivers and gets e-mails from drivers both asking and answering questions. Recently, the questions began focusing on shorter commute times.
“It was enough for me to get a lot of e-mails saying, ‘Jenni, what’s up?’” she said. “My gut reaction is, the commute is quicker.”
But only part of the commute: the part from south of Seattle. The Everett-toSeattle traffic has not only maintained its numbers, it looks like it may even be a little heavier.
It’s not just a gut feeling that the commute is lighter; there is real data and it comes from INRIX, the leading provider of real-time, historical and predictive traffic information in the United States. It is headquartered in Kirkland. INRIX produces what it calls the National Traffic Scorecard, which shows that even though the population of Greater Seattle-Tacoma is the 15th largest in the United States, its traffic congestion is the ninth-worst.
“That’s a bad thing,” said Scott Sedlik, INRIX’s vice president of marketing. You might expect the population ranking to be at the same level as the congestion rating. Los Angeles is second largest in population and worst in congestion. New York City, the largest U. S. city, is second-most congested. Chicago, No. 3 in population, is third in congestion. Seattle has an imbalance there, but that is nothing new. What is new is that things are lightening up.
“Even with a very small decrease in vehicles on the road you can have a signifi-cant decrease in traffic congestion,” Sedlik said.
The INRIX figures for Seattle in 2008 show a dramatic decrease in overall congestion, 28.5 percent from 2007. That was not just Seattle, though. Because of the historic high gasoline prices during the first half of the year drivers nationwide changed their driving habits, and with the economic uncertainties and layoffs in the last half they continued those more economical driving habits. Nationally, the decrease was 30 percent.
“It is continuing,” Sedlik said. There has been a continuing drop in Seattle for December, January and February. Seattle’s overall Traffic Time Index for 2008 was 1.2; for the first two months of 2009 it has dropped to 1.1. According to Sedlik, that 0.1 drop represents a saving of three minutes in a 30-minute commute.
“There is no question that the economy and decreased employment is contributing to the decrease in congestion,” Sedlik said.
So, if the commute is lighter, does that mean less wear-and-tear on roads? Apparently not.
“You definitely need more than a few months or a year to aff ect the road,” WSDOT’s Phelps said.
To see the Seattle Page of the INRIX National Traffic Scorecard turn your browser to http://scorecard.inrix.com/scorecard/MetropolitanDetails.asp?ID=9.
To check the latest traffic and check in with Jenni Hogan turn your browser to http://www.kirotv.com/traffic/index.html.