Chicagoans Drive Fewer Miles, but Roads Still Jammed

Rise in ridership on mass transit not alleviating congestion

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The CTA, Metra, and Pace have all been reporting increases in ridership, but you wouldn't know it if you've been on the roads recently.

A new study by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning reveals that while Windy City motorists are driving fewer miles, congestion is actually worse than it was a year ago. In other words, even though you're not going as far as you used to, it may actually take you longer to get there.

According to a study titled "Recent Trends in Northeastern Illinois Expressway Vehicle Miles Traveled," the number of miles driven during the busiest travel hours is down 4.6 percent from last year. So why are traffic jams still so awful?

For one, most commuters could probably tell you that Chicago roads are so congested, it would take a much larger decrease in traveled miles to make a noticeable difference.

Secondly, as the saying goes, Chicago has two seasons: winter and road construction. Any time you might be saving from fewer drivers or fewer miles is most likely spent dealing with road work.

How can you avoid the gridlock headache? Stop commuting, and work from home! Okay, so that answer may be easier said than done, but the decline in vehicle miles traveled is actually attributed to an increase in home-based jobs.

Otherwise, the best thing to do is to carpool. We've all heard it before, but it bears repeating, especially given Chicago's track record. According to U.S. census data, Chicago ranked 34th out of large cities for its percentage of carpooling commuters. Just 10.7 percent of drivers shared the ride in 2005. And according to the Agency's questionnaire, that number has decreased this year to only 9 percent.

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