I just returned from a few days in California, including the last day or so in Los Angeles. While I was there, the Texas Transportation Insitute issued its annual study of traffic congestion, which led to this story in the Los Angeles Times:
The Texas report says motorists in Los Angeles and Orange counties spent an average of 72 extra hours in rush-hour traffic in 2005, the subject of the current study. That’s one day shy of two full workweeks a year and is 20 hours more than in 1985. The delay represents the difference between how long it takes to travel during peak periods compared with hours when traffic flows freely.
Unlike last week’s bogus “study” that alleged Facebook was costing British firms “dear,” this traffic study is being criticized for underestimating the actual time lost in traffic.
(Note: Despite requesting a copy of the study from Peninsula, I still haven’t received it. And Dennis Howlett has a great analysis of the ludicrous math behind Peninsula’s headline-chasing. Where are the professional journalists when you need them? Why do they uncritically repeat these allegations without doing a quick calculation, as Dennis did, of whether such a figure is even possible, to say nothing of its plausibility? Thanks to Neville Hobson for pointing out Dennis’ post on his For Immediate Release podcast with Shel Holtz. And Shel read this humorous take on the issue, how employers are infringing on employees’ free time.)
In the reporting on the traffic study, by contrast, the LA Times does something novel: it reports the assumptions behind the study findings and quotes someone who challenges them.
The study “does a great disservice to the state and the region,” said Hasan Ikhrata, the organization’s director of planning and policy. “I would not make policy decisions based on their data, period.”
Ikhrata contends that the new method used by the institute mistakenly assumes that traffic in Los Angeles County, Orange County, the Inland Empire and Oxnard-Ventura is moving much faster during rush hours than it actually is.
Texas researchers assumed that traffic is traveling at an average of 35 mph during peak travel times. However, SCAG planners say that sensors buried in the pavement of major freeways in the Los Angeles area show that the average speed during rush hours is closer to 20 mph. By this measurement, Ikhrata said the extra delay is roughly 100 hours per year, nearly 40% worse than the Texas estimate.
Ikhrata said the actual data, collected from the sensors by the state Department of Transportation, indicate that all of the Los Angeles region’s major freeways have segments moving at less than 10 mph during the most heavily traveled part of the long morning and evening peak periods.
Having just been in LA and the OC, I’m with Hasan on this one. Going from downtown LA to Angels Stadium in Anaheim took about 80 minutes, or a full hour longer than if traffic had been moving.
I wonder whether the next headline from Peninsula will be a call for firms to initiate telecommuting policies to reclaim lost productivity. Might we a good way for this UK-based firm to expand into the US market.