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Chicago traffic

Antonietta Colasanto/MEDILL

Traffic congestion has improved, relatively speaking, in Chicago since last year, a new study contends.

Study pegs Chicago’s traffic as nation’s second-worst – an improvement over last year

by Antonietta Colasanto
Sep 28, 2011

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The study

Every morning and every evening Katie Hurley makes the commute from Indiana to Chicago, spending about an hour and 15 minutes in her car each way.


“There is always traffic on Lake Shore Drive going south,” said Hurley, who lives in Highland, about 30 miles southeast of Chicago’s Loop.


“What bothers me is that traffic reports most of the time are conflicting: I listen to WBBM and NPR stations for traffic reports, but they are not always clear and consistent. The boards on highways telling traffic time are not accurate: I wonder who oversees their accuracy.”


Besides traffic reports not being helpful, Hurley has not noticed her commute being any shorter than in the past.

An official survey released this week backs her up, saying that Chicago commuters are spending an hour more on the roads than they did last year.


The good news, however, is that Chicago is not ranked first again for worst traffic congestion in the nation.


This past year, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute, every driver spent about 21 minutes a day in traffic.


The survey also found Washington had worse traffic than Chicago, which came in at No. 2, followed by Los Angeles, Houston, New York and San Francisco. Last in the list, at No. 15, was Detroit.

Despite drivers not feeling the improvement,  “our numbers take into account all freeways and major arterial streets,” said David L. Schrank, associate research scientist at the Texas Transportation Institute. Schrank, who contributed to the study, said, “[The study] might include the worst or the best roads.”

Talking about solutions to traffic problems in Chicago, Emily Tapia-Lopez, president of Transport Chicago steering committee said, “We have not identified remedies but we have identified the needs. The goal is to manage infrastructure improving the local economy.”

Transport Chicago includes members from CTA, Metra, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, University of Illinois at Chicago, Regional Transportation Authority, University of Illinois at Chicago and Cambridge Systematics.

Professor Laurence Rohter, who teaches civil architecture and environmental engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and also a Transport Chicago steering committee member, said the city needs to build connected bicycle paths that are segregated from automobile traffic and are all-weather.


“Due to the weather in Chicago,” Rohter said, “it must be all-weather. It would look something like the Minneapolis skyway system.”


Tapia-Lopez has her own suggestion for dealing with Chicago’s congestion.

“The solution is transit.” Tapia-Lopez said. She rides a bike in the summer and uses transit the rest of the year from the Bronzeville area to the Loop.