Driven down the Eisenhower lately and noticed a traffic slog?
Chicago was rated the third-most congested city in the nation last year by the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, down from its No. 2 spot in 2019. The annual report also lists the Eisenhower Expressway — particularly from I-290/294 to I-90/94 Interchange — as the most congested road in the entire country. Drivers down that segment of the Ike faced average peak delays of 10 minutes, losing 41 hours total in 2020 waiting in traffic.
COVID-19 dramatically transformed travel behavior across the country, nearly slashing downtown travel in half in major cities. Chicagoans lost 86 hours to traffic congestion in the U.S., and even with a 40% drop in delays from 2019, that still cost the average driver an estimated $1,279.
According to Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX, cities like Chicago have a high percentage of employment in their downtown areas and commuters who take public transportation — which explains why New York and Philadelphia take the top two spots on the scorecard.
The reduction in traffic congestion does have some benefits, Pishue said, like quicker commute times for essential workers, more reliable delivery times and streamlined freight transport. He said trips to downtown areas will likely continue to lag behind suburban and rural travel this year as well.
Chicago was down 22% in daily vehicle travel in 2020 compared to the year prior. Pishue said there were fewer miles traveled in 2020 during the morning commute versus off-peak hours and the evening commute because of less traffic to workplaces, he said.
“Will the morning commute spike as much as the PM commute in terms of congestion? The answer, at least for the short term of two or three years, is probably no,” Pishue said. “There’s a lot going on right now, not only the pandemic but people adjusting their lives to the pandemic.”
Worldwide, Chicago ranked No. 7 among the most congested cities, up three spots from last year.
Pishue said he noticed other places like Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany plummeted in the traffic congestion rankings because of their stricter COVID-19 lockdowns. It’s hard to compare cities’ traffic congestion on a global scale, he said, because of the different nature of these lockdowns.
“Chicago is always ranked fairly high along with New York,” Pishue said. “Our cities act pretty independently, whereas [European countries] are national in nature so they have to be broad and sweeping. It’s more of a result of what the other countries are doing versus what Chicago is doing specifically.”