Boston was the most congested city in the U.S. for the second year in a row in 2019, with anyone who drives a vehicle losing 149 hours (or six days) to congestion, followed by Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C., according to the annual global traffic scorecard report by transportation analytics company INRIX.
As carriers promise faster delivery times and reduced emissions, some companies are looking for creative last-mile solutions that don't rely on traditional modes of delivery. Amazon, DHL and UPS, for example, are testing cargo bikes in New York City, which local officials say could help to reduce the city's congestion.
For trucks, congestion and bottlenecks are equivalent to as many as 425,533 truckers sitting idle in traffic for one whole year, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) said. ATRI released its Top 100 list for trucking-related bottlenecks in February based on truck GPS data from more than 1 million heavy-duty trucks. The top 5 bottlenecks are:
Fort Lee, New Jersey's I-95 and State Road 4 intersection
Atlanta’s I-285 at I-85 (North)
Nashville’s I-24 and I-40 intersection at I-440 (East)
Houston’s intersection at I-45 at I-69/US 59
Atlanta’s intersection of I-75 at I-285 (North)
Boston made the ATRI list at No. 64 because of the intersection of I-95 and I-90.
Delays are rising slightly across U.S. cities, but it does appear to be stabilizing in some of the most congested metro areas, the INRIX report shows. Congestion in Washington, D.C., has been reduced by almost 11% since 2018, according to the report.
Only congestion fees have a demonstrated capability to reduce congestion in the short-term, INRIX transportation analyst and report author Trevor Reed told Smart Cities Dive, Transport Dive's sister publication. But the trucking industry generally opposes specific fees and new tolls. The American Trucking Associations supports an increased federal fuel tax to improve infrastructure, arguing the overhead for the fuel tax is low.
New York City will be the first city in the U.S. to levy a congestion toll to drivers, while Seattle and Los Angeles are also studying plans. Questions remain however about how to best spend the revenue from the tolls, and whether some groups should be exempt from paying extra.
Other effective solutions to reduce congestion include smart intersections and curbside management, Reed said. Los Angeles, home to two of the most-congested corridors in the United States, is famous for its traffic signal network that has significantly reduced congestion, according to Reed.
Cities are also paying close attention to their curbs. "If Uber, Lyft and deliveries aren't having to stop in a lane of traffic to make their pick-ups or drop-offs, you're going to see a reduction in congestion", he said.
New York City is considering expanding delivery hours. Right now, final-mile deliveries take place between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. City planners are considering expanding those hours to relieve congestion. E-commerce retailers are also considering building "urban warehouses" closer to the populations they serve, cutting down on vehicle miles traveled.
Other cities are starting to implement car-free zones as a solution to congestion, as seen on San Francisco's Market Street. Austin, Texas, is also undergoing a car-free street pilot on Rainey Street.
There's a significant time crunch for cities to figure out the curb piece of the congestion puzzle. Urban last-mile deliveries are expected to increase 78% by 2030.
All these efforts point to signs of progress according to Reed. "Reducing congestion is probably more achievable than people popularly believe," he said.