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July 10, 2012 at 11:39 AM

Seattle traffic congestion: 4th worst in North America

Seattle’s traffic delays worsened more than in any other North American city during the first quarter of 2012, says the Tom Tom traffic-data company, in a new report issued Tuesday.

This area ranked as the No. 4 most congested, compared to No. 12 earlier, says the survey issued Tuesday morning. Often the difference between ranked cities is minor, but the numbers regarding deteriorating drive times fuel amusing conversations and political rants.

Basically, when Seattle’s normal traffic snarls were combined with the snows of Jan. 18-19, we climbed in the rankings.  It turns out Jan. 19 was the slowest traffic day of the quarter here, while some cities with mild winters improved in the stats, said Nick Cohn, head of congestion research for Tom Tom. The onset of Highway 520 bridge tolls caused traffic diversion and delays on I-5, I-405, and I-90, but the Tom Tom report didn’t take note of that issue specifically.

Highlights include:

* The average Seattle-area driver wastes 35 minutes in slowdowns for every hour on the road, during commute periods.

*Morning commute times are 48 percent longer than in free-flowing traffic, while afternoon commutes take 70 percent longer. On a 24-hour average, the delay is 25 percent.

* Wednesday mornings and Friday afternoons are the worst times to travel.

The survey doesn’t measure transit trips, which are significant for downtown, the University of Washington, downtown Bellevue, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Seattle is approximately the seventh-busiest U.S. transit market, and in downtown most commuters don’t drive alone, but take a bus, carpool, train, bicycle, feet, or ferry.

Kirkland-based INRIX ranked Seattle No. 7 for delays, in a report earlier this year.

INRIX, a competitor to Amsterdam-based Tom Tom, says delay in 2011 was actually was a bit less than in 2010 because of high gas prices chilling traffic. Both companies supply in-vehicle navigation systems, and issue reports periodically, to promote their products which help drivers choose alternate routes.

INRIX also has collaborated with the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Texas Transportation Institute, which last year ranked Seattle 12th in congestion based on 2010 data.

The new findings follow a decade of flat or slowly declining miles driven in the Puget Sound area, though INRIX has predicted driving would increase post-recession.

The top 10 most congested cities, according to Tom Tom, are Los Angeles, Vancouver, Miami, Seattle, Tampa, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Houston, Toronto and Ottawa.

One cause for skepticism: Honolulu and New York didn’t make the list but made the INRIX Top 10. Cohn said its New York survey area includes suburban roadways that function well, while Honolulu simply wasn’t on the list of 26 cities examined.  In other cities, he said Tom Tom looks at a smaller area than other firms — only as far out as Burien or Renton in the case of Seattle — to avoid rural areas that dilute the results.

Comments | Topics: INRIX, Seattle traffic, Tom Tom

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