Sep 26, 2022 - Economy

Traffic is coming back to downtowns across America

Change in traffic congestion in most populous U.S. cities
Data: StreetLight; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Downtown traffic congestion in major U.S. cities has risen significantly since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but remains short of pre-outbreak levels, per a new analysis.

Why it matters: The pandemic has been an opportunity for cities to rethink their approach to car traffic.

  • New York City, for instance, is moving forward with "congestion pricing" — essentially tolling downtown-bound drivers — to reduce the number of cars on the road.

Details: Traffic congestion — as measured by the amount of time vehicles spend in traffic compared to the time such travel would take in free-flow conditions — is down about 27% across major U.S. cities' downtowns compared to pre-pandemic levels, per research from traffic data firm StreetLight.

  • Downtown congestion is closest to its pre-pandemic levels in San Diego, Phoenix and Houston.
  • It's furthest from these levels in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Jose.

The big picture: The resurgence in downtown traffic "may signal good news for the economy, but it's bad news for overall emissions and quality of life as traffic congestion makes a comeback across America," reads StreetLight's report.

Go deeper