where have all the cars gone?

New study drives home how drastically Houston traffic dropped in 2020

New study drives home how drastically Houston traffic dropped in 2020

houston traffic highway
Houstonians gained valuable time on the road in 2020. Photo by LUNAMARINA/Getty Images

Houstonians are still gauging all that they have lost during the pandemic, but one thing they gained in 2020 was time — specifically, in traffic.

Drivers who noticed less cars on the roads were witnessing a 33 percent drop in traffic in 2020, compared to 2019. That data comes courtesy of a new study by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Houston traffic congestion levels dropped from 24 percent to an impressive 16 percent during the pandemic.  In April, during the peak of area stay-at-home efforts, Houston’s congestion level plummeted to 6 percent, the lowest of the year. February saw the highest congestion level of 2020 at 26 percent.

For some perspective, in 2019, a 30-minute took an extra 37.5 minutes than a trip during less congested conditions, the study notes.

Further illustrating the headache of 2019 commuting, local drivers lost some 119 hours of extra travel time during peak hours. The study also found that in 2019, Houston drivers lost 119 hours of extra travel time driving during peak hours.

Compare that to 2020, where local drivers lost a mere 71 hours of travel time, which is two full days less than 2019. What can one do with an extra two days? Besides the obvious Netflix and chill option, that savings offers enough time to read 3,588 pages of Marcel Proust’s 4,211-page whopper, In Search of Lost Time, the study notes.

Less cars on the road was extremely beneficial for the environment, the study adds. U.S. greenhouse gas emission from energy and industry dropped more than 10 percent in 2020 — the lowest recorded level in 30 years.

Thus, the good news is that with more Houstonians working from home, commute times and the local environment benefitted. However, the study notes that with the advent of COVD vaccinations, a subsequent return to work, and with no real policy changes planned, Houston’s traffic headaches could soon return.

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