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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Not So Fast: A Study of Traffic Delays, Access, and Economic Activity in the San Francisco Bay Area

  • Author(s): Taylor, Brian
  • Osman, Taner
  • Thomas, Trevor
  • Mondschein, Andrew
  • et al.

The San Francisco Bay Area regularly experiences some of the most severe traffic congestion in the U.S. This past year both Inrix and the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) ranked the Bay Area third only to Washington D.C. and Los Angeles in the time drivers spend stuck in traffic. The TTI estimated that traffic congestion cost the Bay Area economy a staggering $3.1 billion in 2014 (Lomax et al., 2015). Such estimates are based on the premise that moving more slowly than free-flow speeds wastes time and fuel, and that these time and fuel costs multiplied over millions of travelers in large urban areas add up to billions of dollars in congestion costs. But while few among us like driving in heavy traffic, do such measures really capture how congestion and the conditions that give rise to it affect regional economies? This study explores this question for the San Francisco Bay Area by examining how traffic congestion is (i) related to a broader and more conceptually powerful concept of access and (ii) how it affects key industries, which are critical to the performance of the region’s economy.

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