My Traffic is Worse than Yours (and I’m about to prove it)

Mark Daniel by Mark Daniel, Vice President of Partner Relations at RealMassiveA.B. Economics Stanford University



The infrastructure in Austin, specifically the highway and loop system, is years behind the population. It’s been that way for the 25 years I’ve been coming down here. For a town its size (population 885,400 in the city limits, 2.0 million for the metro-area), Austin struggles with the traffic of some of the largest metropolitan areas. This is having a major impact on development (as development continues to have an impact on traffic) as drive times to and from work and play have become a major factor in the decision on whether or not to develop a specific site, or even a pitch used to promote one.

But how bad is it really?

I generated 50 random points in an area roughly 30 miles by 30 miles, with the Frost Bank Tower downtown at the center. I then used the drive time module of Project Atlas (powered by the Google maps API) to plot these points grouped by time. The result is shown below:

Drivetime Map

The average drive time at 8am was 33.9 minutes. At 5pm that increases to 38.6. For perspective, the average drive time at 11pm is 26.3 minutes, meaning the morning and evening commutes vary from “off-peak” by 29% and 47% respectively, the longest drive time being 73.0 minutes.

What does that mean? Are those good or bad times? Or as a friend of mine likes to say, “compared to what?”

Let’s run some comparisons using the same distances in other cities to get some perspective, starting with some similarly sized cities.

Indianapolis, IN:

MSA Population 1.989 million

Drivetime Map 2

Destination: Monument Circle

Average time: 8am – 25.0 min   5pm – 28.0 min

Longest time: 42.6 min

Off-peak: 24.4 min

Morning commute variance from off-peak: 2%

Evening commute variance from off-peak: 15%


Columbus, OH:

MSA Population 2.022 million

DriveTime Map 3

Destination: The Ohio Statehouse

Average time: 8am – 23.2 min   5pm – 31.0 min

Longest time: 43.3 min

Off-peak: 21.6 min

Morning commute variance from off-peak: 7%

Evening commute variance from off-peak: 43%


Let move to some larger cities with bigger traffic issues.

Houston, TX:

MSA Population 6.657 million

DriveTime map 4

Destination: Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co

Average time: 8am – 28.4 min   5pm – 31.9 min

Longest time: 47.8 min

Off-peak: 22.6 min

Morning commute variance from off-peak: 26%

Evening commute variance from off-peak: 41%


Atlanta, GA:

Population: 5.711 million

DriveTime Map 5

Destination: SunTrust Bank HQ

Average time: 8am – 32.7 min   5pm – 29.1 min

Longest time: 55.6 min

Off-peak: 21.3 min

Morning commute variance from off-peak: 36%

Evening commute variance from off-peak: 41%


Dallas, TX:

Population 7.103 million

DriveTime Map 6

Destination: City Hall

Average time: 8am – 23.8 min   5pm – 24.8 min

Longest time: 41.7 min

Off-peak: 19.6 min

Morning commute variance from off-peak: 21%

Evening commute variance from off-peak: 27%

I’m going to stop there, but feel free to send me an email if you would like to see this analysis for your city, or for a specific site or building.


To summarize –

Highest average times:

8am #1 Austin, #2 Atlanta

5pm #1 Austin, #2 Houston

Longest commute: #1 Austin, #2 Atlanta

Morning commute variance from off-peak: #1 Atlanta, #2 Austin

Evening commute variance from off-peak: #1 Austin, #2 Columbus

Just to be sure, I ran some tests. If you remove the ten longest drive times from the Austin data, it still comes in at #1, ahead of Houston. I ran three more randomized simulations of Austin for 5pm traffic and, even using the best (shortest times) result, it was still 11% worse than #2 Houston.

For obvious reasons I did not select Los Angeles or New York. I know there are other cities with worse traffic, but I was honestly surprised at how bad traffic is in Austin compared to the cities above, most of which I personally have driven in (I really expected Atlanta to put up more of a fight).

I hope you enjoyed seeing the analysis as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Happy driving, wherever you may be fighting the traffic.

Click here to learn more about what Project Atlas and our drive time module can do for you.

The drive time module of Project Atlas is designed to help developers and investors better understand potential traffic issues, especially in markets with which they are unfamiliar, helping to avoid investment in a location which may look “drive-able” but which carries serious traffic risks. Brokers typically use this module to help their clients better understand the impact of office relocation on their employees.