Traffic’s awful so the economy must be getting better, right?
“Summertime and the living is easy,” the old song goes. And in theory, summertime commuting should be a little easier too, what with many folks taking vacations. And then there’s telecommuting. Shouldn’t telecommuting mean fewer cars on the road during rush hour?
But traffic seems only to be getting worse. By one measure, Metro Boston’s traffic congestion in June was 28 percent higher than it was in June 2012.
That’s the conclusion of INRIX, a Big Data company in Washington state that analyzes traffic flow in the country’s top 100 cities by using massive amounts of input from everything from cars equipped with GPS devices to roadside sensors.
For the month of June, traffic congestion was up nationally by 8.3 percent on a year-to-year comparison basis, INRIX said in a press release. In Los Angeles, the increase was 12 percent. For Atlanta, congestion was up 10 percent.
According to INRIX, traffic congestion can be an indicator of economic health. When the unemployment rate goes up, there are, of course, fewer commuters. When consumer confidence falls, fewer people go shopping or go out to dinner. In 2008, when the recession hit, traffic on major highways in US urban areas fell sharply, INRIX analyst Jim Bak said.
Sometimes, when looking at reports and spreadsheets (or consulting personal experiences), it doesn’t seem as if the recession is over. Just over a week ago, a report came out that found that the Massachusetts economy between April and June grew at an annual rate of less than 1 percent, while the US economy grew at a 1.7 percent annual rate during the same period.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts unemployment rate in June rose to 7 percent, its highest level in nearly two years. Federal budget cuts, weakening global growth, and uncertainty about US economic policies contributed to a slow-down in hiring.
Still, heavy local traffic suggests an economy on the mend, in part because people are out spending money and companies are shipping goods. Meanwhile, big construction projects, such as work on the Longfellow Bridge, increase the odds of gridlock.
INRIX’s recent report on June traffic included a statement from company chief executive Bryan Mistele, who said: “Last year at this time, we saw a 19 percent year-over-year decrease in traffic congestion levels. Yet we turned a corner in December. Aside from a slight pullback in March, we’ve seen higher levels of consumer spending and employment lead to dramatically higher levels of gridlock on our roads nationwide.”Chris Reidy can be reached at email@example.com.