9 Practical Tips For Avoiding Traffic At Any Time Of Day

by | Dec 31, 2019

There are 3 things you can count on living in Tampa Bay, where Protect My Car HQ is located.

Native Floridians complaining about summer lasting from April until November, tourists claiming we live in paradise year-round and have nothing to complain about, and traffic backing up on I-275 North in the morning and the evening.

I-275 is locally famous for having some of the worst traffic you’ll ever see. Pictured below is the Howard Frankland bridge, which crosses Tampa Bay and connects the cities of St. Pete and Tampa.

It’s also notorious for backing up during the morning and evening commutes.

The average Tampa driver spends about 87 hours a year in traffic. If you ask someone from here, they’ll probably tell you that about 80% of it is sitting on I-275.

But we should count ourselves as lucky, because according to Inrix’s 2018 traffic ratings, Tampa ranks 17th in terms of total congestion in US cities.

And surprisingly, Los Angeles isn’t the worst. In fact, Los Angeles only ranks a pedestrian 5th overall, outpaced by New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C, and surprisingly, Boston.

Boston, which has a great public transit system, also has the worst traffic in the country, at over 164 hours a year, making it the 8th most congested city in the world.

Boston’s tunnels, including the famous “Big Dig” are some of the most congested roadways you’ll ever see.

You can view the full list here, courtesy of Inrix.

Now that raises a question. Spending over two work weeks sitting in traffic each year is a complete waste of time, not to mention the severe negative effects it can have on your health.

Whether it’s the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring traffic induced pollution a major environmental risk to health, or major impact long commutes have on mental health, we know traffic sucks.

So how can we avoid it, or at least mitigate the negative effects?

Luckily, there are a number of people far smarter than I, who study what’s known as Traffic flow in engineering, who are actively working to solve this problem all over America.

That’s good, because the hours we lose in traffic are costing us, because your hour is worth more than you think, and pissing it away in traffic is not the best use of it. There are calculations that value your hour as high as $50 dollars an hour on average (it includes the value of making your money, improving your moneymaking skills, and investing the dollars you earn for future gains).

Would you pay $50 dollars an hour to sit in traffic?

I sure wouldn’t.

This is made even worse by the statistic that the average driver country-wide spends about 54 hours a year in traffic. Multiply this by our $50 an hour mark, and we’re looking at almost $3,200 dollars a year in wasted monetary gains.

That’s the vacation you wanted to take to the Bahamas, or that new necklace for your wife.

So let’s break down what you can actually do to claw some of those hours backs.

1: Use Public Transport If It’s Offered

What do Boston, Washington, Chicago, and NYC all have in common, besides being the 4 most congested cities in America?

They each have robust public transportation networks.

Before you turn your nose at the idea of public transportation, hear me out. Public transportation is by far, the best way to avoid traffic, and can severely curb many of its most negative effects.

Public transport:

  • Generates approximately $4 dollars for every $1 dollar spent.
  • Is very efficient in reducing pollution, cutting net emissions significantly
  • Reduces traffic congestion (hint hint)
  • Saves you an average of nearly $10,000 a year
  • Frees up time for you to do other things, like reading this article
  • Significantly reduces your risk of death. Driving is one of the most dangerous things we do on a daily basis.
  • Improves your fitness, walking to and from the bus stop or subway station.

Public transport systems in America used to be more comprehensive like our European counterparts, but the development of the car forestalled (or in some cases even directly impeded) the government funding for public transit.

Which is altogether too bad, considering all the benefits above.

But it ignores the benefit you’re really looking for: time savings, if you can handle getting elbow to elbow with people you don’t know.

Boston has the worst commuter traffic in America, for example. Luckily, I’m from Boston and can personally comment on this. Traffic in Boston is baaaaaad. By bad, I mean worse than Tampa.

For example, from Wollaston Station in Quincy to Harvard Square in Cambridge is only around 12 miles by car. I’ve driven this stretch several times, and with no traffic during non-peak times it takes about 25 minutes. It’s a nice ride.

However, this stretch backs up majorly during rush hour, with it taking up to 2 hours on certain routes.

The good news is this same route can be taken by train, and it takes about 30 minutes and only costs $5 for a round trip ride. The same trip in your car costs around $14 dollars – if you were just driving it with no traffic. The actual cost with traffic is much, much higher.

Saving more than 1 ½ hours and cutting costs by over 50%, taking the public transit option is the best way you can avoid traffic, if this option is viable for you.

But I know, not every city has great public transit. The 4 cities I’ve mentioned happen to have great public transit networks, but if your city doesn’t, you still have plenty of options.

2: Plan Your Day Around Traffic

Ideally there would be no traffic to deal with after all, but the ideal world isn’t the one we live in. When you’ve accounted for that, you can make a plan to deal with it.

If you’re like I was until recently, that involves occasionally glancing at Google Maps right around when you’re ready to go to work or leave.

But that’s less planning, and more reacting. Chances are, there’s not much you can do if all the routes are backed up at 5:00 PM. But who says you have to leave at 5:00 PM?

If your trip or workplace allows it, coming in early and leaving early might be a more viable option.

While before there was no way to compare times other than just driving it, today we have Google Maps and Waze, both of which can help you figure out the best route.

However, Google takes it a step further and allows you to see historical data based on when you leave so you can plan your route.

You can do this on your computer, or on your phone. For this example, I’ll demonstrate using my Android.

Step 1: Plot Your Course In Google Maps

Step 2: Click “Set Depart Or Arrive Time” and Find The Best Time In Terms Of Commute

Step 3: Compare Different Times To Find The Best Time For Each Day Of The Week

Plot out a number of different combinations. The 5 minutes you spend planning may save you several hours of commuting time if you can manage it.

For example, with my route above, I can save over an hour total by leaving at 7:00AM and returning at 6:00 PM. While this isn’t possible for everyone, if it’s possible for you, it’s worth trying.

3: Carpool If Possible

Carpooling doesn’t have to suck

I know, I know, this isn’t necessarily avoiding traffic, but hear me out. Traffic sucks, but it’s not as bad if you’re not the one behind the wheel, right?

Carpooling is a great way to cut down your driving, especially on a work commute. With just 1 other person, you can cut down on your driving by 50%.

Add another, and it’s 66%. See where I’m going? You’ll cut down time driving in traffic, and you’ll also save money on fuel.

Finding someone commuting near where you live doesn’t have to be hard either, thanks to the internet.

For instance, Waze has a feature that allows you to find carpooling partners, as does iCarpool and ridesharing.com.

Of course, you could also just do it the old fashioned way via the watercooler. Some larger companies also have carpooling programs, so check if this is an option you’d consider.

I don’t know how you feel about your coworkers, but if you like yours anywhere near as much as I like mine, you’ll have no problem carpooling.

4: Downtown Traffic Jam Got You Down? Take A Scooter Or Bike.

Just do a little better than this, please.

Downtown Tampa is overrun with scooter mania. Lime, Bird, Spin and Jump scooters can easily be found on all of Tampa’s street corners.

Scooters aren’t available everywhere, but they are available in a lot of places where traffic is the worst: downtown city blocks. While traffic is crowded by crossing pedestrians and a myriad of traffic lights, scooters offer you freedom to zip around the sidewalks at up to 15 MPH, or sometimes even faster.

I bet you’ll also have significantly more fun on a scooter than you will sitting in traffic.

The only downside to a scooter is the cost – which may run you $5-$10 dollars depending on how far you have to travel.

To mitigate that though, you could get a bike. A good bike can cost less than $1,000 dollars, which will quickly pay for itself. There’s the added benefit of exercise associated with a bike as well.

If you’re living in a densely packed city like New York, Chicago, or Boston, a bike or scooter will serve you a lot better than a car.

5: Hoof it

An extension of the above. Walking is great if you live in a walkable city and you only have a short distance between you and your workplace. Check out the list below for the top 10 most walkable cities in America to get an idea if walking could be the right solution for you.

6: Use Toll Roads

Toll roads are somewhat of a taboo topic, unless you’re an economist preaching for them to be used to allay a budget deficit.

We also need to exclude HOV lanes from this section, because it’s not actually proven that HOV lanes reduce traffic, while toll roads have multiple studies backing their ability to reduce traffic.

Toll roads often experience far less traffic on account of the price it takes to travel them. A 2003 study in England found that a congestion charge there reduced traffic by about 15%.

These roads are often better maintained, and result in a smoother transit experience. For example, the Selmon Expressway in Tampa is a toll road, and is often a much faster way to travel through Tampa as opposed to a non-toll road such as I-275, which is the road I mentioned in the beginning of this article.  

Toll roads are often avoided by most drivers, even though the cost you pay versus the time you save almost always works out in favor of taking the toll road. For example, the $2.00 dollar toll might save you 30 mins, and you’ll think “great, I only spent $2 dollars”.

But, you gained around $23 based on that $50 dollar an hour mark from the time you saved.

Neat, huh? So use that time well.

7: When It’s Time To Move, Factor In Traffic As A Cost

Urban planners like to talk about how no one solution will fix the traffic problem, and on some level, they are right.

Traffic is now a fundamental force of nature and will end up happening eventually no matter how many lanes are built by city planners and the like. More lanes, more cars on the road. It’s a simple, but maddening problem.

Luckily, while you can’t fix the problem, you can choose to avoid it.

We spend most of our daily driving time commuting to and from work.

But why does it have to be that way? Because we choose it.

Part of what made the traffic problem so bad, and our public transportation systems so lax was the increased urban sprawl as well as suburbanization we experienced in the post WW2 boom.  Cities were stretched, and only highways and the car knitted them together.

Whereas European capitals lack urban sprawl and are often tightly packed together and perfect for public transport.

Seriously, about a 15-minute drive outside of Paris, which is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and you’re in rolling fields.

Contrast that with cities in California where the suburbs extend for miles outside the city and we have a problem.

A problem that can be solved by making a smart choice of where to move.

That doesn’t mean moving closer to work – it might just mean moving where everyone else isn’t.

For example, my commute to work right now is about 15 miles. In the morning, it takes around 25 minutes. But coming home, it takes closer to 1-1.5 hours if I leave at a bad time.

However, my previous commute was even longer. It was closer to 16.5 miles, and took an additional 5 minutes or so in the morning, because there were no highways.

The big difference was in the evenings. Going home, there was no rush hour traffic to contend with and my evening commute was far less hairy, and would take about 30 minutes no matter when I left for a total daily commute of about an hour.

Compare that to my total commute time now of closer to 1.5 hours on a bad day.

That adds up over time!

That’s nearly 260 additional hours for me, and at the 50 dollar an hour mark, that’s equal to almost $6,500 lost a year sitting in traffic.

When it’s time for you to move, use the Google maps trick above to check out the commute times. Moving closer to work if it’s in the city core, or moving to a location where you won’t have to deal with rush hour traffic can really save you in the long run.

Honestly, it’s the best thing you can do on this list, so take it into consideration on your next move and learn from my mistake.

8: Be A Driver You Wouldn’t Want To Swear At

My now extensive list of cuss words was developed young as a result of growing up around New England drivers if you ask my dad.

For those of you from New England, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Because most traffic isn’t caused by accidents, or too many cars on the roadway at all. Instead most traffic is caused by bad driving and the butterfly effect.

When you cut someone off while switching into another lane and that person has to brake, the person behind them has to do the same, and so does the person behind them.

On a busy highway, that little ripple keeps echoing back down the highway and can eventually cause one of those phantom traffic jams where everyone ends up slowing down until an arbitrary point where traffic resumes again.

This article by Smart Motorist covers the entire phenomena in much more depth than I will here. https://www.smartmotorist.com/traffic-jams

If you want to do your part to reduce traffic, one of the best things you can do is to not be a d*** when you’re driving. Don’t tailgate, swerve into other lanes, or drive distracted. Any time someone has to hit the brakes when there are other cars around has the potential to create a traffic jam hours later.

Drive the speed limit, and maintain an acceptable distance between you and the other cars around you. Doing this regularly won’t necessarily impact your commute times, but if enough people choose to drive responsibly and avoid accidents, traffic will severely decrease.

9: Think About Your Job In The Context Of Traffic

You’ll spend most of your time driving commuting to and from your workplace – and if you don’t really take into consideration what your time is really worth, you could be coming up short by sitting in traffic.

A 2017 study published in the Harvard Business Review gave respondents two job choices:

Job 1 had a 50-minute round trip commute and paid $67,000 a year

Job 2 had a 20-minute round trip commute and paid $64,000 a year.

84% of participants selected the first option – and in doing so, valued their time at only $12 dollars per hour by choosing an additional hour of commuting per workday.

Yikes.

Even worse, the additional 250 hours of commuting places more strain on your car, and your mental health, which I can promise you is worth far more than $3,000 dollars a year.

When it comes time to pick your next job, just as when it comes time to pick the next place you live, you should make sure that the potential costs of a long commute are worth it.

The same Harvard Business Review study also found that adding an additional 20 minutes to your daily commute has the same effect on job satisfaction as taking a 19% pay cut.

And I know you don’t want to take a 19% pay cut.

If your job offers it, consider working remote. You can also raise working remote in lieu of a raise – which can be a win-win for you and your company, as it saves you and the company money while also increasing your morale.

Want To Save Time And Money? An Extended Warranty From Protect My Car Can Help.

Cutting down on your morning commute can save you a whole boatload of money. At the end of the day though, you’ll probably still have to commute at least a small distance, unless you’re 100% remote, in which case, good job saving the environment.

For the rest of us, our cars cost us on average $9,000 dollars a year. Do you have a plan in place to recoup those costs, or god forbid, pay them if they happen to come all at once in an expensive transmission breakdown during your evening commute?

With an extended warranty policy from Protect My Car, you’ll take even more worry out of your morning commute. If you break down, our 24/7 roadside assistance will be there to help you, and when your car makes it into the repair shop, you won’t have to pay for covered repairs.

Your entire policy can pay for itself in one repair, while the hardest thing you have to do is drive the car off the lot. We’ll handle all the work with the repair shop, while you can just relax, and you know, start planning ways to reduce your commute after you get the car out of the shop.

If that sounds like a good deal to you, get a quote with our free quote form below and see how inexpensive it can be to start saving thousands on auto repairs in less than 5 minutes.

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