International traffic congestion extinguished by the pandemic and remote working

The 2020 TomTom traffic index reflects a dramatic drop in urban traffic congestion levels around the world. Congestion levels (measured by the percentage of overtime required for car travel during “rush hour”) decreased in 387 urban areas while they increased in only 13 areas. The TomTom traffic index is produced by TomTom International BV. TomTom is known for its satellite navigation services for drivers and maps.

According to TomTom, “The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the way we live, work and move. Closures, remote working and other restrictions on movement have transformed the way people get around and reduced congestion in most cities. Similar results have just been reported for many other urban areas of the United States in Record Congestion Levels in Seattle, LA and San Francisco: The 2020 Urban Mobility Report, with a reduction in congestion of around 50% and greenhouse gas emissions linked to commuting also down by 50%.

TomTom reports that: “This year we have seen a massive exodus of people from capital cities across Europe. The day before the new closures took effect, it was the busiest day in Athens and London in 2020. Meanwhile, in Paris, traffic jams reached record durations, ”where a level of congestion of 142% was saved. This is an incredibly high traffic congestion index — 2.6 times the highest annual congestion level recorded in the most congested urban area (Moscow, at 54%, below) and 4, 4 times the level of congestion of Paris 2020 (Paris had the 42nd highest congestion index out of 416 urban areas).

Congestion levels by nation

The TomTom traffic index provides congestion levels for 10 or more urban areas in eight countries (including the European Union).

The United States has the lowest level of congestion, averaging 13.8% (Figure 1). This is not surprising, given the comparatively low densities of U.S. urban areas (Demography World Urban areas, annex 1, page 19) and the unprecedented dispersion of employment and the fairly comprehensive network of limited-access motorways. Canada ranks second, with 17.3%, despite an urban population density double that of the United States and more limited highways. Australia has the third best level of congestion at 20.2%. The UK, EU and China are ranked fourth through sixth, 0.7% of each other. Turkey’s congestion level is 26.7% while Russia has by far the highest level of congestion at 36.6%.

Figure 1

Congestion levels by population of urban areas

As might be expected, the worst levels of congestion are found in the largest urban areas (over 5,000,000), at 28.9% (Figure 2). The 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 category has a congestion level of 22.5%, The smallest category (less than 1,000,000) has a congestion level of 18.5%. Globally, the average congestion level is 21.2% (population categories in urban areas are based on data from Demography World Urban areas).

Figure 2

The highest and lowest congestion levels are discussed below, by population category.

Urban areas with more than 5,000,000 inhabitants

Due to the links (urban areas with the same level of congestion), 13 urban areas have the ten highest levels of congestion in the largest population category (5,000,000+ people), including seven in the United States. United and four in China.

The lowest congestion levels were recorded in Dallas-Fort Worth (United States) and Dongguan, China, both at 13% (Figure 3). Dallas-Fort Worth had the lowest level of congestion in this population category at least twice previously (2017 and 2015). Dongguan is an urban area of ​​the Pearl River Delta of about 8 million people, located between two much larger urban areas, Guangzhou-Foshan and Shenzhen.

figure 3

Rio de Janeiro had the third least congestion, while Madrid and Boston were tied for fourth. There was a three-way tie for 6th place between Suzhou (Jiangsu, China), Houston and Wuhan. Quanzhou (Fuzhou, China), Atlanta, Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia were tied at five for 10th best level of congestion. Quanzhou is perhaps the most decentralized urban area in China, with its “in situ” urbanization (urbanization in place, rather than expansion from a core) that involves the conversion of existing rural areas to urban areas, agricultural employment being replaced by non-agricultural employment. employment).

The highest congestion levels in the over 5,000,000 population category included six of the densest urban areas in the world: Bogota, Manila, Bangalore, Delhi, Lima and Pune (all with over 25,000 per square mile or 10,000 per square kilometer). By comparison, the average global urban area of ​​over 500,000 inhabitants is 10,800 per square mile or 4,200 per square kilometer.

The highest level of congestion was in Moscow, at 54% (Figure 4). The next three, tied, Mumbai, Bogota and Manila were tied at three for third worst congestion. Each of these three urban areas is very dense, over 30,000 per square mile (over 12,000 per square kilometer). Istanbul and Bangalore (Bangalore), India shared the 6th highest level of congestion. Delhi, the third largest urban area in the world, had the seventh highest level of congestion. Bangkok and Saint Petersburg share 8th position. There was a three-way tie for 9th place, which included Lima, Pune (India) and Chongqing (China).

Figure 4

Urban areas 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 Population

There are 12 urban areas with the top ten levels of congestion in the 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 population category, including 12 in the United States and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

There was a seven-lane tie between US urban areas for the lowest level of traffic congestion (9%) – St. Louis, Cleveland, Richmond, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Kansas City. Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) took 8th place. Abu Dhabi. There was a tie at four for 9th place between Louisville, Memphis, Columbus and Detroit (Illustration 5).

Figure 5

There are 11 urban areas with the highest levels of congestion in the 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 population category. Four are in Ukraine and two are in Russia.

The worst congestion was in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, at 51%, a higher level of congestion than in all other urban areas, except six, of any size (Figure 6), despite a population of less than 3,000,000 inhabitants. Novosibersk (Russia), number two, has an even smaller population, less than 2,000,000, but has a level of congestion that ranks 9th out of 164 urban areas. Ukrainians Odessa and Kharkiv come third and fourth, while Bucharest (Romania) ranks fifth, just ahead of Samara, Russia. Dublin and Dnipro (Ukraine) finished tied for seventh, followed by a three-way tie for ninth, made up of Recife (Brazil), Tel Aviv and Changchun (Jilin, China).

Figure 6

Urban areas with less than 1,000,000 inhabitants

There are 14 urban areas with the top ten levels of congestion in the population category below 1,000,000, including 12 in the United States, as well as Cadiz, Spain and Amere in the Netherlands.

Greensboro-High Point (United States) had the lowest level of congestion at 7%. A tie at six for second place included Cadiz, Dayton, Little Rock, Akron, Syracuse and Winston-Salem. Worcester (MA) took 8th place. There was a tie at 8 for 9th place, including Buffalo, Albany, Columbia (SC), Omaha, Knoxville, Grand Rapids and Rochester, and Amere (Figure 7).

Figure 7

Of the 13 urban areas with the highest levels of congestion in the under 1,000,000 category, five are in Poland. All the others are in European nations.

The highest level of congestion was in Lodz, Poland, at 42%, followed by two other Polish urban areas, Krakow and Wroclaw. Edinburgh was fourth, followed by another Polish urban area, Poznan. Sofia, Bulgaria had the sixth worst level of congestion, while Palermo (Italy), Gdansk (Poland) and Geneva shared 7th place. Tomsk (Russia), Brighton and Hove, and Hull (UK) and Limerick (Ireland) were tied at four for 9th place (Figure 8).

Figure 8

Change traffic forever?

As international traffic congestion indices have shown previously, the United States has dominated low levels of congestion. Thirty of the 39 urban areas with the top 10 levels of congestion were in the United States. China had six of the top 39 urban areas with the lowest levels of congestion.

TomTom suggests that “COVID-19 could change traffic forever” and envisions a future more based on remote working, in which “we will no longer waste hours stuck in traffic as working from home will become the norm for the community. most jobs. Rush hour traffic will disappear, making journeys faster and less stressful. This more environmentally friendly future, with its more rewarding lives, may well be achievable.


Wendell Cox is Director of Demography, an international public policy firm located in the greater St. Louis area. He is one of the founding members of the Institute for Urban Reform, Houston, Senior Fellow with the Border center for public policies in Winnipeg and member of the advisory board of the Chapman University Center for Demography and Policy in Orange, California. He was visiting professor at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris. Its main interests are the economy, poverty reduction, demography, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual review Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demography World Urban areas.

Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (1977-1985) and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council, to complete the term unexpired New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (1999-2002). He is the author of War on Dreams: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens Quality of Life and Towards More Prosperous Cities: A Scoping Essay on Urban Areas, Transport, Planning, and Dimensions of Sustainability.

Photograph: Downtown Dallas, Dallas-Fort Worth urban area: tied with Dongguan (China) for lowest congestion level in 2020 TomTom traffic index (by author).

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