RELEASE: Annual Congestion Report is Flawed, Biased, and Ignores Smart Growth Solutions

For Immediate Release
August 26, 2015

Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 703-599-6437
Alex Posorske, CSG, 202-675-0016 

WASHINGTON DC — Once again, the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) has issued its annual congestion report and has ranked the Washington DC region number one for congestion.

“TTI’s annual congestion report is great for grabbing headlines, but the report is deeply flawed and biased in not accounting for the congestion avoided by hundreds of thousands of DC area residents due to our smart growth policies and transit investments,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “The report exaggerates congestion, underplays the major declines in driving by large demographic groups, and ignores the wide ranging economic, social, and environmental benefits of smart growth policies and transit, pedestrian and bicycle investments.”

“It’s not news that our region with its strong economy has traffic congestion. The real news is that the DC region now offers more and more residents options to avoid congestion and more and more people are choosing those options,” Schwartz said.

The District of Columbia is experiencing booming growth, adding 83,000 residents in a decade, the vast majority of whom don’t own cars and use transit, walk and bike to work. This change isn’t measured by TTI.

People are flocking to transit-oriented neighborhoods in DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Tysons, Bethesda, Silver Spring, White Flint, Hyattsville and other locations. Changing demographics and market demand are playing a big role as millennials and downsizing empty nesters are seeking more convenient places where they can live closer to jobs and use transit, walk, and bicycle.

Data from Arlington has shown that traffic has been flat and even decreased over the past decades, while transit, walking, and biking have dramatically increased. This has taken place as Arlington has added millions of square feet of development and tens of thousands of housing units to their Metro station corridors, demonstrating that smart growth investments contribute to reducing traffic. This isn’t accounted for by TTI.

But it’s not just happening near the core.  The opening of the Silver Line and extensive new development in Tysons Corner, have been followed by a 15% decline in traffic according to a recent report. Mixed use centers in White Flint and Reston are booming, and even in suburban communities, “new urbanist” models like Kentlands and King Farm offer the possibility of walking or bicycling for many daily trips or the option of a shorter car trip. Again, this isn’t accounted for by TTI.

“Todd Littman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute has routinely pointed out the flaws and biases in the TTI report, which tend to exaggerate congestion, ignore the decline in driving, and fail to account for the congestion avoided due to smart growth and transit investments,” said Schwartz. He shared with us and others via email his quick review of this year’s TTI report, including the following criticisms:

  • The TTI report ranks the cities with the strongest transit systems the worst on congestion, ignoring the much lower automobile commute mode shares in the transit cities, and therefore the lower per-commuter congestion delays.
  • The report fails to note that peak congestion costs per commuter peaked in 2005 and that the peak in automobile travel took place between 2000 and 2005, and that millennials and retiring baby boomers are driving less.
  • It doesn’t account for cities that have reduced the per capita miles driven due to smart growth investments.  For example, Joe Cortright points out that, due to Smart Growth policies, Portland residents drive 20.3 average daily miles, about 20% less than the U.S. average.
  • The report uses the freeflow baseline speed which often significantly exceeds legal speed limits. As a result, about a third of its estimated congestion “cost” simply reflects motorists reducing their speeds to what is legal.
  • The discussion of congestion relief strategies fails to recognize that roadway expansions contradict other planning objectives and only provide short-term congestion reductions due to induced vehicle travel, while improving alternative modes (particularly grade-separated transit), and incentives such as efficient parking and road pricing, help achieve other planning objectives such as consumer savings, reduced parking congestion, increased traffic safety, improved mobility for non-drivers, and improved public fitness and health.

“In short, we are concerned that the TTI rankings are ultimately simplistic and misleading, undermining thoughtful discussion of our land use and transportation challenges and solutions. The Washington DC region is leading the nation in offering effective alternatives and personal solutions to congestion – well-planned, walkable and transit-oriented neighborhoods and centers. Regions like ours that invest in smart growth and transit offer the opportunity to drive less, avoid congestion, improve health, and attract the next generation workforce and companies,” Schwartz said.

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at

Contact information for Todd Littman, Director of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute

Todd Litman (
Victoria Transport Policy Institute (
Office: 250-360-1560 | Mobile: 250-508-5150
1250 Rudlin Street, Victoria, BC, V8V 3R7, CANADA
(Note that Mr. Littman is enroute to Santiago, Chile for a conference)