2023’s traffic-volume trends are in!

It was on Mar. 15, 2023 that I posted: “U.S. driving miles up. VMT still lag pre-pandemic totals: Report.”

In that post, covered were things like comparing 2022’s to 2021’s aggregate driving totals, per-capita driving for the same two years, per-motorist driving totals as well as calculation of the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air from gasoline burned per vehicle for 2022. It worked out to 4.6 metric CO2 tons per vehicle, based, in 2022, on a “typical” driving distance of 11,500 miles and average vehicle fuel economy rating of 22 miles per gallon.

One year later, it’s time to talk aggregate yearly driving distance and one other metric: annual delay due to congestion.

As for the annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) data, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration’s “December 2023 Traffic Volume Trends” report was consulted.

For 2023, the estimated VMT is 3,263,739,000,000 (3.263739 trillion), up from 2022’s 3.196192 trillion and 2019’s pre-pandemic record high of 3.261772 trillion, an increase of 0.06 percent over 2019’s, and a 2.1 percent (67.5-billion-mile) increase over 2022’s total aggregate percentage numbers. Domestic aggregate distance driven, as is clearly evident, is on the rise.

Now, think about that in terms of delay due to traffic congestion.

According to Inrix data, for the latest year for which data is currently available, in this case 2022, the U.S. cities experiencing the most delay due to congested roadways is Chicago, followed by Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Miami, FL., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. whose annual-average-delay tallies in hours were 155, 134, 117, 114, 105, 97, 95 and 83, respectively. So, can you imagine being stuck in traffic in the Windy City for basically four full standard workweeks’ worth of time or in Washington, D.C. for two standard workweeks’ worth of time? This is time that could have been spent productively otherwise. Mind-boggling!

All of which has implications for air quality and climate.

We already know what the CO2 climate impact is from the aforementioned Mar. 15, 2023 Air Quality Matters post. And, all of that extra fuel burned sitting in traffic compounds the problem.

A reduction in the number of internal-combustion-engine-powered motor vehicle-miles driven supplanted by an increase in the number of non-ICE-powered motor-vehicle miles driven (which could consist of electric vehicle miles driven, or in the case of hybrid vehicles, those miles rolled off with either the vehicle under electric operation exclusively or where the electric motor contributes significantly to the total generated energy supplied to power the hybrid vehicle), could have an impact, to whatever degree that might happen to be.

To avoid the possibility of there being confusion, there is this from the “How to ‘properly’ classify partial zero-emissions vehicles, hybrids is the question,” Jul. 27, 2023 Air Quality Matters post.

“In a hybrid vehicle, the two so-called ‘separate but unequal’ propulsion devices (electric motor and internal-combustion engine) can either operate independently or in tandem, the pair thus complementing each other, all of which enables the overall operation of such a vehicle to be more fuel efficient and less harmful to the environment, that is, when compared to what the typical internal-combustion-engine-equipped vehicle (ICEV) is capable of achieving in that sense. Taking into consideration both types of vehicles – hybrids and PZEVs – these vehicles have a leg up on their straight internal-combustion-engine-powered cousins where the production of exhaust emissions is concerned.”

Any additional offset could be attributed to factors like motorists switching from ICE vehicles to transit or active modes like walking and biking.

While those numbers may not be all that impressive, in the air-quality improvement sense, every little bit helps.

In other news, meanwhile, the Cincinnati Connector streetcar has been seeing record ridership.

According to a Feb.13, 2024 City of Cincinnati news announcement, 2023’s 1,108,092 rides eclipsed 2022’s total 846,622 rides by 261,470 rides or a jump of 30.9 percent. These compared to 571,601 rides taken in 2017, the Connector’s “first full calendar year in operation.”

Updated: Feb. 23, 2024 at 8:15 p.m. PST.

Corresponding, connected home-page-featured image: U.S. Census Bureau via Wikimedia Commons

— Alan Kandel

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