When the President announced that he, along with 250,000 of his closest friends were visiting Austin on the first day of South By Southwest, people were predicting “Carmageddon.” In truth, on a regular day, traffic in Austin is pretty bad. We all know that I-35 is the most congested road in Texas. Add a presidential motorcade and a rolling blockade onto the already blocked-off streets for SXSW, and you’d have been excused for anticipating disaster.
But the Mayor had a different plan. He asked everyone who could to work from home. It was that simple. It was just an idea, a suggestion for those with the flexibility and inclination to take it. And perhaps if Adam Hammonds at KEYE hadn’t been interested in the idea, it might not have worked. But Hammonds did an interview with the Mayor about this that was shared more than 53,000 times on the Internet. The word spread. AISD and the City of Austin decided to let out at noon. Downtown business encouraged their employees to work from home. We expected the worst, so everyone did their best to avoid driving during rush hour.
If you were anywhere near Austin that day, you probably remember how great it worked. Those who did commute said that they hadn’t seen traffic that good in Austin since the 1980s. People reported getting a lot more work done at home. In fact, the only problem people reported was that so many people went to their favorite coffee shops to work that the coffee shops were too crowded.
We know how it felt to live even for a day without traffic congestion. Now we have numbers to quantify it. On March 11, drivers during peak times on MoPac experienced a 60% reduction in travel times versus an average Friday. On Highway 183, travel times were down by half compared to an ordinary Friday, and we know how bad ordinary Fridays are.
On our downtown corridors — Cesar Chavez, Congress, Guad, Lamar, Lavaca, South 1st — drivers during peak times saw a 32% drop in traffic volume and a 22% from in travel time compared to an average Friday.
We can do this on a regular basis. If only one out of every five of us skips driving during peak hours, we will experience free-flowing traffic. Take a bus, walk or bike, go in early, carpool… whatever works for you works for Austin.
We’ll have some announcements soon about doing this again.