Study: Grand Rapids commuters lose 51 hours a year to rush hour traffic

Study: Grand Rapids commuters lose 51 hours a year to rush hour traffic
<strong> Photo by iStock </strong>

Recent insights on rush hour traffic and commuter patterns in Grand Rapids showed lost time, but one organization hopes to ease transportation options and access.

CoPilot, an assisted car shopping experience app, recently published the results of a study, which examined cities across the U.S. where commuters lose the most time in rush hour traffic.

Analyzing data from a 2021 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) and TomTom’s latest U.S. traffic index, researchers from CoPilot ranked metropolitan areas according to extra time added to “a standard 30-minute commute.”

The report found workers in the Grand Rapids region see their commutes extended by a total 12.3 minutes each day due to rush hour traffic and an extra 51.3 hours spent in rush hour traffic annually.

By comparison, the average extra daily commute time for the U.S. overall is 14.4 minutes per day and over 60 hours total each year as determined by CoPilot. The top three metropolitan areas with the most time lost to rush hour traffic include the New York-Newark-Jersey City area, the greater Los Angeles region and urban Honolulu.

While the statistics for Grand Rapids are more optimistic than the rest of the U.S. for daily travel times, the CoPilot study indicated Grand Rapids is slightly behind the average in terms of public transportation use. Findings show just over 95% of commuters in the region use private transportation compared to 92% for the national average.

Traffic and commuter patterns are a key part of what Laurel Joseph, director of transportation planning for the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council (GVMC), sees as important factors for the work her organization does.

“With our local, state and federal partners, GVMC does long-range and short-range regional transportation planning covering all modes of transportation with congestion being one of the many factors considered during those processes,” Joseph said.

Studies like CoPilot’s recent report can be insightful, but additional perspectives help paint a clearer picture. While the CoPilot study defined a standard commute as 30 minutes, the 2021 ACS cited a number closer to 20 minutes as the mean travel time to work for Grand Rapids residents.

“Congestion is definitely a relative concept and felt differently by different people, but I think generally as a whole we experience congestion in our region at pretty specific times of day in particular locations (and) corridors,” Joseph said.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted traffic and commuter patterns in recent years due to quarantines and remote work. TomTom’s traffic index for Grand Rapids showed an obvious decline in congestion levels in 2020 followed by a spike in 2021.

In fall 2022, JLL Senior Vice President Jeff Karger said downtown Grand Rapids now had an estimated 35-40% of workers commuting into the office each week. The number peaked on Wednesdays, and traffic tended to be lighter on Mondays and Fridays.

For those who do commute to the office, GVMC found 90% of workers in the region who use private transportation drive alone to work. In light of this, the organization is working on its Regional Transportation Demand Management Plan, a project which will help identify how the organization can boost transportation options and access in Kent County and the eastern portion of Ottawa County.

Working with its member agencies, GVMC said it hopes to create opportunities to make every trip — whether to work, school or appointments — faster and more efficient.

Part of the reasoning behind the plan is the region’s population growth in recent years. The study area consisting of Kent County and part of Ottawa County has seen a 10% population increase in the past 10 years, according to GVMC.

“(We are) looking at how we can advance mobility and increase transportation options and access in our region for all types of trips — work and non-work — to stay ahead of and mitigate severe congestion, among other goals,” Joseph said.

Currently, the plan process is underway in an assessment and program evaluation phase. The final report is expected to be completed this fall.

More information on the plan is here.

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