Bay Area residents might find it hard to mock Los Angeles for its traffic congestion anymore. A recent report ranks the San Francisco-Oakland area right alongside L.A. for traffic delays, second only to Washington, D.C. Bay Area commuters waste 61 hours per year sitting in their cars because of congestion. Where is the worst traffic in the Bay? And what does so much idling mean for drivers and the environment?

Bay Area Traffic Congestion Ties L.A.’s 13 February,2013forum

Tim Lomax, senior research engineer at Texas A&M Transportation Institute and a co-author of the institute's 2012 Urban Mobility Report
Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council
Michael Cabanatuan, transportation writer for The San Francisco Chronicle
Joe McConnell, Pacific Coast News bureau chief for Total Traffic Network

  • Guest

    I am certainly frustrated by my commute. However, if I take public transportation, my commute to work will be 2 hours long as the bus weaves in and out of streets making many stops. We need point to point fast public transport, somewhat like BART, we should not be driving cars in busy metro areas. Some companies like Google and Genentech are already doing that with their own buses. Carpooling is not an ideal option for folks with kids in school. I also wonder if carpooling could be structures to look like ride share.

  • William Walker

    Transit in San Francisco moves at 5 miles per hour. MUNI should eliminate stops operate more skip stop service on highly used lines.

    Better deploy paratransit to serve the mobility impaired.

    Eliminate the 28 CEOs for Bay Area transit agencies; merge them.

    Operate productive transit. Every bus that operates should be at least half full.

    Extend BART down Geary Boulevard and fast track other major rail projects throughout the region.

  • Amrutha Badrinarayan

    The goal is to ‘take off’ as many cars from the road as possible. Better for the environment and for inner peace. Companies should encourage telecommuting and offer flexible work hours that do not require you to be in the office by 9.00 am. This helps avoid commuting during peak traffic hours. Companies can also help by providing shuttle services to public transportation stops. Cities must offer better public transportation. In short, a less stressed employee is a more productive employee. This is a serious issue as it touches climate change, personal well being and productivity. Steps must be taken to address this issue seriously.

  • Jim Ahlquist

    The biggest difference between the Bay Area and LA is we have a huge body of water greatly limiting our movement East / West. We currently have three bridges crossing the bay. Is is set in concrete that we should never build a fourth bridge?

  • laura

    Ironically when I lived in LA my commute was less than a mile. Now living in Oakland I commute to Santa Clara and the driving commute is horrible. My husband grew concerned when I (a lifelong non smoker) began to wistfully mention a desire to smoke. He helped to find an alternative commute, I now bike and ride the capital corridor train. I feel far less stressed, but it still takes me a total of 3 hours total.

  • Chris OConnell

    Kar-ma. Cars have come to rule our modern lives. While the transportation value of cars is immense, our overwhelming dependence on them is destructive.

  • Elliott Eugene Blake

    Making the comparison between driving and Barting is viable because most of us need a car for one reason or another – I’m a musician and have to move lots of gear. But when pricing a commute driving is usually cheaper, faster and more convenient. Compared to the train system in Singapore which is clean on time and QUIET Bart is a total sham.

  • Ken Bukowski

    why don’t they allow trucks on 580. it is the only interstate in the us that doesn’t allow trucks. that would save truck drivers lots of time, and relieve congestion on 880

  • Ehkzu

    You can’t solve a problem when you consider everything except the source of the problem. In this case the source of our traffic congestion is the fact that the Bay Area’s population has doubled since the 1960s. You treat this as inevitable, when in fact it’s the result of local governments issuing building permits and water permits, one after another, vastly in excess of what our transportation infrastructure can support.

    Yet no one questions this–not liberals, not conservatives, because trade unions and developers both want it, at the expense of current residents. So they concoct crazy rationales–crazy because endless growth is unsustainable. Unless you think having the entire Bay Area look like Manhattan is a Paradise on Earth. It has to stop at some point–you can only build buildings so high, after all.

    But meanwhile our so-called planners plan to destroy our quality of life, as if that’s their sacred mandate.

  • I’m struck by how much this discussion resonates with previous Forum shows about the latest tech industry boom and its impact on the region and transit. Specifically, I’m reminded of how today’s industry giants don’t support public transit for their workers like companies would have 100 years ago but instead deploy special private buses transporting tech workers (aka the Google Bus). See: and

    • Riad

      Thanks for the links. I’m with you about the public transit and big business.

  • Nate

    I echo the British caller’s comments … why no comment from guests? I’m originally from Boston, and the organization of having actual passing lane “laws” would do wonders! There does not have to be fines, but at least educate with signs! Instead it’s just a mass of cars passing on all sides. Frequent lane change cannot help congestion.

  • Mjhmjh

    Like one of your callers, I’m from England. I agree that the overtaking from either side here is dangerous, but it seems to me that Califoirnia freeways are safer, because of the slower speed limits (and perhaps even the congestion!) In the UK, freeway accidents almost always result in fatalities – that seems to be the case far less often in the Bay area. When I arrived in California, I found the slow freeway speeds incredibly frustrating – now I am rather grateful for them!

  • Folks interested in the role of human nature related to traffic should check out Tom Vanderbilt book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do.

  • disqus_ElDWb6nuZQ

    One caller claimed that it was cheaper for him and his wife to commute and park in SF than to pay for BART and MUNI. As the panelist (Tim Lomax?) pointed out, there are a lot of costs associated with operating an automobile besides gas that people generally don’t take into account. If people only looked at the proportion of their transit fare that pays for the fuel (the way that most people do when considering the cost of a car trip), transit would look like a great deal!

  • Darragh Howard

    Hi michael.. Great conversation.. Fuel prices are the solution.. Higher priced fuel is a game changer.. Thx, Darragh Howard

  • Nathan Kline

    Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic is an entertaining activity, I suppose. While I appreciate the quality of the panel on the show, I reckon all participants make a living managing the problem at hand. That doesn’t make it easier to think outside the box.

    The Truth is simple, however: Silicon Valley is at full capacity! If you want to solve the problem, instead of managing it, pick another valley in California, set it up as a tax free (or as a tax-advantageous zone) and watch economic development spread in a way that distributes population load in a more balanced and sustainable manner.

    KQED Forum has had a parade of guests and topics that all point to the same thing: The Bay Area is crumbling under its own weight. There is no amount of deck chair rearranging that will solve housing, living and transportation costs, while personal incomes remain flat or decline slightly as they have over the past 10 years.

  • Iris

    The British guy hit the nail on the head. I’m not British, but I’ve driven in Europe enough to know that behavior does not have to be what it is here. And changing lanes is actually a great help, not a hinderance (Joe McConnell). Education needs to be provided through signage and initial driver’s training that helps people understand the merits of a passing lane. Then fines need to be given to drivers who are driving, not passing, in the passing lane and to drivers who pass on the right rather than using the passing lane. This may make no sense to people who know no different, but it could be implemented using European models as a benchmark. It would be a great help to the environment, as we have traffic back ups here at times when there is just no other explanation for it than disorganized driving behavior.

  • Mjhmjh

    As for the one highly desirable change that would improve things – I think that BART ridership might improve if it offered heavy discounts to regular travelers in the form of weekly/monthly/annual “season” tickets. The initial loss in revenue would probably be offset by regular ridership on the part of those who currently alternate between car and BART, or co-travelers who choose the former for financial reasons. And BART would benefit from receiving payment up to a year in advance.

  • John

    Do most people really need to live so far away from where they work?

  • John Tweed

    I think the comment by one panelist that San Francisco is approaching Copenhagen in terms of bike-ability is pretty delusional, perhaps except for leisure cycling. But then that’s not helping people who would prefer to use a bicycle to commute but don’t because of dangerous choke points. In my case, how do I safely get across 101 at SJ Airport? There is simply no joined-up thinking for non-car based commuting (echoing the comment on the absurd number of bay-area transit agencies).

  • cynthiaprice

    My solution: more motorcycles! We lanesplit, use the carpool lane, and pay next to nothing for parking. For me, it’s faster and cheaper than Muni.

  • Riad

    Time spent in a car is usually just wasted. When riding transit I can read or use my smart phone or a number of very productive activities. It may seem obvious but I’m surprised how many people who drive all the time don’t seem to realize this benefit of taking transit.

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