Still in the Fast Lane

The AAA estimates that almost 37 million people will travel this Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. Because almost 31 million people will travel by car, roads and highways across the country are sure to be crowded. For special occasions such as this holiday, it’s relatively easy to plan how long it might take to get where you’re going by car. But when traveling on business, it’s not always as clear.

Rush hours can vary wildly from city to city — in terms of time on the road as well as what routes to take to avoid traffic jams. And if you’re not familiar with local roads, rush hour can pose a real challenge. To help you plan ahead for your next business trip, I have compiled a rush hour reference to give you a few handy guidelines about motorized comings and goings in eight major cities. A previous installation of Transit Authority featured eight additional cities. All of this information can be found in greater detail in the city guide sections of the Business Travel Almanac.

New York Into the city 7:30-9:30 a.m.; out of the city 5-7 p.m. Getting across town (east-west) is much more difficult than going uptown or downtown, especially in Midtown and during rush hour, when a cross-town trip can take 30-plus minutes. Midtown automobile and pedestrian traffic can be particularly dense during the Christmas season.

Trips out of the city on summer Friday evenings 3:30-7 p.m. and into the city on summer Sunday evenings 5-9 p.m. can be even longer because you’ll find yourself stuck in bridge and tunnel traffic with New Yorkers heading out to and returning from their weekend getaways.

Orlando Into the city 7-9 a.m.; out of the city 4-6 p.m. On Interstate 4 — the main artery into downtown — it’s particularly bad going west, into downtown, in the morning and traveling east, out of downtown, in the afternoon. Traffic is especially congested in Orlando during the tourist seasons — Christmas, the month of March, the weeks around Easter, and the summer months. During these periods, heavy commuter traffic is compounded by droves of Disney-bound tourists.

International Drive is not really affected by rush hour traffic, although the traffic there can be heavy if a large convention or two is in town. It’s also heavy during the peak tourist seasons.

Philadelphia Into the city, from 7-9 a.m.; out of the city, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Driving into and around Center City, although easy to navigate, is sometimes difficult — primarily due to traffic congestion on narrow streets, especially during rush hour. The Schuylkill Expressway is often tied up for miles. But overall, Philadelphia traffic is mild compared to most major cities. Count on adding an extra 25% in travel time during rush hour.
Phoenix 7:30-9 a.m. into the city; 4-6:30 p.m. out of the city Traffic is most congested on the major freeways driving into the city in the morning and then out in the evening — and can double commute times. When traffic is flowing, watch out for the southwestern propensity for speed.
San Francisco From the East Bay into the city, 6:30-8:30 a.m.; out of the city to the East Bay, 4-7:15 p.m.; from San Mateo County into the city, 6:15-8:30 a.m.; out of the city to San Mateo County, 3:45-7:15 p.m. Don’t be surprised if it takes an hour to get over the Bay Bridge during rush hour. You can hit gridlock on any day at any time heading in and out of the city, especially going over the Bay Bridge and leaving or entering the city from Highway 101. Sunday afternoon traffic can be heavy as well, especially over the bridges. Overall, however, traffic is less congested than in the heydays of the late ’90s. (There are fewer employees heading to dot-com jobs.)

If you are traveling between San Francisco and San Jose, highway 280 is a good alternative to the 101. Traffic is a bit lighter, and it is more scenic. In either case, allow a minimum of an hour during non-rush hour and at least 90 minutes during rush hour.

Traffic, in both directions, is so bad on Highway 880 during rush hour that you’ll want to bring food and a change of clothes.

Seattle From Seattle to Bellevue (east on I-90 and Highway 520) 6:30-8:30 a.m.; from Bellevue to Seattle (west on I-90 and Highway 520) 4-7 p.m.; into downtown Seattle, 6:30-8:30 a.m.; out of downtown Seattle, 4-7 p.m. On the east side, I-405 rush hour traffic is heavy in both directions. Seattle traffic, although better than in the late ’90s, is still very heavy, both during rush hours and throughout the day. Also, keep in mind that early darkness and rain can cause afternoon rush hours to extend in the winter.

If you are heading over either of the Lake Washington bridges to or from the east side, listening to local radio stations may help you choose the least crowded bridge. The trip to downtown Bellevue from downtown Seattle takes about 15 minutes (up to 30 minutes during rush hour).

Washington, D.C. Into the city 6-10 a.m.; out of the city 3-7 p.m. Make sure that you pay close attention to traffic signs; during rush hour in the downtown area (between 7-9:30 a.m. and 4-6:30 p.m. weekdays), sections of certain streets become one way, and the traffic lanes of other streets may change direction to accommodate traffic.

Traffic is almost always heavy in both directions on the Beltway (a six- to eight-lane freeway made up of two separate highways — I-495 on the west and I-95/I-495 on the east). If you can, try to avoid the Beltway.

Obvious Disclaimer: The above information is offered as a general guideline only. Ranges and times are approximate.