It’s Friday afternoon and you’re ready to escape the city. If you picked up your keys and hit the road, how far could you get in an hour? In Los Angeles, you might not get far from city limits.

How far you get in an hour varies based on when you decide to leave. Using measurements from cell phones and vehicle sensors, Here Technologies, a location platform company, calculates how traffic conditions change throughout the day. That information can predict how far you can get if you depart at rush hour versus later at night.

Nowhere is the rhythm of traffic more visible than in Los Angeles. Should you decide to leave at 4 p.m., you probably won’t get far. You’ll barely make it 25 miles south to Long Beach. But, leave at night and you can get almost twice as far. Compare that to Dallas, where a commuter could leave at 4p.m. and still easily cover 50 miles.

The pattern of access and how it changes throughout the day reflects a city’s geography, economy. Traffic flow in Los Angeles is challenged by the fact that the city is cornered by the ocean to the west, and the mountains to the north. But L.A. is “particularly tricky,” said Madeline Brozen of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, because it’s “a city of a thousand villages without a center.” In addition, jobs have cropped up in adjoining coastal towns without affordable housing in those areas, exacerbating the problem.

Other West Coast cities are sandwiched by the Pacific Ocean and mountains to the east, squeezing traffic along a few big interstates that slow down at rush hour. And escaping some cities like San Francisco and Seattle might require crossing a bridge.

So what is behind the nightmarish traffic? Joe Cortright, president of Impresa Consulting, which specializes in metropolitan economies, says it’s about zoning and segregation. The model of the modern American city — with separate sections for living, working, shopping and eating — spurs congestion.

Although building more highways and bridges can go a long way to alleviating congestion, more roads can end up increasing the amount that people drive. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, notes Cortright — it means people gain more access to jobs and other opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.

Source: Washington Post