You always hear people comment on how much easier it is to get to and from work these days, and maybe you yourself have noticed how much lighter freeway traffic seems to be. At first this was written off as a temporary effect of 2008's rocketing gas prices. Then, as the full effect of recessionary cost-cutting sank in, along with rising unemployment figures, we put two and two together: It's the economy, stupid driver!

Now, our anecdotal observations have been born out in hard numbers, based on statistics for 2007. The Texas Transportation Institute has released a report showing that rush-hour traffic has declined for the second consecutive year — the first-ever such recorded drop in TTI's history. According to the study, Los Angeles still tops the country's list for worst traffic, with about 70 hours of annual wait-time spent on freeways. But even here we averaged two fewer hours on the road in 2007 than during 2006 — which itself represented a drop in the amount of time spent in urban crawl. It seems those damned diamond lanes may be paying off for some, after all.

An Associated Press summary

reports that nationally, drivers spent 36.1 hours stuck in rush hour in

2007, down from 36.6 hours in 2006. AP additionally notes that “total

wasted fuel also edged lower for the first time, from 2.85

billion gallons in 2006 to 2.81 billion, or roughly three weeks' worth

of gas per traveler.”

One Good News/Bad News tidbit: If you live in Lancaster, L.A. County,

you're tied with Wichita, Kansas for suffering the least commute wait,

with only six hours spent trapped in sluggish traffic. The bad news:

You live in Lancaster.

All this was recorded before gas really started going up and the

economy completely tanked. Who's to say what they'll find out about

2008. The more things get worse, apparently, the better they'll be on

the road. Eh, Ma Joad?

LA Weekly