Traffic is getting worse! According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s annual survey of U.S. metro area traffic, Washington D.C. ranked #1 for the most time spent in gridlock; in 2011, drivers there spent 67 hours delayed in traffic, at a cost per vehicle of $1,398 in wasted productivity and 32 gallons of extra fuel required. The other top traffic cities were Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Boston.
Luckily, new technology means that there are new ways to deal with traffic jams. From creative gadgets and strategies to iPhone and Android apps, here are 12 of the most effective tools to combat gridlock:
Waze is a traffic app all about sharing information with other drivers – and it provides you with navigation, too. This free, user-friendly app collects data about your commute and updates nearby drivers with warnings. You’ll be alerted about before you approach police, accidents, road hazards, traffic jams and detours. Waze – which is available for both Android and iPhone – also fills you in on where you can find the cheapest gas.
When we’re running late because of traffic, we want to text the people we’re meeting and let them know – but texting while driving often results in accidents, which means more traffic jams. It’s a vicious cycle that the innovative app Twist is hoping to end. Available on Android and iPhone, Twist estimates your arrival time and lets people know you’re going to be late.
When we choose a route, we tend to pick the shortest distance between two points – but that means that we all rely on the same smaller roads, jamming them up. The app Greenway, Germany’s entry into Microsoft’s 10th Imagine Cup student technology competition, routes cars more efficiently by using under-utilized roads. If just 10% of drivers in a city used the app, the system would alleviate traffic.
4. Local 511 Information
One of the downsides of traffic apps is that they’re one-size-fits-all for every city and location. You might have the best luck with apps and websites that specifically cater to your city. For example, search for “511” and your city to see what comes up; 511 services differ from city to city, and might be called different things in different places (511.org, for example, is San Francisco’s 511). These services offer information about routes, traffic, public transit, apps, etc.
With the TomTom app for iPhone, iPad and Android, you’ll have access to continually updated navigation and directions. Free daily map changes from the Map Share community ensure that you’ll be aware of changes like new speed limits and blocked roads. Other cool features include alerts for mobile and fixed speed cameras, and the latest TomTom map available without a mobile signal (great if you’re on a road trip that takes you out of a cell service area).
6. INRIX Traffic
Available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry, INRIX considers every traffic factor, including traffic congestion, road construction, accidents, events, police activity, and historical traffic patterns. Features include Real Time Traffic, live traffic alerts, arrival time sharing and traffic forecasting. Inrix also helps you figure out the best time to leave.
If you know where you’re going and just want a quick glance at what might be in your way, check out the SigAlert app for iPhone (or check SigAlert’s website before you leave home or work). SigAlert provides a crazy amount of detail compared with basic navigation apps; you’ll get color-coded maps, traffic flow information, camera feeds, and up-to-date information about accidents and construction. It’s only officially available for iPhone, but you can also download Android apps that optimize viewing the Sigalert website on your phone.
8. Traffic Calming
Traffic congestion can mean unhappy residents – and many European cities have implemented “traffic calming” measures to improve social interactions. For example, when roads are made to be narrow, drivers tend to drive slower and pay more attention. Other traffic calming measures include traffic circles, speed humps (one of the least-expensive solutions), designated roadway spaces for public transit and bulbed-out sidewalks (also known as curb extensions). Traffic calming suggests that traffic isn’t just a physical problem; it can be approached from a psychological and social standpoint as well.
BMW created the Guggenheim project to find traffic solutions for large urban areas – and one solution in Mumbai was the addition of skywalks. The skywalks, which connected central points of interest such as train stations and airports, allow small traffic made of rickshaws, small tricycles and tutus to go around the city.
10. Google Maps
As both a website and a smartphone app, Google maps is a reliable source for both navigation and live traffic. Explore multiple driving routes (with arrival estimates), as well as options for biking, walking and public transit (both buses and subways). You can also save common destinations in “my places” and use street view to identify what your destination looks like ahead of time.
Amanda has been writing for several entertainment, tech, shopping and business websites since 2009. A resident of Los Angeles, she also works as a screenwriter, script reader and tutor. She's obsessed with film and TV, and is not afraid to admit that her Samsung Galaxy SIII is her most prized possession.