Author: Maolin Wang

Program of Study: PhD in Chemistry, Physical Sciences Division (PSD)

Traffic Congestion in Chicago. (Source:

Description: The traffic situation in Chicago has gradually deteriorated in recent years and it has become the top three congested cities in the US. What are the reasons for it, what impact will it bring to the public and how can people deal with it?

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Transcript (provided by author): 

#1: Welcome to the ELI’s Finding Chicago Global Perspectives Podcast Series for AEPP 2020. I’m your host, Maolin Wang, and I’m currently enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Department of Chemistry. Today we will explore the topic of Traffic Jams in Chicago.

#2: I came to Chicago for the first time last summer. When I traveled from O’Hare Airport to the University of Chicago, I was deeply impressed by the continuous cars on the I-90 highway. On that day we spent 1 hour and 10 minutes while it originally only took 40 minutes. Later, I found that Chicago has become the second most congested cities in the US. But, what are the reasons? Some people think that the development of economy and low gas price cause more and more cars on the road [1]. Others think that congestion is mainly caused by the road network in Chicago. Take the I-90 as an example, it undertakes most of the transportation tasks to and from O’Hare Airport and the northwestern area of Chicago.

With up to 330,000 vehicles traveling on it daily, excessive traffic flow makes I-90 highway becoming the top ten most congested roads in the US, according to Wiki [2]. Besides, the geographical reason is also important [3], Chicago’s high density next to Lake Michigan limits the diffusion of traffic congestion across the surrounding area. Chicago’s cold winter also plays a big role, it pushes drivers come to taking more short-distance trips. And heavy snows in winter can also make vehicles stagnated on the road or even traffic accidents. These reasons take together and lead to the deterioration of traffic conditions in Chicago in recent years.

#3: Not only Chicago, but most of metropolises in the world, such as New York, London, and Beijing, are experiencing severe traffic congestion. This increases travel costs and much time is wasted on commuting. In 2019, commuters in Chicago in the metro area lost 24 minutes per day because of congestion, according to a report from INRIX [4].

Additionally, traffic congestion in the downtown area makes air quality worse. When rush hour becomes a frustrating time, people who originally planned to go to work or go home to relax will also feel worse, even many drivers will have road rage [5]. Therefore, a city with good traffic conditions can not only convert this wasted time into output, but also improve people’s quality of life. Traffic congestion in big cities needs to be solved urgently.

There are many solutions to traffic congestion. Comprehensive public transportation facilities can greatly improve traffic efficiency and cut down the frequency of traffic congestion. Many big cities around the world provide us with lessons and Tokyo is a perfect example. The Tokyo Metropolitan Area has a 1500-mile rail transit network [6]. The punctuality rate of it is super high, basically in seconds calculated, according to the Car World website [7]. All cabins are air-conditioned, and the seats are automatically heated in winter. The extremely punctual, fast and comfortable rail transportation system greatly increases people’s willingness to take public transportation. About 90% of residents in Tokyo travel by rail network in daily life.

If people change their minds and reduce the number of cars, it can also make the driving smoother. Another effective solution is to increase the price of private cars and traffic tax, and push people to choose public transportation. Singapore’s policy is a typical case. The purchase cost of a car in Singapore is about 5-8 times higher than that in the US. Besides, gasoline prices are also very high, up to about 10 dollars a gallon. Singapore government also charges an additional congestion fee during rush hour. The extremely high cost of driving private cars makes people choose public transportation as much as possible.

Besides, With the development of artificial intelligence, people can apply flow monitoring systems to provide drivers with real-time route planning services, so that they can plan routes in advance and avoid congestion. The government can also plan future roads or public transportation routes based on this traffic flow statistical data.

#4: What else can we do to improve the traffic conditions in Chicago? Let us have a try!

Thanks for listening to my podcast! I’m your host, Maolin Wang.