San Jose commuters losing time in traffic
Silicon Valley commuters clog the highway as people travel between work and home in this file photo.

    San Jose commuters spend roughly three days a year sitting in rush-hour traffic, and local advocates worry it will get worse.

    Residents are seeing their daily trips between work and home extended by more than 17 minutes each day because of rush-hour traffic—nearly 7 minutes in the morning and more than 10 in the evening. That translates to an additional 72 hours annually, according to a study conducted by retail auto information website CoPilot.

    The study examines 80 U.S. metro areas to determine where commuters lost the most time in traffic. The San Jose metro area, which also includes Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, lands at No. 28, tying with the Orlando metro area. San Francisco is the only Bay Area region with more time lost due to rush-hour traffic congestion at No. 7—commuters spend more than 94 extra hours in traffic annually. The national average for extra commute time is 60 hours annually. The study used traffic data from Tomtom, a geolocation technology specialist, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American community survey.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers stopped going to the office, and for the first time since 2010, the average commute time nationwide dropped and traffic conditions improved, according to the study. But for some areas, such as San Jose, lengthy commute times have returned.

    “Although a much larger percentage of workers now work from home than in the past, the vast majority of workers still commute to work by driving,” the study says. “Workers in certain locations continue to face crippling traffic delays during certain times of the day.”

    In San Jose, more than 91% of commuters use their cars to get to work, the study shows.

    Rod Diridon, retired executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, said the study’s findings are troubling.

    “The number doesn’t surprise me, it horrifies me,” Diridon told San José Spotlight. “This is a dire situation.”

    Diridon, who’s known as the “father” of Silicon Valley’s modern transit system, said the South Bay doesn’t have the capacity to widen or expand its highways. The decrease in traffic due to the pandemic and the growing remote workforce has eased the issue in the past few years, but he worries that will change and traffic congestion will get worse.

    “I don’t care whether you have automated cars or electric cars or whatever, this system can’t handle much more than what it handles right now,” he said. “We’re at the edge of a disaster (that will happen) if we don’t finish our mass transportation systems and do everything we can to focus future growth around transit.”

    Local officials at the city and county, as well as VTA, are trying to address the issue by establishing transit-oriented communities, or transit villages, to encourage the use of public transit. VTA currently has six residential projects under development in or near San Jose. San Jose also eliminated the city’s minimum parking requirements for new developments in an effort to get residents to ditch their cars.

    VTA is in the process of expanding BART into the South Bay, adding three more stations in San Jose and one in Santa Clara. The project, more than 20 years into planning, would serve 54,600 passengers every weekday at the new stations, VTA officials estimate.

    Advocates said such projects could help in the long term.

    “Time stuck in traffic is time stolen from people’s lives,” Jason Baker, senior vice president of infrastructure for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, told San José Spotlight. “Building more housing near jobs and investing in clean, efficient transit are key ways our region and state will achieve our climate, equity and quality of life goals, and help get people out of traffic and back to their lives.”

    Eugene Bradley, founder of Silicon Valley Transit Users, said residents have to change their habits to make a difference. He urged local commuters to use his organization’s guide to navigate the public transit system.

    “The city and the county are trying to emphasize the use of buses and light rail, but it’s on the citizens to do it, instead of complaining about how empty buses and trains are,” Bradley told San José Spotlight.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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