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Where's the traffic in Austin?
February 8, 2006 7:19 AM   Subscribe

AustinTrafficFilter - I keep hearing how bad the traffic is in Austin, but I need details!

When my wife and I visited last summer, we didn't encounter any traffic that impressed us. I figure we either weren't looking in the right places or it just isn't as bad as we're accustomed to (we live and commute in the northern Virginia/DC area). We're going to visit again for a week in April and I want to be able to test drive the worst possible traffic conditions the city has to offer. So, I need enlightenment. Which roads/sections of road are worst? At what times? Heading which direction? What are the major commute patterns?
posted by Irontom to Travel & Transportation around Austin, TX (16 answers total)
 
I'm from Austin and now live in Dallas. On IH-35 the traffic gets bad, but none of the traffic in Austin is as bad as anywhere in Dallas. Trust.





I miss Austin.
posted by letterneversent at 7:49 AM on February 8, 2006


I thought Austin traffic was pretty horrendous when I lived there, but then I moved to Philadelphia. Now every time I come back I remark over the total lack of traffic problems in Austin. Seriously, it will be a breeze compared to anything you've experienced in DC. The only time-consuming part, really, is getting from west of Mopac to east of I-35 (or vice versa) - it's all stoplights unless you want to go far north or far south. The freeways sort of box the city in, so actually getting across town in a timely manner is not so easy in practice.

Of course, you could always bike.
posted by catesbie at 7:50 AM on February 8, 2006


You're probably accustomed to a deeper circle of commute-hell than Austinites—the city has grown so quickly that we woke up one day and found ourselves wondering "hey, where'd all this traffic come from?"

That said, I-35 has very heavy traffic (it runs from Canada to Mexico, and traffic on it is heaviest right here in Austin). It was also designed by evil gnomes to be confusing and deadly, with off-ramps that are 20 feet long, an upper deck (express lanes) that you need to be on the right side to use, etc. Poor planning also means that traffic will mysteriously bunch up in certain spots, and just as mysteriously clear up once you pass them.

Mopac (Loop 1) has saner traffic engineering, but also gets clogged up around commute time. Likewise Loop 360.

In the central part of town, Mopac and I-35 are both roughly north/south. There are no good east-west corridors to connect them, so residential streets get pressed into service. 38th and 45th in particular; Koenig has been expanded (despite neighborhood opposition) to be a faster E/W route.
posted by adamrice at 7:52 AM on February 8, 2006


Traffic in Austin is seasonal. It is worse when schools and universities are in session. It is also worse when the legislature is in session. I think driving in Austin is practically blissful in late December.
posted by grouse at 7:58 AM on February 8, 2006


Aren't you basically accustomed to the worst traffic in the US? I don't know that any place would impress you.
posted by smackfu at 8:17 AM on February 8, 2006


Good point, although I think Chicago and San Fran still beat us.

I'm just trying to get as much information as possible before we move. If it turns out that I-35 is terrible headed north in the mornings, then it's just going to keep getting worse as Austin continues to grow.

This will also help in selecting neighborhoods to look at. Now that I know that 38th functions as a defacto east-west corridor (thanks adamrice!), I know that I probably dont want to live in neighborhoods that back up to it.
posted by Irontom at 8:36 AM on February 8, 2006


If it turns out that I-35 is terrible headed north in the mornings, then it's just going to keep getting worse as Austin continues to grow.

You might want to start reviewing traffic reports/cameras on the web to get a much better feel.
posted by grouse at 9:11 AM on February 8, 2006


This might be helpful.

We live in south Austin, and we love it, but north Austin seems to have more specialty shops, amenities and such. We try to only venture north of campus on the weekends, as the traffic just doesn't seem worth it. My husband and I are sissies about traffic, though. Who wants to spend that much time in their car?
posted by whatnot at 9:52 AM on February 8, 2006


Adding to adamrice:
Southbound I-35 from Pflugerville and Mopac from Round Rock into downtown is usually stop-and-go during the morning commute, ditto for northbound during the afternoon commute. The northern suburbs are more populated with commuters, hence the clogging. There is heavy traffic going out of Austin in the morning and into Austin at night, but it's not debilitating unless there's an accident.

The "Y" (y-shaped intersection) in Oak Hill (south Austin) is clogged going into Austin in the morning and from Austin in the afternoon. Those are all the Hill Country commuters.

Ben White Blvd (the southern chunk of Hwy 290 that turns into 71 east) is wonderful now that the I-35 flyovers have been completed.

As for streets, Lamar and 6th near downtown is hell in the afternoon. Oltorf is another east-west corridor (even though it doesn't go all the way west) that has some pretty scary, fast traffic.
posted by kmel at 9:57 AM on February 8, 2006


Oh, and I commuted north out of Austin in the morning for some time and it was nothing, despite all the city-dwelling Dell employees. It's the opposite direction that's the problem.
posted by kmel at 10:00 AM on February 8, 2006


Even after living here for 6 years, I still feel like pinching 100% Austinites' cheeks when they complain about Austin traffic. They'd be eaten by Houston's congestion in a second.
posted by lychee at 2:59 PM on February 8, 2006


If you live in central Austin---such as Hyde Park, Tarrytown, North Campus, off Airways, etc.---you don't have to worry much about traffic. Central Austin, where I lived for six years (I moved away in 2003), is like a small town within Austin, and when you live there you have very little reason to venture outside that area. That is really true. Whenever we would travel ouside Austin by car, we would drive through these vast suburbs north of the city, and I would always be amazed at how much there was that I never visited.

And even if you live outside central Austin, the traffic usually isn't bad. My wife and I lived off Ridgepoint Drive, right across from the Apple campus, during our last year of grad school. That's not central Austin by any means, but we could jump on Highway 290, take it to I-35, and get just about anywhere in town within about ten minutes.

If you hate traffic, never move to Round Rock or Georgetown (suburban cities just north of Austin).
posted by jayder at 4:04 PM on February 8, 2006


Now that I know that 38th functions as a defacto east-west corridor (thanks adamrice!), I know that I probably dont want to live in neighborhoods that back up to it.

Actually the neighborhoods near it involve Hyde Park which is a great neighborhood, my personal favorite. I wouldn't want to live *right on* 38th or anything, but even one or two blocks away it's not bad. We're not talking a 6-lane juggernaut of a corridor, here - in some places it's one lane each way, even, but most of the way it's just two.

Be wary of the other main E-W corridor, 45th street. There's been ongoing construction that is, I must say, the most idiotic and badly handled monstrosity I think I have ever seen. My friend and I call it "our own little piece of Mexico" and laugh bitterly. It's 2 lanes each way but in big chunks it has been cut down to one lane for the construction. Somehow we make do. I live just one block north of it, and find myself using 38th as much as possible just to avoid the mess. That said, it currently is not nearly as bad as it was, when they were cutting fourteen million trenches through it and changing the flow daily.

If you want to see some traffic, drive up to Cedar Park and head into town on 183, during the morning commute.
posted by beth at 5:09 PM on February 8, 2006


Not really an answer to your question, but I bought a house in NE Austin and commute downtown on Springdale and 12th Streets -- BLISSFULLY free of traffic and only a few long stoplights. Once the construction is finished on 183 east of I-35, as well as 71 east of I-35, the whole east side will be much quicker to get around (and away from).

A lot is happening east of I-35 and will continue to in the next 10-20 years. I grew up in Austin and had no idea these neighborhoods existed (I am white, and my neighborhood is 90% African American; I-35 has long served as a color line here) -- but am loving it so far.

Point being don't just limit yourself to Central, North, Northwest, West, South... especially if traffic is a concern.
posted by rleamon at 5:45 PM on February 8, 2006


I lived in Houston, and I now attend school in Austin. The traffic in Austin is remarkably better than Houston. I generally drive on I35. As long as it's not from 4-6, it's not really that bad. Even from 4-6, it's not all that bad. DC/Virginia traffic is much worse!
posted by mr.dan at 10:24 PM on February 8, 2006


Actually, up until 7 months ago, I lived 2 doors off 38th, in Hyde Park, the 8-block stretch where it necks down to 2 lanes. It really wasn't that bad (plus, I was in Hyde Park, which I love).

I agree with most of what's been said here by others, with a few caveats:

1. Austin has had a suburban-oriented mode of development for the past couple decades. This means that no matter where you live, some of the retail and entertainment you'll want will be at the fringes, and that means you must deal with commuter traffic. I think there are 5 movie theaters I can get to without getting on a highway; all the big megaplexes are farther out though.

2. Likewise work. I have friends who are reverse-commuters (live central, work in the sticks). At the worst, it can take them about an hour to drive only ~10 miles (this is an extreme example).

3. The central city is currently undergoing massive redevelopment--this is part of the reason 45th St is so messed up. Count on this to continue for the foreseeable future. If you see a big patch of un/under-utilized land within 5 miles of downtown, you can be certain that there is a project in the works to build it out.
posted by adamrice at 7:21 AM on February 9, 2006


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