Houston is known for many things. Among them: the rodeo, NASA, and traffic.
Highway 290 is notorious for bumper-to-bumper traffic. The roads between I-10 and Westheimer are a nightmare. The West Loop’s chaos is enough to drive you loopy.
It’s no wonder we have aggressive drivers. Traffic even takes a toll on your health, stressing you out and spiking your blood pressure. Studies show standstill traffic increases vehicle emissions and pollutes the air, leading to more health problems for drivers and individuals living near major roadways.
But with the city’s huge size and limited public transportation options, many Houstonians are forced to commute.
When you’re faced with that long, daunting trek to work and you’re searching for some solutions, you might hear a sarcastic response of “move closer.” But we’re here to offer some more in-depth help on how to beat Houston traffic.
Below we cover three main strategies for avoiding traffic in Houston: planning ahead, utilizing technology, and avoiding driving altogether! Read on to learn more about each tip.
First Things First: Why is Houston Traffic So Bad?
More people, more problems.
Between 2010 and 2018, the Greater Houston metropolitan area saw the third largest population growth in the country. This brought the total to nearly 7 million residents.
Sprawling and crawling.
Houston is seriously spread out. To put things in perspective, one Reddit user overlaid the whopping 88 mile loop of Beltway 8 over maps of other cities. (Check it out – Houston is roughly the same size as the entire island of O‘ahu!) While still technically within the city limits, some residents may live up to 30 miles away from this bustling inner loop, and even further from the heart of downtown.
Commercial 18 wheelers are a common sight on Houston highways – and so are catastrophic 18 wheeler accidents. Additionally, many people drive large vehicles. One report revealed the Ford F-150, the Chevy Silverado, and the RAM pickup trucks were the top three choices among Houston car buyers. Texans may also have boats or livestock trailers in tow as they head to coastal destinations or rural areas.
So how can Houstonians combat these facts of life?
1. Avoid rush hour.
This one’s obvious, but we don’t mean showing up an hour before your shift begins and twiddling your thumbs in the parking garage. How can you avoid Houston’s rush hour while still managing your time efficiently?
- What time is rush hour in Houston? The morning rush hour in Houston is between 7AM and 9AM.
- What time does traffic end in Houston? After a typical workday, Houston rush hour traffic begins as early as 4PM and dies down around 7PM.
- Squeeze in a workout. If there’s a gym nearby your office, leave home earlier in the morning to make time for a workout (and a shower!)
- Schedule study time. If you’re a student commuting to campus, arrive early to cram in some morning study time and hang out in the library before classes begin.
2. Take a shortcut.
If you know the back streets of Houston well enough, you can find some alternate routes that can save you time. But watch out for red lights on side streets – you might be able to zoom a few miles down the freeway in a matter of minutes, but if you venture into the side streets of the Heights or Montrose, be prepared to account for long wait times at stoplights.
3. Check the weather forecast.
Always check the weather forecast when you wake up in the morning. If roads on your route are prone to flooding, have alternates in mind. If other inclement weather is brewing, prepare yourself for weather-related delays or accidents.
4. Plan around events.
One thing that’s a little more predictable than the weather: people. Whenever special events or conventions are taking place in Houston, traffic worsens. Highways near sports stadiums can be packed for hours before and hours after a game. Ensure your route does not bring you through a traffic jam of attendees. Additionally, be mindful of when school lets out and if you’ll go through any school zones on your route. No one wants to get stuck behind a school bus.
5. Modify your work schedule.
Leaving 15 minutes early can make all the difference. See if your employer will let you come into work earlier and leave earlier, effectively beating the Houston rush hour. Technology is Your Friend
6. Check out TranStar’s Houston Traffic Map.
TranStar’s Houston rush hour traffic map is a nifty resource, showing traffic updates in real time. Check in during different times of the day and see how things are going so you’ll know what to expect – and where to avoid.
7. Use Waze.
In recent years, Waze has all but replaced radio traffic reports. It’s known for being the go-to map application for Uber drivers and Lyft drivers. With so much construction, Houston’s traffic patterns can be unpredictable, but thanks to its info being crowdsourced, Waze has an astute ability to look for alternate routes and notify you of upcoming traffic, construction zones, police, or accidents in realtime. Waze, Google Maps, Apple Maps, and many other GPS applications can also estimate future traffic predictions and ETAs, so you can check and plan ahead.
8. Get an EZ TAG and take the roll roads.
Some people want to avoid toll roads whenever possible, but those paths might be able to significantly trim down your commute time. If there’s a toll road on your route, take a moment to do the math and see if the time you’ll save is worth the coinage you’ll drop. If you’ll be frequenting Houston’s toll roads, get an EZ TAG for added convenience. You can order one online and receive it by mail, or, if you don’t live in Houston and you’re just passing through, the EZ TAG Express mobile app lets you send electronic payments without having to apply a sticker or a chip to your car. Forget fishing for spare change in the cupholders: certain tollways, like Westpark Tollway and Katy Tollway, only accept payment via EZ TAG these days.
9. Download audiobooks and podcasts to listen to.
Sometimes beating traffic doesn’t mean avoiding it, but enjoying it instead! Fill up your phone with audiobooks and podcasts that interest you, and use your commute productively by expanding your intellectual horizons.
Opt Out – Leave Your Car at Home
Want to know the #1 way to bypass Houston traffic? Don’t drive! The only way to truly alleviate traffic is to have fewer cars on our roads. While this goal ultimately requires better urban planning and public transportation systems, you can do your part today in one of the following ways:
And get the added bonus of using the HOV lanes! Carpooling with coworkers, classmates, or friends will reduce pollution and save everyone gas money. You can also use rideshare services for carpooling.
11. Bike or skate.
Houston summers are rough, so we don’t blame you if you balk at this option. But riding a bicycle or skateboard can be a viable option for some commuters. You’ll save big on gas and, in the case of bumper-to-bumper traffic, you’ll save time, too! If you don’t have a bike of your own, check out BCycle Houston, a bikeshare program.
12. Drive to a METRO Park & Ride station.
METRO Park & Ride offers direct nonstop service to downtown, the Texas Medical Center, and other major hubs from 26 parking lots across the city of Houston. Parking is free, but the METRO mobile app or a Q Card loaded with fare is required to ride.
13. Pack your lunch.
The lunch rush – between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. – is a bit lighter and is mostly confined to Houston’s city streets instead of the freeways, but we’re sure you still want to avoid it. During a lunch break, every second counts!
14. Work from home.
When all is said and done, you’ve got to admit there’s no better commute than that 5-step stumble from your bed to your home office. If it makes sense for your profession, speak with your employers and see if it’s possible to take your position partially or entirely remote.
Save Time, Save Lives
We know time is precious. So precious, in fact, one Houston man set out to statistically analyze how much time he was wasting on his commute and tried to beat traffic with math! Another analysis revealed Houston was the 11th most congested city in the United States, with drivers wasting an average of 81 hours of their lives each year sitting in traffic.
There are ways every driver can avoid contributing to heavy road congestion, because in the end, nothing brings traffic to a screeching halt like a car accident. Obey speed limits, keep your eyes the road, and keep your hands on the wheel. Snacking or texting can wait. Every trip requires you to be calm, cautious, and alert, even if it’s the same route you take every morning!