Avoiding Traffic: Time-Saving Tricks for Navigating by Car

by cazort

Tips and tricks for avoiding traffic, especially rush hour traffic. General ideas for how to get to your destination without having to wait in traffic.

Driving can be frustrating in many parts of America. I've driven in over half the U.S. states, and I've spent a lot of time getting to know several of the metro areas, including San Diego, Philadelphia, and Cleveland.

Below I share some of my most useful recommendations for how to avoid traffic and get where you are going quickly.

These recommendations include many different approaches, ones that utilize technology, skill, and lifestyle choices. Although some may be more helpful than others, everyone will likely find some tips that they can use!

Minimize Driving During Rush Hour

Not everyone is able to avoid driving during rush hour, but if you can, it can save you a lot of time.

One of the best ways to avoid getting stuck in traffic is to minimize the amount of driving you do during rush hour.  Rush hour isn't the same in every city, but it tends to follow certain patterns.  Some general pieces of advice:

  • Morning rush hour tends to be more concentrated and briefer than afternoon rush hour.  Afternoon rush hour starts earlier, with some congestion usually starting before 3, due to schools getting out, and often is worse in total, because more people combine their afternoon work commutes with shopping and other side-expeditions.  You can utilize this fact by running errands before work when possible.
  • Public transportation, especially trains and subways, tend to work best during rush hour, because trains run more frequently.  If you're lucky enough to live near them, you can consider using trains or subways during rush hour, even if you travel primarily by car during other times.
  • Try varying your commute schedule.  Even if your job doesn't have flexible hours, there are other ways to change your commuting schedule.  You can find something to do around your workplace, like walking to local shopping, or meeting a friend for dinner or coffee, so that you commute home by car later, after rush hour has ended.  Some employers allow telecommuting and flexible schedules that you can utilize to avoid rush hour.

Not everyone is able to avoid rush hour, but if you have the flexibility to do so, it can be a big time-saver.

View Live Traffic on a Smartphone or Computer

Check for congestion and plot alternate routes just before getting in your car.

I tend to be skeptical of smartphones, and think they can be over-used, but one of the best uses for them, one that actually can save a significant amount of time, is to view live traffic on them.  I use Google maps on my Android phone, but there are other options out there too.  If you don't have a smartphone, you can check a computer just before taking a trip, like before leaving your home or office.

If you live in an area where there are major bottlenecks, or where a single accident or construction zone can cause a big backup, check the traffic right before you get in your car.  If there is stopped traffic, consider plotting an alternate route.


Checking traffic on your phone or even at your computer before getting in your car is most likely to help if you already know alternate routes.  If you make a certain commute daily, plan (and even test drive) several alternate routes so that when there's a traffic problem, you already know what route to take and how to take it.

Know and Use Small Local Roads

Don't blindly follow a GPS or automated driving directions: if you drive regularly in an area, experiment with your own routes.

GPS systems and driving directions through services like Google Maps typically route most people on major routes and arterial roadways, only routing them on smaller, local roads for the beginning and end of their journeys.

Sometimes, however, these local routes can be major time-savers.  In suburbs, I have frequently discovered ways to avoid back-ups and congestion at a major intersection by turning into side streets and driving through a residential neighborhood.  Make sure to respect the speed limit and pay attention to safety, as there are often more kids on these side-streets in urban and suburban neighborhoods.  But even with driving more slowly, these local routes can be time-savers.

If you regularly get stuck in traffic in a certain area, study a map and explore alternate routes.  Don't just believe what your GPS, computer, or smartphone tells you--it's still easy for an experienced human to discover faster routes in many cases.

Walk, Bike, or use Public Transit if Possible

Three ways to reduce car usage, improving life for yourself and others.

Unfortunately, much of the U.S. still requires a car to get around effectively, but in many communities, there are good alternatives.

In small towns and dense urban areas, walking can be a great way to get around.

Bikes can also be great, although safety can be an issue for bikers.  An experienced bicyclist is able to slip through traffic, avoiding backed-up traffic at major intersections.  Bikers can also access dedicated rights-of-way that cars do not have access to, including walking their bikes through pedestrian-only thoroughfares.

Public transit is better in some areas than others, but it can still be a great way to avoid getting stuck in a car.  Train commutes, whether subways or above-ground trains, can be the best option when they have a dedicated right-of-way that bypasses traffic congestion.  But even buses and trolleys can sometimes have their advantages.

A long bus ride in which a bus is stuck in traffic is still much more pleasant than being stuck in a car in the same traffic jam.  Buses provide much more space to move around, and you avoid the stress of having to drive the car yourself.  Public transit also helps keeps cars off the road, so you not only can relax, but you will be helping to alleviate traffic congestion for everyone else too.

In the long-run, consider walkability, bike routes, and public transit options when choosing where to live.  Even if your current location isn't easily accessible to these other modes of transit, if and when you move next, you will be able to consider these factors.

What can you do to utilize or promote public transit?

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Updated: 02/02/2015, cazort
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cazort on 06/20/2013

Yeah...Philly gets more gridlock than most cities I've lived in, because of narrower streets (lots of which are only 1-lane) and it can get really bad. When even one intersection gets blocks, it can cause a cascade reaction blocking many others!

I generally don't drive at all in the densest urban areas though...when I drive here it's in and out of the city, or from point to point in the suburbs. Public transit here is pretty good if you are going between the downtown and other urban areas. It doesn't work for the days when I need to go from point to point in suburbs though.

katiem2 on 06/20/2013

I live in a big city and grid lock makes rush hour more commonly known as "parking lot" oh how I dislike that... thanks for the great tips to avoid traffic and the hair pulling grid lock of high city traffic.

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