Al Said Phoenix Has No Traffic Problems

Here’s the specific Twitter thread that started all of this, it wasn’t 100% Al but one started from snark and brought to full bore through the might of Twitter.

First off, my immediate response is, “…are you kidding me?” Ok, after I recovered from laughing right out of the chair I was sitting in, I thought “alright, I’ll give Al the benefit of the doubt, cuz Al is actually awesome!” So here’s some of the things I found, which made my falling out of the chair laughing incident all that much more reasonable.

Knowing Each City

Before diving straight into the stats to determine if Phoenix, Arizona actually has traffic problems or not we should get to know the city. In addition to Phoenix, since Al is always giving Portland crap about all sorts of stuff, I figured we’ll follow Portland’s stats for that matter too. So let’s get to know some basic stats about both cities. First we’ll take a look at Phoenix.

Phoenix is located in Arizona consuming 517.948 square miles. The entire metro area consumes 16,573 square miles. Phoenix, it is safe to say, is a sprawling expanse of a city. The city was incorporated on February 5th, 1881. In the 2010 census the population of Phoenix in the city limits was 1,445,632 with a density of 2,797.8 people per square mile. In the metro area of Phoenix there are 4,263,236 people making it the 14th largest metro area and the 6th largest city.

Portland is located in Oregon consuming 145.09 square miles. The entire metro area is 6,684 square miles. Portland, is sprawling in some areas, but dramatically smaller in physical land mass compared to Phoenix. The city was incorporated on February 8th, 1851. In the 2010 census Portland in the city limits had a population of 583,776 with a density of 4,375.1 per square mile. In the full metro area there are 2,289,800 people making it the the 24th largest metro in the country and the 28th largest city.Now, let’s take a look at Portland.

Bring Out The Traffic Stats! First stat. So before I even get into actual delays or anything, let’s talk about the most serious statistic of all.

Traffic Fatalities

How many people are killing each other on the roadways of Phoenix. I’d consider fatalities a number one problem with traffic, specifically auto traffic. So let’s get some insight. Let’s give a look see if Phoenix has traffic problems related to fatalities. The first results made for some mixed answers, at first, looking at the Google results it looked horrible for Phoenix.

Traffic Death results for Phoenix on Google.

Traffic Death results for Phoenix on Google.

Then the first article I pulled up here, talked about traffic fatalities falling.  Only (notice it states ONLY, as if have hundreds killed is a reasonable thing to have occur) 807 were killed in 2009 after dropping from 938 in 2008.  Maybe my laughter wasn’t valid and I had incorrect information. Maybe Phoenix’s plans of highway expansion had made the city safer and my assumptions were incorrect. So far, this is great, the traffic killing was decreasing. But wait, when did Arizona roads deaths increase? In 2011 they increased again to 825 people killed. This was however all state fatalities and not Phoenix fatalities. I kept digging around and then found a jackpot of information about Phoenix Traffic Collisions of 2010. Phoenix in 2010 had 121 fatalities from 108 collisions. However it appears motorcycle fatalities are listed different, that amounts to 19 fatalities, which fortunately is a huge drop over the year before. Then continuing on to see other related fatalities that for some reason aren’t inclusive of the collision stat for some reason, are 49 pedestrians. Of course, another that wasn’t included in the core fatality stat was the 8 cyclists killed by motorists. Go figure, America, home of the “we can’t add up numbers right and stuff” statistician. Either way, I combed through it and think there were some other stats, but am going to go with these numbers for now and dig up Portland’s. Here’s how it looks so far for Phoenix in 2010.

  • Motorists killed by motorists: 121
  • Cyclists killed by motorists: 8
  • Pedestrians killed by motorists: 49
  • Motorcyclists killed by motorists: 19
  • Light Rail Killing Anything: 0
  • Cyclists Killing Anything: 0
  • Pedestrians Killing Anything: 0
  • Motorcyclists killing anything: 0

Now it’s Portland’s turn. I right off found tons of information from Google about bicycle traffic and bicycling in Portland, but almost nothing on the first page of Google results related to traffic wrecks and such even though I was looking for wrecks specifically. This is, considering how Google works, actually a good thing for Portland. I finally found a document on Oregon’s Crash Summary. On page 5 there are Portland stats, putting the fatalities for 2010 at 24. But I knew there probably were other bits, as these statisticians are devilish about the details so I kept digging. It looked like, and I won’t even go into these stats, that statement at over 300 fatalities Oregon has more than it’s share per capita versus Arizona. That doesn’t bode well in a comparison, but we’re again, not comparing the states – there are LOT of other outliers in comparing the two states and how people create traffic in each. So back to Portland itself. I found the bike fatality rate at BikePortland, with the wonderful total of zero. This is fortunately a common stat in Portland and I hope it stays that way and we can keep dropping the numbers for every mode. So digging through another BikePortland entry I finally dug up a stat difference that the Oregon book didn’t seem to account for. One listing was for 26 dead in 2010 and the origin state stat document showed 24. It’s clear however, that the pedestrian deaths are over 50% of all fatalities, all killed by motorists. This is, very unfortunate and shows that motorists, once again should truly have a dramatically onus put on them to drive safe and responsibly, as motorists seem to kill each other and non-motorists far too often. Anyway, the stats for Portland.

  • Motorists killed by motorists: 7  (I’m going with this, I continued searching and this seemed the most consistent stat)
  • Cyclists killed by anything: 0
  • Pedestrians killed by motorists: 15
  • Motorcyclists: 4
  • Light Rail killing a pedestrian: 2
  • Cyclists killing anything: 0
  • Pedestrians killing anything: 0
  • Motorcyclists killing anything: 0

When looking at Phoenix and asking, “does Phoenix have a traffic fatality problem?” compared to the US and compared to Portland. The average fatalities in the United States are 10 per 100k people. In Phoenix it is 10 per 100k.  In Portland that rate is about 4 per 100k. These specific stats are available via the NHTSA Report for 2010.

Results for Phoenix Traffic Fatalities

  • vs. the US Average : No, Phoenix is doing just barely better then the country as a whole.
  • vs. Portland : Yes Phoenix clearly has traffic fatality problems, Phoenix is doing horribly compared to Portland. Portland is 60% below the fatality rate of the United States & Phoenix. A dramatic improvement over the country and the city of Phoenix.

Commute Time

What stat is something that should be compared next? Let’s take a look at average commute time. In Phoenix the average commute time was 25.3 minutes. In Portland the average commute time was 25 minutes.

Results for Phoenix Metro Traffic Commute Times

  • vs. the US Average : No, Phoenix is doing the same as the rest of the country’s average, which is 25.4 minutes.
  • vs. Portland : No, strangely enough, Phoenix isn’t particular doing bad, nor is Portland, we’re just about average.

Now even though it is hard to imagine Phoenix having an urban core, it actually does. The urban core in Phoenix is a traditional grid layout with a growing density. Here’s a map with great information about the commute times. If we take a look at this and look at the urban core, we find that the urban core of Phoenix has a commute time of 19.1 minutes.

Travel Options

This is a pretty easy measurement. What are the modes and travel options in the city? Does Phoenix really have options?


Phoenix has a transit system that is made up of buses and light rail. The light rail system carries a reasonable number of people. However, when one gets down to the specifics the travel times, frequencies and accessibility (i.e. how far one has to go to transit and how many are with X amount of distance from transit) leaves many Phoenix Citizens without transit as an option. So either way, even though many thousands of citizens in Phoenix can’t even get to a bus or the light rail, we’ll say they can. So from a transit perspective Phoenix has buses and light rail.

Just to recap, Portland has Phoenix handily beat in regards to transit options. With a greater density and frequency of services all around. We have buses, light rail, streetcars, and technically we have commuter rail. Albeit I’m not sure if I’d even count the WES, so we’ll leave it off and just go with the fact that we do have 3 heavily used modes: streetcars, light rail and buses.

In the rest of the country there really isn’t a national assumption of any type of transit. So it’s barely a comparison, any city is going to beat the options you have in the general areas of the country. However, most US cities, especially the size of Phoenix have dramatically more coverage, service, hours of operation and a number of other features and modes than Phoenix does.

Results for Phoenix Metro Transit Options

  • vs. the US average : No, Phoenix has vastly more choices than any rural area.
  • vs. the US urban average: Yes, Phoenix is very limited in modes, with very little coverage compared to the average US city of 4 million people or close to that number.
  • vs. Portland : Yes, Phoenix fails miserably compared to Portland. The ridership, coverage and in other ways Phoenix fails horribly in regard to options.


How about cars? Do citizens have access to cars? I did a few things to figure this out. First I figured out what the median income is in Phoenix. In 2010 the median income was a fairly sizable $55,054 for Maricopa County, but for the city specifically it’s as low as $43k! It appears that this is dropping these days too. Just for comparison, the US median income in 2010 was about $51k albeit dropping pretty rapidly. By 2012 it was down to about $48-49k, but to keep things conservative and make sure Phoenix has every available change to prove itself to not have traffic problems, we’ll go with $51k. Of course, we have to have a Portland reference in there, which in 2010 the median income was $40k.

Now all of these amounts are actually pretty irrelevant if we don’t know what these things can buy. The median transportation percentage, for these states is both just below 12%. So looking at that, people in Portland spend $4920 per year on transportation and people in Phoenix spend $5160 per year while the US median is $6120. The overall costs of things vary in large degree between Phoenix and Portland and getting a final cost of living comparison is really difficult. It primarily depends on what you want for your money. The same goes for Phoenix versus the rest of the country, but in this comparison we’re just looking at the cost to get around based on medians.

Results for Phoenix Metro Transportation Costs, based on Auto Median Cost

  • vs. the US average : No, Phoenix is actually cheaper than the US average. This is to be expected comparing an urban area with the average American landscape.
  • vs. the US urban average: Yes, Phoenix is more expensive than many of the urban landscapes in the average US city.
  • vs. Portland : Yes, Phoenix is more expensive.

Inter to Intracity Connections

The city of Phoenix has two options for coming or going, you either have to fly, but or auto. There are no other options in or out of the city.

The average US City, especially in the million plus person range, has air, bus, auto and rail transport options on average.

Portland has air, auto, bus and rail but also has river options. Some might say, “nobody takes river transport”, so that’s fine we’ll just leave that off. Which still gives Portland an easy victory in this category over Phoenix.

Results for Phoenix Inter & Intracity Options

  • vs. the US average : No, Phoenix has the standard mode of auto and bus, plus it has air.
  • vs. the US urban average: Yes, Phoenix has less options than the average US city.
  • vs. Portland : Yes, Phoenix also has less travel options out of the city versus Portland.

So you do the math, do the factor, does Phoenix have traffic issues? Hell yes it does. Are they worse than average US traffic issues? Not really, but then of course I’d say anywhere in the US has vastly more traffic issues and commuting concerns than Portland does based on these averages. As for automobile delays (which are extensive for EVERY city) the only real option is the city that provides for real alternatives and livability close to work, home and play. Very few places in the United States actually provide that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s