The commute was my biggest concern about our downtown move. I have never had a long commute that involved traffic. When we lived in northwest Austin, our commute was a very predictable 15-20 minutes each way.
Our new commute from downtown is about 12 miles, with two miles on Cesar Chavez and the rest on Mopac. Cesar Chavez moves along relatively quickly most mornings and even quicker if you can make it through the traffic light at Lavaca. Mayor Leffingwell, if you are reading this, please make this light green for more than five seconds in the morning. Most of the downtown pedestrian crossing signals count down how much longer before turning red. But the Lavaca signal is so short there is no time for a count down! (It seems the real benefit of these pedestrian count-downs is to let drivers know if they need to speed up to get through the light.)
In the mornings, there is very little traffic on Mopac heading north out of downtown and I can easily go at the speed limit. I arrive at work in 15-20 minutes, which is comparable to my old morning commute. Very nice.
Afternoon rush hour on Mopac is a much different and mysterious beast. My afternoon commute can take anywhere from 20 minutes (on those rare occasions when traffic just flows) to about 50 minutes. I enter Mopac southbound near work and always move along without problems past the 183 flyover and the Spicewood Springs Road exit.
What happens next is the big question every day. At some point traffic usually slows way down for no apparent reason. On rare occasions traffic backs up before the Far West exit, but most often Mopac backs up at the 2222 exit near the bend in the road. If I get this far without hitting traffic, I figure I’m doing ok. If there’s no traffic until 45th Street, I’m happy; none until 35th Street and I’m ecstatic. All of those can—and do—happen.
Except for the 183 ramp, there are not really tons of cars entering the highway so why traffic backs up so far is a mystery. Mopac does go down to two lanes before going over the river but that is a few miles from where it tends to back up. And while traffic slows way down and all of us who make this trip complain, traffic never really grinds to a halt like the LIE or Grand Central Parkway in New York. On Mopac during rush hour, you keep moving but just very slowly.
During the last few months I’ve been experimenting. Mopac doesn’t really have a continuous service road but there are long entry and exit ramps. You can definitely shorten the commute by getting off and on wisely (I don’t want to give away all my secrets here). I’ve also experimented with other south-bound alternatives such as Lamar, but I have found Mopac to be the fastest since there are no traffic lights. With my lane management, my afternoon commute typically takes about 30 minutes, which is not bad and much better than I feared.
To be continued with my next post … Austin’s new mass transit system: MetroRail!