Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Find the best times (and modes!) to get to dinner this record-breaking holiday weekend.
This Thanksgiving weekend is predicted to be the busiest on the road since 2005, a sign of a recovering economy and a reality drivers will have to grin and bear. Following its annual holiday tradition, Google has compiled a series of interactive maps and charts pointing travelers to the best and worst times to travel over the coming week. (This is yet another way the search giant acts like a public utility, for better or worse. Don’t forget to argue about net neutrality with your in-laws over the Thanksgiving dinner table!)
Unsurprising to anyone reading this slumped in passenger’s seats on highways across America, Wednesday evening is the most painful time to drive—especially in cities where traffic is generally mild. In a list of the 25 U.S. metros that draw the most Thanksgiving travelers, Cleveland, Ohio, turns out to have the highest spike in pre-holiday traffic—probably because on a normal day it’s generally one of the world’s less stressful cities in which to drive.
Turkey-destined slogs through towns more generally besieged by traffic—Seattle, Dallas, and San Francisco, for example—will be still be arduous, yes, but not as shockingly so. Small comfort, I know.
Google’s data shows that the quietest time to travel to dinner is on the morning of. If you’re building an argument to not spend the extra night with relatives, consider this a useful datapoint. Likewise, on the departure end, Saturday is a safer bet than Sunday. (Pittsburgh stands out for having traffic spikes on both weekend days—an effect of its popular Saturday parade, perhaps?) Friday looks clear, but bear in mind that these orange bumps are compared to average days—Black Friday morning traffic is about as bad as any workday. Handily, Google has worked in an interactive feature that spits out optimized travel times for whichever city you're headed for.
Air travelers are not exempt from the holiday travel misery: They’re also in for some of the heaviest airport traffic in recent memory, with the post-holiday Sunday and pre-holiday Wednesday as the very worst. However, no major storms are on the horizon in North America, so you might get a smooth ride up there.
Stay safe, travelers, and if you’re still looking for your ideal ticket out of Dodge, consider these options, in order of CityLab approval:
- Take transit, or one of many intercity bus options, which are having a bit of a renaissance.
- Find someone to carpool with on Craigslist, or better yet, build the intercity carpool app the U.S. has been waiting for.
- Bike! It’s liberation from traffic, and an excuse to eat more pie.