Chet Skwarcan is an award-winning engineer, writer, and industry innovator in the field of traffic engineering. He is known for leveraging his creativity, logic, and technology to solve today’s engineering challenges.

Traffic Jam or Strawberry Jam?

Like most of you, I ponder this every morning. I ponder it as I weigh my coffee beans. I ponder it as I grind my coffee beans. I ponder it as I pre-rinse my coffee filter. I ponder it as I feed our pet frog — we named him Ponder — no pun intended (kidding, I don’t always pre-rinse my coffee filter).

And when the toast is toasted and the pondering concludes, is it going to be Traffic Jam or Strawberry Jam? Admittedly, I am biased — without hesitation, I choose strawberry jam.

As a Traffic Engineer — and there are more of us than you might imagine (seven) — I simply enjoy collecting traffic data. A LOT of traffic data. And not because it is fun. And not because I have an assortment of traffic counters. Nor, do I collect traffic data simply because it makes me popular at parties (in case I ever get invited to one). Now I forget where I was headed with all this, but let me say, traffic jams are predictable.

When graphed on graph paper, hourly traffic volumes peak somewhere between 7-9 AM and 4-6 PM. The morning peak is often a lesser and flatter peak — the morning peak is spread out. The evening peak is sharper and shorter — more compressed and crowded.

In the morning, drivers apparently have greater flexibility when they leave for work or school. In the evening, commute times are more concentrated. Additionally, a greater number of retail stores are open in the evening whereas in the morning, many are not. In fact, the 60-minute period of peak rush hour traffic contains 10% of the total 24-hr traffic volume.

So if you’re like me (i.e., preferring strawberry jam over traffic jam), consider options to avoid the morning and/or evening peak hours. Often, a 15-minute shift in your departure time can make a huge difference in travel time. Additionally, there are countless apps (three) that take into account real time traffic and suggest alternate routes to avoid congestion and save time. Carpooling is another way to reduce congestion, save money, and meet new people. And in some cities, public transportation is a viable option.

I’m reminded of a familiar quote mistakenly attributed to Isaac Newton, “You’re not stuck in traffic, you are the traffic.” Peak hour traffic is highly syncopated — get creative — think of the reason for your trip. Are there options? You bet there are — strawberry


Chet Skwarcan (traffic engineer, author, unique insights) with over 25 years of traffic engineering experience, solving (or preventing) traffic problems every chance he gets. He can be reached at