Note: this post originally appeared in the Huffington Post April 9, 2012.
“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.” - Dan Rather
It’s been raining here in Northern California. And with the rains come slick roads, which in turn can cause crashes. And while we hope that none of those crashes are of a serious nature, even a fender bender is often all it takes to create some serious traffic congestion.
Many of us (most?) have GPS in our cars now, but what if you want to know the traffic conditions before you head out the door? Here are five websites and apps to help you get where you’re going – without being blocked by traffic.
One of the most widely available sites is 511. You’ll have to perform a search for it because its precise name varies depending on where you live. The easiest way to find it is to search for “511 traffic” and then see what’s available for your area. Some sites are hosted by local government, others by a private company. Many of the 511 sites are transit-friendly, integrating all available modes of transit into their trip planners including rail, bus, cycling, and walking. They even include ferries in some regions.
If there isn’t anything for your particular area, just search using your city, state or zip code, followed by the word traffic. For example, if you search for “Texas traffic” you’ll find a good sample of traffic sites for Texas, some geared to specific metropolitan areas.
A quick word about apps. The descriptions are written to deliberately make every app sound like you might as well just give up if you don’t have that app and to make it even more irresistible, it is FREE!! (Or 99 cents – or some other number ending in 99 cents.) Yet deal that it is, take just one minute and look at the reviews for any app before you download. And while you’re at it, check the release date and the date of the last update — especially when looking at traffic apps. It doesn’t take long for roads to change these days. Search for “traffic apps” or “best traffic apps” and you’ll find lots of suggestions.
My all-time favorite traffic app is “CHP Traffic.” This is about the best use for 99 cents that I’ve ever found. I like this app so much that I have actually gifted it to people. Based on information accessed directly from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) it uses a live feed from their dispatch center, which can also be viewed on the CHP website. While there is not an Android version of this particular app, the CHP has added a mobile version of their traffic site, so you do have that as an option. There is even a handy glossary to help you decipher any police codes you may encounter under the drop down menu on the top right corner of the page, labeled “resources”.
Another decent traffic app available for multiple platforms (iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7) is Inrix – but beware. While it starts out as a free app, if you want to use the routing function to figure out how to go from point A to point B, its going to cost you a hefty $24.99 for the upgrade. On the other hand, the “incidents” function, which is part of the free app works great, provided you know how to get around the reported incident.
Topping the charts right now is Waze, a “social GPS and traffic” app available for all smartphone platforms. Waze is easy to use and has good tutorials. The downside for me was it wanted me to check in on Facebook and Twitter, telling people where I am and where I’m going. I sometimes think people just don’t need that level of detail about my life.
Finally, we have Beat the Traffic, which is free with lots of ads, or for $3.99 you can dump the ads and just watch the traffic. This is also available for all smartphone platforms as well as having a web site. Once you’ve downloaded it go to settings and set it up the way you’d like it. I think one of the most pertinent settings is listed last, that of “incident severity,” which has settings for low, medium and high.
How about you? Do you have a favorite website or app that helps you get where you are going more quickly and with fewer, if any delays?