Dec 2012 11

How to Avoid Vancouver Traffic Jams

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Trafic Jam In Vancouver By Allen McGregorTrafic Jam In Vancouver By Allen McGregor

Today’s post will take a closer look at Google traffic density maps and compare them with a recently released TomTom report on traffic congestion. We will address the days chosen by TomTom as the worst and the best weekdays concerning congestion patterns: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. By the way, using Google density maps can generally help you considerably wherever you go and ease your decision-making process about choosing the best route since the shortest distance doesn’t necessarily guarantee the fastest and most convenient one. In this post, there are also a couple of interactive videos describing the typical day prepared, so check them out to optimize your commuting time!

Most Congested Days

By TomTom and Google Alike:
Wednesday, Tuesday

Least Congested Days

By TomTom and Google Alike:
Monday, Friday


It’s quite interesting to note that in most cities included in TomTom’s stats, Monday is cited as one of the calmest days of the week. TomTom data show that the congestion level (increase in overall travel times compared to a free-flow situation; e.g. Congestion level of 15 per cent means that drivers have to withstand 15 per cent longer travel time compared to calm situations) on Monday morning amounts to 44 per cent, and evening rush hour slows Vancouverites down by 55 per cent. Even though that might seem to be a lot, it’s still by far the best result of all the weekdays. Let’s look at a typical Monday according to Google stats.

As soon as at 7:00 A.M., traffic starts to wake up. As many people who commute from longer distances begin their daily journey quite early to avoid traffic jams later in the day, some of the roads leading to Vancouver often get busy. An example of that could be the Trans-Canadian Highway around the Port-Mann Bridge, King George Boulevard just before Patullo Bridge, and the highway from North Vancouver. While the highway from North Vancouver recovers quickly and there are no jams to be seen as soon as 8:00 A.M., the bridges in the south face serious congestion that only recedes around 9:00 A.M.

Driving In Trafic Jam By epSosDriving In Trafic Jam By epSos

Meanwhile, traffic in the city of Vancouver itself seems to reach its rush hour between 8:00 and 9:00 A.M., as people often have to get to their workplace around this time. Some of the streets with high risks of congestion are for example Main Street around Vancouver Pacific Central, Kingsway in Mount Pleasant areas, Seymour Street, and Granville Street. The last shout comes shortly after 9:00 A.M. on West Georgia Street downtown, as cars from different directions meet up in the city centre. From then on, traffic is lighter until about 3:00 P.M., when the first people start moving home, and West Georgia Street is the first place where you can feel it. At about 5:00 P.M., you can feel the rush on the completely jammed Cambie Street, West and East Broadway, and Main Street, which generally remains busy for most of the day. Between 6:00 and 7:00, Howe Street and Burrard Street downtown tend to become congested as well, but from then on you shouldn’t encounter any significant slowdowns anywhere in the city –—after all, Monday is one of the “good days” in the traffic calendar.


TomTom reports Tuesday to be the day with one of the worst peak periods of the week. According to their data, the morning rush hour slows us down by 55 per cent and in the evening we spend more than 66 per cent extra time waiting in traffic jams.

Looking at the data from Google, the first striking thing is that the 7:00 A.M. jams on the roads leading to Vancouver are not present on Tuesday, which could be explained by some people coming to the city for the workweek on Monday morning and staying until Friday. However, as TomTom hinted, traffic in the City of Vancouver is denser from the morning. As soon as around 7:45 A.M., Main Street gets congested between Mt. Pleasant and Downtown Eastside, while many other roads in downtown areas show signs of busier traffic. Just like Monday, the true morning rush hour comes between 8:00 and 9:00 A.M. The heaviest traffic jams occur along Highway 7a downtown, at the intersection of Clark Drive and East Broadway, or at East 12th Avenue, which seems to be completely jammed. Of course, there are also the traditionally busy streets, like Dunsmuir Street, Main Street, and Cambie Street, where traffic never seems to calm down. Interestingly enough, West Georgia Street and Howe Street experience heavy traffic just before noon, when the traffic should be generally calmer.

Already at about 2:00 P.M., the afternoon traffic jams start to occur. The downtown areas are often completely jammed at many places and Cambie Street, West Broadway, and Main Street are quick to get filled by cars as well. It should also be mentioned that from 5:00 P.M. on, all the main roads from Vancouver, Burnaby, and other municipalities to the south are completely jammed every day. The traffic only gets better around 7:00 P.M., after most commuters more or less successfully leave the city.


Another day to be aware of in terms of traffic is Wednesday. TomTom peak hour stats exactly copy the Tuesday findings. However, according to Google, the development of congestion seems to be slightly different. While most of the trouble areas remain the same, the differences should be taken into consideration when planning your Wednesday journey. For example, West 16th Avenue gets jammed as soon as 7:15 A.M., while Main Street seems to be okay for most of the time, even during rush hour. As for downtown, Dunsmuir Street experiences the heaviest congestion. Shortly after 9:00 A.M., when the peak is almost over, avoid Clark Drive, which tends to be jammed, to save time. Compared to Tuesday, downtown areas seem to be calmer before noon and except for a couple of problematic areas (beware of Nelson Street!), you shouldn’t experience major delays here. However, streets get just as filled as they do on Tuesday, as people start rushing to have lunch downtown.

Main Street and Highway 7A become congested quite early on and are hardly passable as soon as at 2:30 P.M. The true downtown disaster comes at around 4:00 P.M., as West Georgia Street and Burrard Street are completely jammed for quite some time and significantly slow down movement within the city centre. Generally speaking, traffic in the city becomes very slow between 4:00 and 6:30 P.M., as people leave their workplaces and the roads can become congested at very many places. Some typical examples are Main Street, Pacific Boulevard, Water Street, and many others. And one fun fact in the end: TomTom proclaimed the 18th of January (Wednesday) to be the most congested day of the year.


According to TomTom, Friday should be a calm day when it comes to Vancouver traffic. Looking at the Google traffic density maps and experiencing the city traffic for years, we can only agree that the TomTom figures are right. On Friday, there are no major traffic jams in the early morning and even during rush hour between 8:00 and 9:00, traffic starts to pile up very slowly. Of course, West Georgia Street in downtown becomes congested even on Friday and everybody should be aware of the busy traffic on Main Street and Granville Street, but the overall density is significantly lower.

It’s also interesting to watch how people apparently call it a day much earlier on Friday, since the downtown congestion comes right after lunch and slowly spreads to less central areas as people seek their prolonged weekend rest. At that time, downtown is overwhelmed with traffic and Cambie Street and Main Street don’t provide a relaxing getaway either, but if you’re patient enough to wait a bit longer at work, you will have a very convenient journey home: there is virtually no evening rush hour, as everybody leaves the city right after noon.

Five Tips to Overcome Traffic Jams

Be Informed!

Besides being aware of the Google and TomTom data, you might also use some of the other methods for learning about the traffic situation. The most old-school approach, but still one of the most convenient, is to simply listen to one of the Vancouver radio stations that give regular updates on the current situation. It’s also possible to call your smartphone to your aid and use one of the apps that monitor traffic. Argumented Traffic Views are a good example of an app that works for most major North American cities and provides you with an overview of traffic in a glimpse.

Waiting In Trafic Jam By vinylmeisterWaiting In Trafic Jam By Vinylmeister

Highways Are the Way to Go

According to a TomTom survey, the congestion level on highways was only 17 per cent as compared to non-highways, where average congestion reached 34 per cent. This is quite an important piece of information, since I myself sometimes lose patience and exit the highway because I hope to find a faster way elsewhere. So the message is clear: stick to the highways!

Don’t Drive Downtown

If possible, avoid driving around downtown. Sometimes, you’re just stealing time from yourself by stubbornly insisting on car usage until the very end. Think about creating a different commuting pattern and for example leave your car on the edge of the city centre and use public transit once you’re close enough to your destination. You might be surprised how much time can be saved by thinking outside the box of cars.

Modify Your Work Schedule

Most of us have a flexible work schedule; we’re just not using it as much as we should. If you don’t mind getting up early, why not drive to the city one hour before everything gets congested? Consequently you would be able to leave your workplace one hour before the evening peak time. Or you might enjoy a small sleep in, reach the job later, and stay a bit longer — maybe going straight to your evening program from the job isn’t such a bad idea!

Trafic Jam By HonouTrafic Jam By Honou

Enjoy the It

After reading this article, you might just think that we are arrogant smart-asses stating the obvious without realizing that ordinary Vancouverites simply cannot eliminate traffic jams from their everyday lives. Fair enough, but in this case, try your best to enjoy the time spent waiting in the car. Get audio books, learn new languages, talk to your kids about their day, or just use the spare moments to reflect on your life. Take it as extra time to treat yourself and relax (however difficult it might be).

3 Responses to “How to Avoid Vancouver Traffic Jams”

  1. Christa

    what happens with traffic on Thursdays?


  2. Photis

    Good morning Jay. I want to thank you for this informative and useful report. I don’t suppose that traffic patterns have changed too much since the writing of this report however as I may become a home buyer in the next two years or so I was wondering if there is possibly a more detailed and updated report forthcoming in the near future? I don’t suppose too much has changed however with the major upgrades to Highway #1, the new Port Mann bridge and so on there may be some changes. I work right downtown near the intersection of Burrard and Georgia and I rent in Kitsilano at the moment but I’d like to start planning where I might buy a condo. With factors not the least of which are my budget constraint it would be interesting to compare route density. It is interesting that you referred to Google Maps traffic density information and I’m going to look that information up. Also, your tip on audiobooks is excellent and I do that anyways – very enjoyable. Again, thank you for the traffic tips and you’re on my radar as a go-to realtor in my future. Cheers.

  3. Neila

    Thanks for this. I am switching from nights to a morning shift starting next month after nearly 7 years of working strictly nights. I was a little worried about rush hour but it looks like I will be starting early enough to miss the morning rush hour. Hopefully I will be happy enough to be out of the office that the evening rush hour won’t drive me crazy.

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