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Thanksgiving Travel & Traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area


Thanksgiving Travel:

For most Americans, Thanksgiving means over-eating at a turkey feast and digesting some amount of stressful transportation to get to and from there. That’ll be the case for us San Francisco Bay Area residents in 2012, too, with Thanksgiving transportation studies saying that slightly more of us are traveling than in 2011, and that we are at the top of the list of cities with the busiest Thanksgiving traffic. Here's what to expect and some tips on how to minimize the travel hassles of Thanksgiving week.

Thanksgiving 2012 on the Road: Less Congestion:

About 5.4 million Californians will be traveling at least 50 miles during the long Thanksgiving weekend this year, up .6 percent from the previous year, the American Automobile Association (AAA) forecasts. This will be the fourth consecutive year in which Thanksgiving travel has inched up since a 10-year low in 2008, when the recession hit and only 37.8 million Americans traveled.

Of the Californians on-the-go, more than 85 percent, or about 4.7 million of them, are expected to drive to their Thanksgiving destination, AAA says. The good news for drivers is that because the economy is still wobbly and gas prices are relatively steep, traffic congestion in most U.S. metropolitan areas during Thanksgiving will actually be less compared to last year, according to INRIX, a traffic data monitoring and analytics firm. For San Francisco, INRIX predicts a 12 percent drop in traffic clogging from 2011.

Wednesday Road Trips to Take One-Third Longer:

But that doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods and headed for a smooth drive to grandmother’s house. Traffic will be worse than during a non-holiday commute, naturally, and INRIX ranks San Francisco as the U.S. metropolitan area with the second-worst Thanksgiving traffic—just after Los Angeles.

Drivers in San Francisco can figure that a local trip on Wednesday afternoon, Thanksgiving Eve, will take on average 32 percent longer than on a regular weekday, according to INRIX, which is based in the Seattle area. In traffic-jam champion Los Angeles, it’ll take 33 percent longer. New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. round out INRIX's list of the five U.S. cities with the most clogged Thanksgiving holiday traffic, where driving will take at least 30 percent longer than normal.

Nationally, the average trip on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be about one-fourth longer than on a usual day, INRIX says.


By Car:

Wednesday, November 21: Peak traffic time is 3:30-5 pm, INRIX says. To avoid the crush of cars creeping out of town, leave before 2 pm or after 6 pm. Better yet, if you can, wait until Thursday morning to get in the car.

Thursday, November 22: AAA’s Tipsy Tow program, which is open to non-AAA members, offers a free tow home for drinking drivers and their cars in Northern California. From 6 pm on Thanksgiving until 6 am Friday, call 800-222-4357 (AAA-HELP) to get a free ride home of up to ten miles.

Friday, November 23: Downtown retail districts and suburban shopping areas will be crowded on Black Friday, of course. In the San Francisco Bay Area, traffic will peak at 2-3 pm, INRIX predicts. It will be heavy between 11 am and 1 pm and during the 5-7 pm dinner period, too.

By Air:

San Francisco International Airport expects its Thanksgiving traffic to rise by 3 percent compared to the year before—and that from Nov. 16 through Nov. 25, more than 1.2 million travelers will pass through SFO.

INRIX, which has also researched the busiest routes to major airports around the nation, says that on Wednesday, 4 pm will be the worst time to try to get to SFO and Highway 101 south will be the worst route. Getting from downtown to SFO then will take 9.5 minutes plus an average delay of 2 minutes, INRIX predicts (which seems like a fanciful under-estimate for even a regular day).
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