Memorial Day Analysis: Historical Data + What to expect

Barbecues, Beaches and lots of traffic. 

Holiday weekends are great: one extra day to relax, the chance to visit family and friends, or even a quick getaway to the lake, the beach or a new city. But remember: everyone else is doing the same thing, and that means traffic.

Knowing this, we looked at historical data from Memorial Day 2014, and compared it to averages for the entire United States along with select regions and cities to determine how the next few days will play out on the road. You may have already caught the awesome infographic post on the Official Waze Blog, but we wanted to give you a better insight into the actual data that led to those conclusions.

Thursday and Friday are already some of the busiest days for drivers. Adding the fact that a significant amount of the population will be driving out of town to already-busy rush hours isn’t helping anyone get anywhere quickly. In general, we saw a 5%-6% increase in drivers on the road during the red timeframes above, so plan accordingly. Especially of note is the midday rush on Memorial day between 10AM – 3PM; it’s not a coincidence that those are prime outdoor hours. Arrive early to the barbecue or hang around the lake for a few extra hours rather than spending that same amount of time in the car. It’s your holiday- you should be able to enjoy it!

We know people are going out of town because they’re all driving longer distances. The 31% increase in distance on Memorial Day shows that even the people who stay local are still making day trips farther away than normal, so you should be able to avoid a lot of the traffic by simply hanging around. But this approach only works if you don’t live near a popular destination or tourist attraction, so be prepared for the traffic to come to you.

Another note: Memorial Day is generally a pretty safe time to drive, according to our historical data. The 45% increase in police presence definitely encourages safer driving: we saw reports of accidents decrease by 21%. 

To determine where most people are going on Memorial Day, we looked at destinations from a variety of angles:

  • Aggregate destinations (ex: Where are most drivers headed in total?)
  • Per region aggregate (ex. Where are most people in Florida going?)
  • Comparative data (ex: Which destinations are more popular on Memorial Day than average?)

After comparing those three datasets, we found several locations that popped up repeatedly. Beaches and lakes were very popular: Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, Miami Beach, Lake Michigan (via Michigan City), Lake Mead, Venice Beach and Cape Cod all came in high on the list.

But the surf isn’t for everyone- many drivers chose to visit city centers like Portland, OR; San Francisco; all of the sites in Midtown Manhattan; and even the historic district of Philadelphia.

If you look at the analysis of specific highways by some friends of ours you’ll notice that many (if not all) correspond to these destinations.

One last tidbit we didn’t include in the infographic, but is nonetheless important to remember: Traffic on Tuesday will be worse than you expect! We observed a proportionate increase in rush hour usage (6%) on the Tuesday after Memorial Day 2014. This is a country-wide statistic, but expect it to be worse in major cities. You may want to ease into the office on Tuesday after some R&R, but if you don’t leave during 1-2 hours ahead of time, the only thing you’ll be “easing into” is that audiobook you still haven’t finished.

Whatever you do, make sure to use Waze to get the most up-to-date information about what’s happening on the roads.