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Memorial Day weekend: Here are the best and worst times to try to leave SF

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Don’t spend all three days in traffic

Cars driving across the Golden Gate Bridge Public Domain

Memorial Day Weekend marks the start of the summer season in the minds of most Americans (although technically that’s still a month off), but it can also pose a conundrum for weekend commuters: How to get out of San Francisco without driving straight into the meat grinder of holiday traffic?

Last year, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and Washington-based traffic data company INRIX tried to calculate the worst possible times to depart from major American cities like SF on a landmark weekend.

Repeating the experiment this year, AAA’s travel blog anticipates that “nearly 43 million Americans” have travel plans this weekend, up from an estimate of 42 million last year.

AAA warns drivers “Memorial Day travel by automobile will [top] the previously recorded high in 2005,” with some 37.6 million drivers expected, a figure equivalent to almost 11.5 percent of the total US population.

How to avoid getting stuck in vehicular congestion? While it’s impossible to foresee what will happen when the rubber hits the road, INRIX makes some projections based on data about similar weekends in the past and certain variables about how traffic behaves on routes like I-80, I-680, and CA 37.

Here’s how the Memorial Day 2019 traffic forecast rolls out:

  • The worst time to attempt to leave San Francisco is probably Saturday, May 25, between 1 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., a worst-case-scenario window that hits a couple hours earlier than last year’s forecast. Of the ten major metro areas assessed, SF is the only one where traffic is expected to peak on Saturday.
  • Those who end up on freeways and other high-saturation routes leaving SF during that Saturday period can expect to spend 1.6 times longer arriving to their destination, slightly better than last year’s forecast of 1.7. This is actually one of the smallest multipliers on the list—the Boston and Washington DC areas are both tied for the worst expected gridlock, with normal wait times tripled.
  • “Based on advance AAA Travel bookings,” the Bay Area ranks the tenth most likely destination for Memorial Day travelers and the second most likely in California (number one being Anaheim, of course). Hertz Rental car company, citing data from past years, anticipates that SFO will be the fifth busiest pick-up spot this weekend.
  • A disclaimer: The forecast is experimental. Even if accurate, it only anticipates which times are likely to be the worst. Other hours and even other days entirely are still going to be busier and more gridlocked than usual, because, well, it’s Memorial Day Weekend.
  • If there’s a worst time to try to leave town, then it stands to reason there also must be a best one. Brace: Traffic on major routes in and out of SF is lightest around 2 a.m. on weekends. On the brighter side, the sunrise can be quite fetching as seen from the 101.