Medellín’s Traffic Problem and Tips for Avoiding Traffic

Traffic in Medellín

Traffic in many parts of Medellín can be bad during the rush hours and also bad during lunch hour. It’s possible to run into traffic in Medellín anytime, particularly when there is some road construction or an accident.

The worst traffic in the city tends to be found in El Poblado and El Centro in my experience. Also the major roads going north and south tend to have more problems than roads going east and west.

In Medellín it seems there are countless motorcycles weaving between fast-moving cars, drivers who think nothing about making their own lanes and pedestrians who cross the road in the midst of traffic. This can make the goal of safer and more efficient roads in Medellín appear to be more of a pipe dream.

Traffic is one of the downsides of living in Medellín.  But there are many upsides, including the climate, low cost of living, good healthcare and good public transportation.

Note the above photo is of traffic at about 5:30 pm on a Monday next to the large Bancolombia headquarters building.

Medellín Living 2016 Reader Survey Results, N=201

Medellín Living 2016 Reader Survey Results, N=201

The Traffic Problem in Medellín

Traffic is a major concern of expats living in Medellín. Our Medellín Living reader survey in December last year found that traffic is the number one concern raised by expats living in the city, see the above graphic.

Waze ranked Medellín with one of the worst traffic problems in Latin America in 2015.   But in my experience, it is not as widespread of a problem in Medellín compared to the traffic issues in Bogotá.  During a recent business trip to Bogotá I spent nearly five hours stuck in traffic. This was due to going to and from three meetings in three different parts of the city. This was also due to being stuck in both the morning and evening rush hours.

But Bogotá doesn’t necessarily have the worst traffic in Latin America.  In my experience the much bigger cities of São Paulo and Mexico City have some of the worst traffic found in Latin America.

What is Medellín Doing About Traffic?

Starting back in 2009, Medellín began investing in a high-tech road monitoring system. The system is comprised of two centers from which a network of cameras and closed-circuit video feeds are used to monitor the traffic in Medellín.

Agents in these centers monitor traffic on monitors. And when traffic abnormalities occur they decide what action to be taken. This includes dispatching police and wreckers. Since the system was put in place the response time to incidents has dropped dramatically.

The municipalities in the Medellín metro area have also been investing in new roads and road expansions over the past several years. But in my opinion they aren’t building new roads and expanding roads fast enough, particularly in high-growth areas like Sabaneta.

Pico y Placo, courtesy of city of Medellín

Pico y Placo, courtesy of city of Medellín

Pico y Placa

Pico y placa is a rationing system implemented by Medellín to address the traffic problem in the city during rush hour. Pico y placa is essentially a rush-hour road-space rationing system used on Monday to Friday.

Under pico y placa you are currently restricted from driving in Medellín during rush hours on Monday to Friday from 7:00-8:30 am and from 5:30-7:00pm depending on numbers on your license plate.

For cars the restriction applies as follows for cars with plates ending with the digit:

  • Monday: 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Tuesday: 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Wednesday: 0, 1, 2, 3
  • Thursday: 4, 5, 6, 7
  • Friday: 8, 9, 0, 1

For two-stroke motorcycles the restriction applies with plates starting with the digit:

  • Monday: 2, 3
  • Tuesday: 4, 5
  • Wednesday: 6, 7
  • Thursday: 8, 9
  • Friday: 0, 1

Note that pico y placa changes from time to time, so the above list can change.

For cars the restriction is during rush hour twice per week and for two-stroke motorcycles the restriction is once per week. To avoid pico y placa I’m aware that some wealthy people have even bought two cars.

Tips for Avoiding Traffic

My first tip is to learn when the traffic is typically the worst as well as the short cuts and plan your trips according. In my experience the rush hour is worse in the evening than it is in the morning. So I try to avoid trips from about 5pm to 7:30pm.

My worst experience in traffic in Medellín was traveling home to Sabaneta from the José María Córdova international airport during the evening rush hour. This trip normally takes about 45 minutes. But during rush hour on a Friday evening it took me about two hours.

Waze app showing problem on Av. El Poblado, which happens frequently on this road

Waze app showing problem on Av. El Poblado, which happens frequently on this road

I also highly recommend the Waze app for smartphones. I have used this app for well over a year and it has saved me countless hours from being stuck in traffic.  We also consider Waze to be one of the 15 best mobile apps to be used in Medellín.

Using Waze I can find out how long it will take to get to my destination and the best route to use. And in my experience Waze time estimates are pretty accurate. I use Waze on my cell phone all the time to avoid traffic and direct taxi drivers to alternate routes.

I did this recently on a Sunday when the Autopista came to a standstill returning to Sabaneta. All it took was pulling out my cell phone and Waze said there was an accident ahead with traffic not moving.  And it estimated 50 minutes continuing that way. I had Waze look for an alternate route. And it recommended backtracking and going on Las Vegas, which we did and it only took 20 minutes.

Medellín's Metro

Medellín’s Metro

Use the Metro as an Alternative

I also frequently use Medellín Metro system as an alternative. There are many places in the city I can go faster by metro compared to taking a taxi or by bus on the roads.

I am a frequent metro user. And I happen to live not that far from La Estrella station, which is on the southern end of Line A. So I can get on the metro at this station even during rush hour and still usually get a seat.

From my apartment in Sabaneta to Santafé mall in El Poblado it’s about 25-30 minutes by taxi without traffic. With traffic during rush hour this can take over one hour. But by metro and walking it can take me about 40-45 minutes. So during rush hour using the metro is my fastest option and is also lower cost.

If it wasn’t for the Medellín Metro system, the city’s traffic problem would be much worse.  The Medellín Metro reportedly transports well over 160 million passengers per year.

What do you think of Medellín’s traffic problem?  And do you have any additional tips for avoiding traffic in the city?

 

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About Jeff

Jeff first discovered Colombia back in 2006 and has traveled to all the major cities in Colombia. He is fortunate to have lived over seven years in Medellín. He is also studying Spanish to become fluent.

Comments

  1. I was quite surprised how bad traffic was at lunch time in El Poblado

  2. Since my husband and I visited Medellin, we’ve regretfully decided against retiring there. We stayed in a hillside apartment just above the main drag (sorry, forgot the street name) about a mile from three large, expensive malls and convenient to most of the upscale areas. But, although we are comfortably retired, we are quite adventurous and spent most of our stay searching out the more authentic Colombian (not dissing the very beautiful affluent El Poblado, though). The traffic around and through this area to get anywhere was hair-raising, noisy and exhausting. As beautiful as Poblado is, we couldn’t consider actually living there because of the traffic. We since visited coastal Portugal which is now at the top of the list for our eventual move. But we often think of “kickin” Medellin and encourage young American workers to visit and give it a try. As life long New Yorkers (hubby) and San Franciscans (me) it’s just not where we could feel comfortable.

  3. The traffic is becoming a real problem in all of the five major cities of Colombia. It is only going to get worse as more and more Colombians leave their small towns to find employment in the larger cities plus with the increased access and availability of finance for motor vehicles and in particular second hand ones has seen many more people be able to purchase vehicles that otherwise couldn’t.

  4. I agree that the traffic in El Poblado is horrible and the worst in the city. That is one of the reasons I decided to live in Laureles. My tip to avoid traffic is simply avoid going to overrated and expensive El Poblado. You can find good restaurants and lower cost shopping elsewhere in the city. Every time I go to El Pobaldo I seem to get stuck in traffic. So I rarely go there. Anyone who decides to live in El Pobaldo also decides to live with the worst traffic in the city.

    • Weatherman says:

      Yes Jeff is completely correct – as he always is.

      Poblado has dreadful traffic, it’s expensive, nearly everyone there is a gringo and even the water tastes funny. Everything, food, eating out, beers, hairdressers, clothes at least twice the price of anywhere else in the city. The crime is out of control as all my friends say. You even have problems with La Policia there if you’re just trying to chat with girls in the Parque.

      I’ve been looking at Sabaneta – no traffic, lovely horses on the street, so cheap and lots of beautiful women. Beautiful air, no pollution and some of the best eating place anywhere in the world – and I mean that seriously. Gourmet food at less than $4 a meal served up by young lovelies. What else can you want! This is paradise.

  5. I have been visiting Medellin for the last 6 years ( I live there about 50% of the time). The increase in traffic has been noticible with each subsequent visit. I have gotten off the bus and walked the remainder of my destination and still beat the bus on Av. Poblado. Even Envigado has become noticibly more congested. It has become a game of timing at this point. Even the metro has become a sardine can most times of the day.
    I spend a lot of time In Santa Fe de Antioquia as well and this area is also feeling the pain as people move to this area. It is becoming a real concern and factor as I ponder a 100% move to Colombia.

    • I agree with what you said about problem on Av. Poblado. You can frequently walk faster than the traffic. After experiencing that many times I quickly decided to live elsewhere. I also experienced a lot of traffic up the hills in Poblado. There are too many cars in Poblado.

      • Edward’s comments definitely ring true to me especially because I’m retired and am not obliged to commute for work. I chose Laureles because it is a self contained neighborhood. I walk around quite a bit but because it’s a high density area almost everything I want is close.

  6. Michael Oles says:

    I always was curious of what the police do in this city.!!! i have seen many cars going through red lights and making wrong turns, and even speeding through gas stations to get ahead of the congested traffic. Never do i see a cop directing traffic or ever give traffic tickets. To me it is time to penalize infractions in order to pay for new roads. It also appears to me that the pollution from ALL public buses (as well as trucks) need to be addressed by the Government. During the week when i go to PriceSmart and am going back to Envigado i try my best to get going before 4 pm if not i will sitting in traffic.

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