Overcoming traffic trauma

Downloadable Yahoo widgets, Google gadgets, and Firefox extensions can help commuters bypass the worst traffic congestion.

There are two major lessons to be learned from this weekend's fiery freeway collapse in Oakland, California.

The 580 Freeway collapse in Oakland, California (Credit: San Francisco Chronicle)

The first lesson is that, despite all that concrete and steel, when faced with intense heats close to 3,000°F, freeways built to withstand earthquakes crumble like toys.

The second is that we generally take even heavily congested commutes for granted. San Francisco Bay Area commuters are now looking at months of overcrowded and out-of-the-way alternative routes while contractors and engineers clean up the mess of melted roadway.

Thankfully, software developers are commuters just like you and me. I've rounded up a few Yahoo widgets, Google gadgets, and one browser plug-in to help drivers identify local traffic problems and get advice on alternate routes. You'll need the Yahoo Widgets client (download for Windows or Mac) installed for Yahoo widgets to work and Google Desktop (download for Windows or Mac) to use Google desktop gadgets.

The Acura RDX Traffic widget is one of several applications that provide real-time traffic information. (Credit: Yahoo Inc.)

• The Yahoo Maps Widget offers alternate routes for select U.S. metropolitan areas. Download it for Windows or Mac.

• The use of the name "Yahoo" can get a bit confusing when talking about widgets. The Yahoo Local Traffic widget is a Yahoo-created widget for Mac OS X Dashboard that provides local traffic information and directions. It requires Mac OS X 10.4, but not the aforementioned Yahoo Widgets client.

• It's not only for Acura RDX drivers--the Acura RDX Traffic widget (download for Windows or Mac) for Yahoo Widgets gives real-time local traffic information, as well as instructions for accessing real-time traffic info from the new Acura RDX.

• The Google gadget called Traffic Check Plugin gives Google Desktop users easy access to traffic forecasts.

• I was only able to find one Firefox extension to ease your traffic woes, but it's decent. The Firefox Toolbar for LookLOCAL Maps directly accesses LookLOCAL's online mapping service for viewing traffic reports across North America or the U.K.

• For those who prefer to gauge roadway back-ups for themselves, there are a large number of city-specific traffic-cam widgets created for Yahoo Widgets by its users that are available through the Yahoo Widgets gallery.

Are we missing one of your favorite traffic widgets, gadgets, or browser add-ons? How do you use software or mobile technology to help you beat traffic jams? Give us the scoop in the comments.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.