Congested roads take up so much of our time. Preliminary 2019 reports from the Federal Highway Administration reveal that road and street travel has increased this year to an all time high of 2.1 trillion vehicle miles in the United States alone, and traffic does not seem to be going away anytime soon. But what’s causing all this traffic?
What causes roads to become congested?
Congestion is basic supply and demand — the demand for road space exceeds the supply of road space. This means that congestion or traffic will occur when the number of cars on the road outnumber the available space on the road itself.
We measure congestion by the delay of a commute rather than the duration of the commute itself. This delay is impacted by an area’s population, economy, infrastructure and the availability of rideshare and delivery services. For example, the older the city, the older the infrastructure, which often results in inefficient roadways incapable of supporting a modern supply of vehicles.
The resulting impact on you, the driver, means an excessive amount of time spent in a car. This is of course time that could have been spent with family, friends or at work.
World cities with the worst commutes
Speaking of old cities, the cities with the worst commutes are among the oldest in the world. INRIX Research, the world leader in mobility analytics and connected car services, recently released their 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard in February. In it they identified and ranked the most congested cities in the world using billions of data points from cities, Departments of Transportation, road weather conditions, connected vehicles, journalistic incidents and more. The following cities were found to have the worst commutes in the world, spending days in traffic annually:
- Bogota, Colombia
272 hours per person annually or 11+ days lost in congestion
- Mexico City, Mexico
218 hours per person annually or 9+ days lost in congestion
- Moscow, Russia
210 hours per person annually or 8+ days lost in congestion
- Istanbul, Turkey
157 hours per person annually or 6+ days lost in congestion
- São Paulo, Brazil
154 hours per person annually or 6+ days lost in congestion
When you consider the recent geopolitical turmoil causing shockwaves through South America, it’s no wonder that some of the worst congestion in the world occurs there. With limited financial resources to make improvements to infrastructure in the midst of growing urbanization, traffic is a problem that gets worse by the day and no solutions in sight.
Other cities have topographical and geographical constraints that make building roadways difficult and driving on them dangerous. All these factors culminate into the most congested roads and worst traffic globally.
American cities and roads with the worst traffic
As far as the United States is concerned, many older cities are among the most congested. To show this impact, we discovered the cities with the most congested roads using expert data from the INRIX Research 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard and ranked them based on city congestion levels to create an ultimate list of the top 6 American cities with the worst traffic.
Many of the top cities with the worst traffic in the U.S. have been faced with aging and confined infrastructure tasked with handling a growing population. Between 2010 and 2018, for example, New York City estimates they’ve added an additional 223,615 residents. The largest influx of residents is in the Bronx, which experienced a 3.4 percent increase in population over that 8-year period.
1. Boston, MA
Boston, Massachusetts is the first on our list with a congestion decline of 10% in 2018, but the highest number of hours lost to congestion. Boston drivers lost 164 hours in congestion and $2,291 each for the year. The city lost $4.1 billion overall.
The monetary cost of this congestion is determined by using travel time unit costs. These unit costs are calculated by the U.S. Department of Transportation using a variety of studies including an analysis of business costs, traveler surveys and the value travelers place on time versus money.
Boston is working on ways to improve congestion, which includes adding adaptive traffic signals, bike lanes, and dedicated bus lanes. As far as I-93 goes, there is a project proposed to improve the I-93/I-95 interchange but is currently on hold.
2. Chicago, IL
Chicago, Illinois is second on the list, but possibly moving up the rankings since congestion in 2018 was up 4%. Drivers lost 138 hours in congestion and lost an average of $1,920 each that year. The city overall lost $6.2 billion to congestion.
The Illinois Department of Transportation is considering a plan to widen I-55, otherwise known as the Stevenson Expressway. This would add two new “managed” lanes in each direction. Technology and protocol would be applied to these lanes to dynamically manage the traffic congestion allowed to them. For example, if commuter traffic is heaviest traveling east, the DOT can widen the median to allow for more eastbound lanes.
The I-55 connects the I-94 and I-90, so it would have an effect on these roads as well. However, the project currently has no funding and is facing opposition from advocacy groups.
3. New York City, NY
New York City, New York is third on our list. It is reported that in 2018 the city’s congestion was down 4%, but drivers still lost a whopping 133 hours to congestion.
For New York City, the cost of congestion is an annual average of $1,859 per driver which amounts to a total cost of $9.5 billion for the city. New York City also has the most congested road in the country. The Cross Bronx Expressway frequently tops this list for its inability to handle the densely populated area it is located in.
Currently a $119 million dollar project is underway to add a new lane to the Major Deegan Expressway in order to more easily connect local traffic onto the Cross Bronx Expressway. This is just the first of many improvements planned for the Major Deegan Expressway and the Cross Bronx Expressway. All improvements are expected to be complete by the end of 2022.
4. Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles, California comes in as the 4th worst city in the U.S. for time spent in congestion. Its congestion levels did not change from 2017 to 2018. However, the city’s drivers lost 128 hours in 2018, putting the average annual cost of congestion at $1,788 per driver. The city as a whole lost $9.3 billion.
Since INRIX’s study has been completed, improvements on the US-101 have been made. ExpressLanes have been installed and local partners are testing innovations to improve traffic flow. Only time will tell the impact of these improvements in the city’s traffic congestion.
5. Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is in fifth place as drivers lost 127 hours in traffic in 2018. With that said, the city saw a 5% increase in congestion levels compared to the previous year. This brought the average annual traffic cost for drivers in 2018 to $1,776 and $1.2 billion for the city as a whole.
There are no current plans to renovate I-376, but there is a $14.55 million improvement project underway for the city. This plan includes a concrete reconstruction of Route 19 (which intersects with I-376), median barrier replacement, lengthening on-ramps, sign structure replacements and other ramp construction work.
6. Philadelphia, PA
Last but not least, in sixth place is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The city did not see a change in congestion levels from 2017 to 2018. However, the city’s drivers did lose 112 hours in congestion with an average annual cost of $1,568 each and $3.3 billion total.
Lucky for Philadelphia drivers, I-76 is receiving upgrades as part of an $8 million project. These upgrades will include electronic variable speed signs to give drivers advance notice of delays. Existing shoulders on the highways will also be altered to be used as additional lanes during peak rush hours.
Is traffic only going to get worse?
Road congestion causes delays and drivers are stuck with the financial burden. So is traffic only going to get worse? Well, it depends. Global population is at a slight incline, but many countries are implementing policy changes to limit the number of cars on the road. These changes encourage citizens and tourists to take public transportation or alternative methods of transportation, like rideshare or scooter services. This not only has an effect on decreasing road congestion, but CO2 emissions, too.
Ultimately, road congestion in your area is going to come down to the local government, culture, and infrastructure. If you are frustrated with your current commute, perhaps research an area with a smaller population or city density and consider making a move. Regardless of where you live, be safe on the roads, be prepared for anything with the best auto insurance and be patient with your fellow commuters.