Traffic congestion has become a fact of life in America. Across the country, drivers are dealing with increased commute times to work, school, and even impromptu excursions. It leads to billions of gallons of wasted fuel in the U.S., costing each American more than $1300 each year. Congestion also increases vehicle emissions, which degrades air quality. It affects millions of drivers, especially those with daily commutes in the U.S. cities with the worst traffic.
Between 1993 and 2017, the population in Austin increased by 125%. In fact, Texas' capital and its fourth-largest city has nearly doubled in population every 20 years since 1880. The average commute time is around 40 minutes, pushing Austin to the eighteenth worst city for traffic on a variety of lists measuring congestion. In 2019, drivers spent 69 hours in traffic jams across the city. Additionally, studies have rated it third on lists of cities with the most stressful commutes. Officials don't expect things to improve anytime soon. By 2040, traffic engineers believe that commute times will double. Areas around I-35 near downtown and those south and southwest of U.S. Highway 290 and northwest of Highway 183 are heavily congested. Locals advise avoiding these areas whenever possible.
It may not sound quite as bad being stuck in traffic in such a beautiful place. But even pretty vistas can't fix rush hour frustration. In 2012, traffic research firm INRIX ranked congestion in Honolulu, located on the island of Oahu, as the worst in the country, ahead of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. To deal with the problem, engineers have added nearly 900 miles of freeway lanes across the area, but to little avail. The city's congestion levels have remained steady, especially on non-highways, although they've dropped below the radar on INRIX's lists due to the way the firm makes its calculations. The toughest routes to get through during rush hour — Salt Lake to Chinatown and from McCully to Kahala — take commuters around 30% longer to reach destination points. But no matter how bad traffic gets, Hawaiians never honk to complain, only to say "hello."
With congestion rates of 31%, Miami experiences a majority of its traffic issues on its non-highway thoroughfares. But if you ask local drivers, they say that there's heavy traffic to deal with no matter where you go in the city. A 2020 study by Moovit, the creators of a popular mass transportation app, found that drivers in Miami spent an average of 56 minutes in their cars or on public transportation heading to or coming home from work. It's not only heavy commuter and tourist traffic that fuels congestion, but also construction. Road closures hinder post-rush hour traffic jams as well, despite nighttime construction schedules. In 2019, Miami commuters spent 133-hours in rush hour traffic, according to the TomTom traffic index.
For drivers in Seattle, it's no surprise that the city has one of the country's worst congestion problems. It's the base of operations for Amazon, Starbucks, Costco, Microsoft, and other big companies. Although traffic issues have slightly improved over the last year, chances are, you're still going to spend a decent amount of time going nowhere during rush hour. Traffic gets even more frustrating when it rains. According to a 2019 study from Texas A&M University's Transportation Institute, Seattle ranked seventh compared to other large urban areas. Another study by INRIX released in 2020 found that as Seattle's economic and urban growth surged, so did its traffic between 2017 and 2019. They ranked it the 14th most congested city in the U.S. The average commuter lost just under 75 hours due to congestion across the Seattle region.
Insurance company statistics say Pittsburgh has some of the most accident-prone drivers in the nation. Despite a small decrease in population, the city's traffic delays have increased. Drivers spend 32 hours each year stuck in traffic due to congestion. The worst areas are Parkway East and West between Interstate 79 and the Pennsylvania turnpike, which falls in at number five on the nation's most congested roadways list. Drivers lose 18 minutes each day due to heavy traffic on that route alone. City leaders and mobility engineers have planned to construct 120 miles of bike lanes to help alleviate the congestion issues, but that only represents about 10% of Pittsburgh's roads. They say encouraging drivers to opt for public transportation is also key to alleviating the city's traffic issues.
Traffic jams and New York just seem to go hand-in-hand. With congestion levels of 37%, it's one of the nation's most congested metro areas. Although New York has improved a bit from 2018, traffic costs each commuter around 142 hours of lost time and around $1859 each year in lost economic productivity. Morning rush hours add 16 extra minutes, while evening rush hours add 21 minutes to what would normally be a 30-minute commute. The Cross Bronx Expressway ranks number one on transportation analytics company INRIX's list of the country's worst traffic corridors due to its heavy onslaught of traffic. New York may be a city that never sleeps, but congestion eases in the late evening. Traffic on the weekends tends to be heavier between the hours of noon and 6 p.m., according to the TomTom Traffic Index.
Despite its gorgeous climate, the City of Angels seems to be in a constant state of gridlock. And for this car-loving city, bicycle infrastructure is not up-to-par and not a viable travel alternative for most commuters. City leaders and planners have had a years-long, ongoing battle with traffic. As the city grows, so does its congestion, which has pushed it to the number six slot among the nation's most car-packed cities. LA does offer affordable public transportation like its Metro Rail system, but most California drivers prefer driving their vehicles. Still, LA is home to three of the ten most-congested roadways in the country, according to INRIX. Drivers seeking to avoid congestion should avoid the Santa Ana Freeway from the San Bernardino Freeway to the San Gabriel River. It can save you 20 minutes a day.
Drivers lost an average of 124 hours due to congestion and traffic delays in the nation's capital city in 2019. The good news is that number dropped by about 3% from 2018. Congestion levels averaged around 29%, with most of it occurring on non-highways. Morning rush hour starts as early as 6 a.m. and continues through 9:30 a.m. It picks up again around 3:30 p.m. and continues until 6:30 p.m. Washington D.C. shared the slowest congested traffic speeds in the nation with two other cities in 2019, Philadelphia and San Francisco, at tortoise-like paces of 10 mph. It might be faster to ride a bicycle or take a bus to reach your destination, but only about 3% bike, walk or ride a scooter to work or school. High traffic congestion also leads to commuters spending more on fuel.
Chicagoans lost around 145 hours in 2019 due to traffic congestion, an increase from 138 hours the year before. This earned the city a second-place rating on a list of severely congested cities across the U.S., according to INRIX. Part of the problem, say officials, is that more than half of all car trips in 2019 were less than three miles, and 22 percent of those were less than one mile. Many believe that this change in driving behavior has to do with a denser number of downtown destinations in combination with Chicago's economic growth. City leaders say a 271% increase in Uber and Lyft trips contributed to the problem. They passed legislation to charge the ride-sharing companies an extra fee to help fund transit improvements.
It ranks as the most congested city in the country and ninth in the world. In 2019, Boston drivers spent 149 hours of driving time in congested traffic. Average speeds of 12 mph led to an additional six minutes to drive one mile into the city's central business district during peak commute times. Boston's average congestion rate was 26% in 2019, about 1% higher than it was in 2018. Officials say Boston's aging mass transit system is not only severely underfunded, it suffers from breakdowns and delays. Unlike other cities, Boston's parking fees are inexpensive, so drivers prefer to face heavy traffic rather than use public transportation. But with population numbers booming, housing in the city has increased, forcing commuters to seek homes farther away from their workplaces. Because public transportation doesn't support many of these areas, drivers commute into the city, adding to its ongoing traffic problems.