Cities Where People Lose the Most Time Driving Each Year

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As most people who commute by car know, rush hour is often anything but speedy. The times of the day when people are most likely driving to and from work is also when you’re most likely to be stuck in gridlock, trapped in a merge lane, or rolling along at a bicycle’s pace in a mile-long backup of vehicles.

According to Tom Vanderbilt, author of the 2008 book “Traffic,” the main cause of traffic congestion has less to do with poor road conditions but rather with drivers themselves, who fail to maintain steady speeds, ignore better vehicle-merging techniques, and opt to tolerate congestion instead of using mass transit when that option is available to them. And building more roads isn’t the solution: Numerous studies have shown that expanding road capacity encourages more people to drive, leading to no discernible improvement in traffic flow. In some cases, widening roads has actually led to slower traffic.

Whatever the causes of congestion may be, the time drivers lose to traffic tends to correlate with population density. So, it’s no surprise that drivers in the largest metro areas in the United States – New York and Los Angeles – experience the most time-wasting traffic congestion. But more surprising is that smaller cities can have worse traffic than larger ones. For example, drivers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a city with a population of about 224,000, waste more time in gridlock than drivers in Houston, a city of 2.3 million. (These are America’s 50 worst cities to drive in.)

Time lost to traffic congestion can be measured by comparing the added time it takes to travel a distance during peak driving times to “free flow” drive times when there is little or no congestion, which typically occurs at night. (These are the safest cities for driving.)

 To find the 26 U.S. cities with the most time lost to driving each year, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the TomTom Traffic Index, which tracks urban congestion in 404 cities across 58 countries.  Average commute time (five-year data) and population density come from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey. The data is for the city proper in all cases except for Honolulu, where it covers the Urban Honolulu metro area.

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