Worst Cities in the World for Traffic

Boston Traffic on highwayTraffic in Boston with green traffic signs
Giovanni Gagliardi/Dreamstime

Road rage alert: A new study reveals the state of traffic around the world, ranking cities for the economic impact and time lost due to congestion.

The New England Patriots just brought home their third Super Bowl ring in five years, and it looks like the Red Sox have a promising pitching lineup going into 2019 spring training. Boston's universities and medical facilities are regularly ranked best in the world, and its legacy of political royalty is unparalleled. But this month, the city earned another notch in its belt of superlatives, and locals won’t be beating their chests about this one: worst traffic in the United States.

A Traffic-Stopping Analysis

Boston-Traffic-Bridge.jpg?mtime=20190214085232#asset:104875(Roman Smirnov/Dreamstime)

INRIX, a transportation data firm that publishes annual rankings of urban traffic and congestion around the world, released its Global Traffic Scorecard last week (inrix.com/scorecard). The study identifies and ranks mobility and traffic in more than 200 cities in 38 countries, analyzing lost time due to congestion as well as the severity of the congestion and reasons for it. When it comes to spending time in gridlock at peak hours of morning and evening commutes, Boston drivers took home top prize for 2018. (Well, if they can ever manage to get home, that is.)

To be fair, Boston isn’t alone in its supremely slow-moving misery—it’s an honor shared with Washington, D.C. Both have 15 more hours of congestion per year than Chicago and Seattle. Logic would dictate that New York City and Los Angeles, both infamous for bumper-to-bumper traffic, would come out on top. Chalk the counterintuitive results up to methodology. The study looked at commutes during peak times in the day, and, according to the report, “Los Angeles experiences high levels of congestion throughout the day, but its peak severity is less than Boston.” It also notes that the city has employment across a wider geographic area, preventing severe downtown congestion that more centralized cities experience, which helps explain Boston’s issues. Even with the billions spent on the so-called Big Dig, the decades-long construction project designed to relieve traffic by building a tunnel under the highway, it did nothing to alleviate the gridlock on the city streets, which were originally built for horse-drawn carriages.

New York City has an honor entirely of its own: the slowest city in the U.S., with “last mile” speeds of nine miles per hour. Translation: It’s faster to bike than to drive or take the bus. (L.A.’s last mile speed is four minutes.)

Time Is Money

Georgetown-washington-DC-Traffic.jpg?mtime=20190214085841#asset:104877(Erik Lattwein/Dreamstime)

The Global Traffic Scorecard found that congestion alone cost Americans nearly $87 billion in 2018, an average of $1,348 per driver. When it comes to time wasted, Americans lost an average of 97 hours annually.

As far as the breakdown of losses across the world, the Scorecard ranked cities both by economic impact and hours lost. On the economic scale, the cities where traffic had the most serious impact are, in decreasing order, Moscow, Istanbul, Bogota, Mexico City, and São Paulo. Boston is the only U.S. city in the top ten, with drivers losing $2,291 per year due to congestion. As far as U.S. cities go, Boston is followed by D.C. ($2,161), Seattle ($1,932), Chicago ($1,920), and New York City ($1,859). At $304 per driver, Wichita, Kansas, had the lowest cost of congestion among the U.S. cities studied.

When it comes to lost time, Bogota had the most hours lost globally to peak period congestion: 272 in 2018. That almost makes Boston, the top-ranking U.S. city, look good, with 164 hours lost. D.C. drivers lost 155 hours per year, with Chicago and Seattle trailing not far behind at 138 hours lost in each. New York City, L.A., Pittsburgh, and Portland, Oregon, are only marginally less congested, with 133, 128, 127, and 116 hours lost, respectively.

So next time the hankering for a road trip takes hold, make sure you account for time lost to gridlock when you’re planning your journey.

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