24/7 Wall Street has published a list of cities with the worst traffic in the USA.
As you may have guessed from reading this blog, this is a subject on which I have very strong feelings. So, naturally, I can't just let this list blow by without commenting. In order to get the ball rolling, I'll just publish my list and discuss entries on their list after. Because I have some serious disagreements. Their only metric is "lost time due to traffic delays" which is a worthy way of looking at it, but I'd argue that an overall statistic is too general to be useful in specific circumstances. If I'm sitting in traffic I'm not thinking "Thank heavens I'm not in Chicago where traffic is worse" because my driving experience in Chicago is specific, not general. Based on my experience, here's my Top 15 (they did 32 cities for some reason)
- Atlanta (24/7 Rank: 10)
Here is a classic example of their list's "general timing" being bizarre to me. Because to find traffic worse than Atlanta on my list, I would have to go International. Atlanta is hands-down, without-a-doubt the worst traffic I have encountered in the USA. I remember very well approaching Atlanta from the East Coast only to run into traffic so bad that it took over an hour to get through what should have taken ten minutes. And within the city itself, driving anywhere means you are just fucked. It takes forever to get anywhere. Even if you circumnavigate the city center. From the airport? Fucked. Heading to Marietta? Fucked. There is no way to navigate anywhere near Atlanta without getting fucked.
- Los Angeles (24/7 Rank: 7)
The fact that L.A. doesn't appear until the #7 slot makes me dubious about the list to begin with. I'm not questioning that the data is accurate, but I am questioning how it applies to actual people and their driving experience. As anybody who has ever driven in L.A. (or tried to get out of L.A.) will tell you, traffic is a nightmare without end. I have driven from LAX up to The Valley and honest-to-God felt as though I was caught in some kind of time warp where time slows to a crawl. I used to have to drive from Santa Monica down to Anaheim/Santa Ana and would end up screaming... not at anybody in particular, just out of general frustration. I may have taken my driving lessons in Central Washington, but I didn't really learn to drive until I was working in L.A. regularly in the 90's. Traffic has only gotten worse.
- New York (24/7 Rank: 3)
Despite the fact that NYC is in the #3 spot, New York is actually not that terrible to get around in. So long as you are using public transport! But if you attempt to drive in any of the five boroughs, you're 100% fucked. I used to drive from whatever airport I arrived in to Manhattan because I often needed to go out of the city on my work trips. I gave up on my fourth trip. I take public transportation out of the city, then rent a car from there. It saves my sanity.
- Seattle (24/7 Rank: 10)
Seattle is surrounded on three sides by water. So there is no "ring road" to get around it... and any attempt to get around it by driving around the East Side is an exercise in futility because it's equally bad over there. Couple that with the fact that the streets are always torn up somewhere or other, and the horrific traffic is multiplied to an insane degree. Of all the cities on this list, I drive in Seattle the most often. My breath is taken away every time, because it's just so horrifically bad. Everywhere.
- Chicago (24/7 Rank: 1)
Maybe it's because most times I just take the el (elevated train) to get around and only really drive to get to the city from the airport when a car is required, but I don't get the #1 ranking. Even when I do drive within Chicago, it's always seems like normal big-city traffic and not some insurmountable beast. That being said... from the experience I have had driving, I get it. Nothing quite like hitting the same light three and four times to make your blood boil.
- Boston (24/7 Rank: 2)
Boston is a very old city which is a massive mess to navigate. For years I would arrive at the airport and drive up to Maine because flying direct into Portland was too expensive, and each time I would be stuck in ungodly traffic even though I was nowhere near central Boston. And God help you if you actually do need to drive in Boston proper because the traffic is a never-ending source of angst. Whenever I would have to navigate the old street layouts and ridiculous routes needed (all while trying to avoid potholes) my anxiety would escalate. I was exhausted at the end of the trip even though it technically "wasn't that terrible." Even so, I don't get the #2 ranking here. If you're a smart driver that can handle it, Boston is far better than Seattle of L.A. to navigate.
- Miami (24/7 Rank: 5)
This is one of those cities where your experience very much depends on where you're driving. If you're driving from South Beach to Little Havana, let's say... yeah. The number of cars on the road is absurd. And while that's true for the rest of the city as well, it's to varying degrees. When I was driving from Miami to Palmetto Bay every year in the 90's I didn't think it was all that bad. Maybe it's far worse now? But you could say that about everywhere.
- San Francisco (24/7 Rank: 6)
I have driven in San Francisco the second most on this list after Seattle. Yes, the traffic is bad. Yes, navigating the city can be baffling. Yes, there is construction often. Yes, people can be jerks. But traffic-wise? It's busy, but not to the extent of most big cities. Maybe it just seems that way because it's fairly compact? Like Seattle, the city is surrounded by water on three sides, which makes it impossible to improve things much, but driving the Bay Area never caused me more anxiety than the cities above.
- Washington D.C. (24/7 Rank: 8)
Yeah... it's pretty bad. But not as bad as it could be if you know the streets to avoid. Some of it is, of course, unavoidable, but I've been all over D.C. and just don't find it to be bad enough for the #8 ranking. Seattle, San Francisco, and Atlanta are exponentially worse in my experience. It's been six years since I've driven there, so maybe it's gotten a lot worse... but what cities haven't gotten much worse?
- Philadelphia (24/7 Rank: 4)
Philly traffic got so frustrating to me that I ended up refusing to drive there, and stopped renting cars because my blood pressure would become so elevated that I considered it a health risk. So I totally understand it landing in the #4 spot. That being said... worse than Atlanta?!?? Are you kidding me? Philadelphia has serious problems when it comes to traffic, but it's an absolute cakewalk compared to Atlanta! For one thing, navigation doesn't seem to be as bad, which maybe makes the traffic not seem so bad to me. I don't know. But the fact I refuse to drive in the city and use taxis/public transport is still very telling.
- Houston (24/7 Rank: 11)
Houston is problematic to me in so many ways... but the traffic doesn't even rank in the top five reasons I am not thrilled to have to go there. But it is still a very large problem. Most times when I am in Houston for work, I have to drive out to some location in the burbs, and getting in and out of the city makes that a problem because the roads are jammed at all the wrong times. Many times I will just circumnavigate the horrors of downtown to get from the airport to my destination, but then if you want to experience the many terrific restaurants in the city, you have a choice to make. Do I really want to have a Hillstone veggie burger that bad? Unfortunately, the answer is most often "yes," and the fact that the restaurant is not even in the worst traffic in Houston won't save you because it's still bad. And don't get me started on the parking. San Francisco is the absolute worst... don't ask my why Houston is nearly as bad. I honestly don't understand it. Maybe I hang out at all the wrong places?
- New Orleans (24/7 Rank: 9)
Driving in New Orleans can absolutely test your patience. Especially if you're foolish enough to attempt to drive through the tourist-heavy regions like The French Quarter. My most hated drive, however, is the one to and from the airport. Not sure why they can't do something to improve this... probably a question of money... but I would have a much more favorable impression of the city if this route weren't so dang slow.
- Portland (24/7 Rank: 13)
This is highly dependent on where you are driving. The outskirts of the city are usually not that bad, but anywhere else... especially from the airport... can be a serious challenge. Oddly enough, the city proper is hit-or-miss, and many times I've driven it weren't terrible at all. This is also time-dependent, I think. But, yeah, rush hour is a mess and there is some weirdness to navigate certain areas, so it's understandable how traffic can seriously put a damper on your transit times.
- San Diego (24/7 Rank: 18)
It's not just San Diego proper... it's the entire region. To the South is a mess because there's border traffic. To the north is a mess because there's limited corridors and popular cities like La Jolla and Del Mar are there (not to mention Los Angeles!). Going East isn't quite as bad (I had work in Spring Valley that I'd drive to)... but the rest? Disastrous. And I don't truly understand why that is. Sure there's a lot of people and it's between to high-traffic destinations, but even in the city proper it can take a long time to really get anywhere. I've drive in San Diego more times than I can count and found traffic to be a problem most every time. Maybe it's just California?
- Austin (24/7 Rank: 17)
Not only can Austin be a complete bear to navigate, but the public transportation is fucked. I have had busses blow past me many times despite the stop being on their route. Not just once... many times. It seems as though drivers only stop if there's enough people waiting to be worth their time? I have no idea. When it comes to driving Austin proper, it probably doesn't actually deserve my final spot... it's busy but not prohibitively so... but I'm putting here anyway because the busses piss me off that much.
One of these days I should make a list that includes foreign cities. But I don't know that my heart could handle even the memory of some of these places!