Driving, never an inexpensive way to travel when most large cities have public transportation, has gotten more expensive as the price of gasoline has risen. Gas prices, well under $3 a gallon a year ago, have risen above $4. For people with long commutes, this can raise the price to drive a car by hundreds of dollars a year. For middle- and lower-income families, this creates a large financial challenge. And a small number of cities, like Detroit, do not offer much help with public transportation, because the infrastructure has never been built.
Add to fuel costs the expense of tolls in some cities and the high prices of parking, particularly in very large cities like New York. Commuting can be a large part of a family budget.
Finally, commute times can cut into the hours people have for work and leisure. 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. 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.
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.
To find the U.S. city 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.
The city with the most time lost in traffic is New York. Here are the details:
- Time lost to traffic per year: 80 hours
- Congestion level, 2021: 35%
- Average commute time: 41.5 minutes
- Population density: 29,303 per square mile
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