America’s urban highways were as crowded as parking lots on many days in 2019 — as they had been for decades. As the COVID-19 pandemic quickly shuttered offices across the country in 2020, even the most trafficked roads in places like New York City and Los Angeles became the equivalent of ghost towns. The decline in traffic was so sharp that, according to the U.N., air quality improved markedly in many metropolitan areas.
Car traffic volume, pollution, and long waiting times snapped back to near pre-pandemic levels last year as more urban offices, restaurants, and theaters reopened. In addition, in some cities where people worried about the spread of the virus on public transportation, commuters turned to cars. The increase was sharp enough that traffic jams and congestion returned, at times even at levels greater than in 2019.
Map and geolocation company TomTom tracks millions of cars via smartphones and vehicle map systems. Its technology has become part of the creation of self-driving car systems.
TomTom released a study titled “Traffic Index Ranking 2021.” Traffic data, gathered from 404 cities in 58 countries across six continents, was used to analyze traffic patterns in cities throughout a 24 hours day and for 365 days. This allowed the researchers to determine traffic levels at rush hour and at times in the day when there were fewer cars on the road. The information was also used to determine the percent of time that roads and highways in a city were congested.
To determine the American cities with the best commutes, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed TomTom’s Traffic Index. Time lost in traffic per year is defined as the extra travel time as compared to a one-hour period during free-flow conditions multiplied by 230 working days per year. Congestion levels represent the percentage of extra time a trip might take in traffic as compared to baseline uncongested conditions. Population figures are five-year estimates for 2020 from the U.S. Census Bureau.
By global standards, no U.S. city has roads that are highly congested. Forty-two cities are ahead of New York City, which sits atop the list for American metros with 80 hours of time lost in traffic each year. In Istanbul (142 hours a year lost in traffic), Moscow (140), Kyiv (128), Bogata (126) and Mumbai (121), the hours lost are over 120. (These are the cities where people lose the most time driving each year.)
In fact, several of America’s cities have among the best commute times in the world. The lowest among the U.S. cities measured is Greensboro, North Carolina, at 18 hours lost a year to traffic. The congestion rate on an average day in Greensboro is only 8%. The comparable time in New York City is 35%. (Find out if Greensboro is also among the safest cities for driving.)
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