Traffic congestion is a widespread problem. The Federal Highway Administration says that it is possible to solve traffic congestion by building infrastructure, maintaining infrastructure, and making better use of infrastructure. Some cities do these things better than others. Simultaneously, some cities need to do these things better than others because they see more traffic for one reason or another. Generally speaking, the U.S. cities with the worst traffic are what most people would expect, though there are some surprises here and there.
What Are the 20 U.S. Cities with the Worst Traffic in 2022?
Here is TomTom's list of the 20 U.S. cities with the worst traffic in 2022 based on the time lost on an annual basis:
20. Fresno, CA - 46 Hours
Fresno is home to more than half a million people. However, that seems to be just one reason it has a place on this list. The Fresno Bee says that a 2021 report supports the idea that Fresno drivers are bad at driving. Supposedly, they were the sixth worst-driving group based on the number of dangerous driving incidents. In particular, Fresno drivers were very prone to driving under the influence.
19. Portland, OR - 46 Hours
Traffic congestion happens when traffic exceeds the ability of the road system to accommodate it. Even so, that doesn't necessarily mean that traffic capacity is the real problem. Instead, poor traffic policies can generate more demand than the road system can handle. Whatever the exact cause of Portland's traffic problem, it is clear that Portland has a traffic problem. The current situation is particularly striking because the city has a reputation for bike friendliness, which should have reduced the demand placed on the road system to some extent.
18. McAllen, TX - 46 Hours
McAllen, TX isn't the first name people think of when they think of high-traffic cities. After all, it is just the 22nd most populous city in the state of Texas. Despite that, McAllen has earned a reputation for being one of the U.S. cities with the worst traffic. There seem to be two obvious explanations for this. One, its population has grown steadily since the second half of the 20th century. Two, it is an important hub for U.S.-Mexico trade.
17. Charleston, SC - 46 Hours
Charleston, SC is another city with a serious traffic problem despite its small urban population. To an extent, this seems to be the consequence of insufficient infrastructure. Another issue is that Charleston is flooded with tourists in the winter months, thus exacerbating an existing issue. As it turns out, living in a beautiful city can sometimes backfire for that same city's residents.
16. Houston, TX - 46 Hours
The way that a city is run has a huge impact on its traffic. Houston is a very car-dependent city. For proof, consider Kinder Institute For Urban Research's 2017 statement that fewer than 7 percent of Houstonians went to work using something other than a car. Unsurprisingly, more people in cars on the roads mean a higher chance of traffic congestion. On top of that, Houston is one of the most populous cities in the United States, which worsens the issue.
15. Washington, D.C. - 48 Hours
Curiously, Washington, D.C. seems to have improved somewhat in this regard. It wasn't that long ago when it was much higher on such lists, so much so that The Washington Post says that it was worse than anywhere outside of California. Much of the problem was caused by the U.S. federal government. Specifically, it is a steady employer, so Washington, D.C. doesn't see the same kind of peaks and troughs in employment as other cities. Instead, there was consistently more demand for the local road system. Something major happened. Fortunately, it isn't hard to guess what. The COVID-19 crisis saw traffic plummet in the region. These numbers suggest that traffic hasn't returned to previous levels.
14. New Orleans, LA - 48 Hours
Most people need to work for a living. If they have to go into the office, they need something to get them there. When cities don't have good public transportation, people living further out often have no choice but to drive to work. Reportedly, New Orleans doesn't have good public transportation options within the city or its surroundings. Under those circumstances, people have no choice but to drive.
13. Cape Coral - Fort Myers, FL - 48 Hours
Cape Coral and Fort Myers are separate cities. They are the most important cities in the Cape Coral - Fort Myers metropolitan area, which is more or less synonymous with Florida's Lee County. Cape Coral is notable for being the most populous city in the region. Meanwhile, Fort Myers is notable for being a tourism hub. Both of those things increase traffic, thus presumably explaining why the metropolitan area is on this list.
12. Tampa, FL - 48 Hours
Two out of Florida's three most populous cities are on this list. The first of the two is Tampa, home to more than a third of a million people. Patch mentions that the city will continue growing at breakneck speeds. Local infrastructure hasn't caught up, particularly since there are unanswered questions about how to fund the necessary projects.
11. Atlanta, GA - 48 Hours
The story behind Atlanta's traffic woes is much the same as the stories behind other cities' traffic woes. First, people drive because they live far from where they work. Second, the road system doesn't have enough capacity to accommodate so much traffic. Third, the Atlanta metropolitan area doesn't have good public transportation, so residents don't have good alternatives.
10. Philadelphia, PA - 50 Hours
Older cities weren't built with cars in mind. Philadelphia's choice to retain its historical look in certain places has proven a boon for tourism. Unfortunately, that has further worsened the traffic problems in its urban center. Besides this, Philadelphia's other problem is the number of people using its road system. Some of these people are residents while others are tourists. In particular, the city is a popular place for New York City residents to visit because of its relative proximity.
9. Riverside, CA - 52 Hours
Riverside is a very common city name in the United States. Still, chances are good that interested individuals can guess that this one is in the state of California. In short, Riverside, CA is the heart of the so-called Inland Empire that sits next to the coast of Southern California. The size of the local population is a contributing factor to its traffic issue. However, another would be trucks moving to and from the single busiest seaport in the United States.
8. Seattle, WA - 52 Hours
Some cities are disadvantaged by their geography. For instance, Seattle lies on a north-south axis, so there are limited options for people who want to move around the place. Even worse, the sea plus the mountains limit the places capable of supporting more infrastructure. There are ongoing efforts to expand the public transportation system. Unfortunately, such efforts cannot bring about immediate results because they tend to be expensive and time-consuming.
7. Honolulu, HI - 52 Hours
There is nothing mysterious about why Honolulu has terrible traffic. A lot of people don't live in Honolulu itself even though they work there. Instead, they live in the city's surroundings. Due to that, a lot of people need to drive in and out of the city regularly. High traffic means a high chance of traffic congestion. If anything goes wrong, everything becomes worse.
6. Chicago, IL - 55 Hours
Chicago is one of the most important cities in the United States. It is a transportation hub that sees numerous trucks passing through regularly. Combined with the number of locals who use the road system for one reason or another, it would be weirder if Chicago didn't have a traffic problem.
5. San Francisco, CA - 59 Hours
San Francisco and its surroundings are home to more than 4 million people. Despite this, its road system has very noticeable chokepoints at both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. Good management improves the flow of traffic, but even the best management has limits to how much it can help. It wouldn't be surprising if San Francisco's traffic problem worsened in the future. Vox and other publications have said that the rising cost of housing is making the city unaffordable for its residents for years. That means more people living further out, which in turn, means more people who need to travel in and out of the city regularly.
4. Baton Rouge, LA - 62 Hours
Baton Rouge suffers the same issues as the other cities on this list. For instance, it is home to more people than its road system can comfortably support. On top of that, some people claim that Baton Rogue locals are bad drivers. If true, that would explain much about the city's traffic problem on its own. Every time someone gets into a car accident, that creates issues for everyone around them. The more congested a road system, the greater the chance of a car accident causing a full-blown case of traffic congestion.
3. Miami, FL - 64 Hours
Miami's traffic woes seem to be caused by three issues. First, there are too many people driving on too few roads. Second, Miami doesn't have a good public transportation system, which makes public transportation an unattractive option for people who want to get around. Third, there are reports that Miami's road system isn't optimized. It isn't the most exciting field. However, there are specialists in figuring out how traffic lights should be timed for the best flow of traffic and related issues. This is one of those things that are either invisible or next-to-invisible when handled well but become very noticeable when handled poorly.
2. Los Angeles, CA - 75 Hours
The three most populated cities in the United States are New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. As such, it makes sense that New York City and Los Angeles would sit at the top of this list. Interestingly, the latter's traffic problem has a primary cause. Urban planning professor Bryan Taylor said that rising population density is the most important factor in an interview with KCRW. At the same end, he said that this isn't necessarily a bad thing for Los Angeles residents. Supposedly, those people are living more active lives, which in turn, means that they are living better lives than those based further out. Taylor claims that Los Angeles is transforming into a heavily-urbanized city, though the process is complicated by pushback from people less than enthusiastic about seeing that vision of the future.
It wouldn't be surprising to see similar arguments in other locations in the future. There is increasing willingness to do something about climate change. Transportation makes up a huge percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. Heavier urbanization is one of the proposed solutions because it would reduce people's need to travel to and from the urban center. Having said that, such proposals are guaranteed to meet with pushback. Plenty of people don't like dramatic changes because they are costly and uncomfortable. Arguments seem inevitable.
1. New York City, NY - 80 Hours
In any case, New York City occupies the top of this list. Amusingly, that means the city is living up to the popular image laid out by thousands and thousands of movies, TV shows, and other works. As for why New York City sees so much traffic, the answer is people. It is a growing city with a growing population. Furthermore, New York City has a lot of tourism and a lot of construction, both of which introduce complications for road systems.
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Written by Liz Flynn
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