From New York to San Bernardino, drivers in America's cities live in their cars. Below we use Google Earth to take an in-depth look at the intersections of the nation's 20 most traffic-congested cities.
The good news is 2008 saw a major decrease in traffic, with drivers in the 100 largest metropolitan areas dealing with a 29% decrease in congestion on average. The bad news is we're seeing it because of an increase in gas prices, which led to less driving and more carpooling, and a decrease in jobs, which led to more people sitting on the couch hoping their unemployment doesn't run out so they can afford to keep their benefits. It's a vicious circle. Much like the pain we're seeing in these community-by-community breakdowns of the most congested intersections in these 20 most congested metro areas.
Though traffic does correlate to population rank, with the top four metropolitan areas also in the four worst cities for traffic, there are some anomalies. The Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria area is only the eighth most populous region in the country but is the fifth worst when it comes to traffic due to its high capacity of employment in the area and the lack of good housing stock for middle class families within "The Beltway" area.
Detroit is 11th largest in terms of population but only has the 19th worst traffic situation, primarily because of a 47% decrease in traffic year-over-year due to the economy and dramatic job loss. The collapse of the housing market hit Riverside-San Bernardino, a.k.a. the Inland Empire, hardest of all. The area saw a drop of 57% in traffic congestion, which is almost the same as the 55% drop in median home prices. While there's probably not a 1:1 ratio between the change in home values and congestion, they're likely connected.
Areas less affected by the housing market still experienced decreases in traffic, but at a lower level. For instance, home prices in Dallas remained stable and traffic congestion only decreased by 13% year-over-year, causing Dallas to move up to the fourth most congested city.
Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago are, as expected, still the worst cities for traffic in America. Los Angeles is so bad that peak hour congestion in Los Angeles is twice what it is in Chicago. The combination of a large population and low density makes L.A. even worse than the more populous New York. Compared to the Big Apple, Los Angeles also has fewer mass transit options.
Click on any of the cities above to see their current rank, population, congestion change and worst time of day for traffic. You can also view a gallery of the 100 worst intersections that fall within each city. A look at the hotspots reveal a few similar trends: intersecting highways, two-lane sections with onramps and merging lanes.
If you're reading this post it means you've actually made it home or made it to work. Congrats. There's probably someone still stuck in traffic.
[via Forbes, Google Earth]