Crossroad Blues

Do you think the trials of your evening commute deserve national recognition? To check whether you deserve some sort of medal for your daily automotive heroism, see Forbes.com‘s interesting recent feature on the most congested intersections in America.

“There’s some glory in that; some day they will be able to dazzle their grandchildren with tales of their daily battles with the white whale of congestion.”

The traffic-tracking firm Inrix has collected G.P.S. data from 800,000 commercial vehicles, plus state departments of transportation, to identify the points in the 100 largest cities with the most severe delays.

Los Angeles has 33 of the top 100 congestion hotspots, followed by New York with 30 and Chicago with 25. The fact that the three largest cities, with about 15 percent of the nation’s population, have such a high ratio of the most congested highway segments is no accident.

Out of the 36 largest metro areas, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago are 36th, 31st, and 35th respectively in freeway-lane miles per capita; there simply isn’t much spare road space in these cities to go around.

More generally, congestion problems rise with city size. I ran a quick and dirty regression analysis using data on the 85 largest cities from the Texas Transportation Institute. Each additional million people in a metro area is associated with about 3.5 more hours of annual delay per peak period traveler. That means commuters in a city the size of Chicago spend roughly 24 more hours stuck in traffic per year than commuters in a city the size of Columbus. Big cities certainly have their allure, but if you want to enjoy them to the fullest, make sure you have good air conditioning, leather seats, and a rockin’ stereo.

Check Forbes‘ neat interactive map to see the most congested highways in your city. There are plenty to choose from, from east (Boston’s Southeast Expressway) to west (the I-5 in Seattle), and from north (the Twin Cities’ I-94) to south (Miami’s I-95).

What is America’s most clogged artery? Honorable mentions have to go to Los Angeles’s Hollywood Freeway, New York’s Harlem River Drive, New York’s Van Wyck Expressway, and Chicago’s Dan Ryan and Kennedy expressways.

But the grand champion is probably New York’s Cross Bronx “Express” way. Located at a crossroads between Manhattan, New Jersey, upstate New York, Long Island, and New England, the Cross Bronx has four segments among the 11 most congested in America. The single most congested spot in the nation is at the interchange where the westbound Cross Bronx hits the Bronx River Parkway; on average, traffic there creeps along at a speed of only 11 m.p.h. for an incredible 13.5 hours a day. (BTW, the Bronx River Parkway can lay claim to being the first limited-access automobile highway built in America.)

It’s not a pretty picture, but at least Cross Bronx commuters can take pride in the fact that their road is number one. There’s some glory in that; some day they will be able to dazzle their grandchildren with tales of their daily battles with the white whale of congestion.

The rest of us have to console ourselves with the knowledge that the congestion we face, while below gold-medal levels, will at least give us ample time to get through Moby Dick on tape.

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  1. Doug Schoemer says:

    sheesh, yet another one who refers to Yonkers as “upstate” New York. For those out there who think that’s an urban myth.

    Let’s all now give thanks to the great Robert Moses, whose Cross Bronx earns yet another entry in Worst Road in America tables. It’s most special to drive it just before or after a Yankees game.

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  2. BSK says:

    To be fair, almost all of the ones on this list aren’t really “intersections”. Many of them are major highway interchanges or merges. The point is still well-taken, but the language used implies something very different than what the data actually offers and is misleading. For example, Times Square is not listed, a intersection so congested that they’ve had to completely divert thru-traffic around it. I am shocked that there is nothing from DC on this, but again, there are no highways really running through the city, just hugely congested roads and ridiculously congested “true” intersections.

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  3. Mike B says:

    It’s baffling why anyone takes the Cross Bronx. I traveled between NJ and CT for 6 years and when I wasn’t taking Amtrak I would drive up to the Tappan Zee and use the Cross Westchester.

    Every so often I would catch friends who talked about using the Cross Bronx and berate them for being stupid and they would inevitably reply that “it wasn’t that bad” or “wasn’t always bad” when it clearly is. Same with tour bus operators who would take the XBX to the NJTPK on trips to/from Boston.

    Despite the cultural popularity of “flipping” its amazing how many people fail to realize arbitrage opportunities on their daily commutes and get in line with the rest of the sheep. Perhaps large billboards should be placed on major roads that translates current volume and delays into a cost value and shows people how much money they can save by taking an alternate route,

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  4. paulwesterberg says:

    I’m sure there are lots of people who live in these large cities and spend very little time in traffic by living close to where they work and riding the subway. Not everyone has to live in the suburbs. Electric trains are very efficient at moving a great number of people.

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  5. Eric M. Jones says:

    “If you lived here, you’d be home by now”

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  6. Gabriel says:

    Of course Inrix says those are the most congested areas- Inrix is a subsidiary of Microsoft Corp, who is currently trying to delve into traffic systems. Where do they have the most to gain? Big cities.

    I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying stick to more reliable data from places like the TTI.

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  7. --E says:

    Probably a contributing reason the XBx is so congested is because electronic direction-giving devices inevitably route people onto it for no reason at all.

    Coming from south of NYC to northeastern Queens? Google will route you up to the GWB, across the Xbx, and back down over the Throgs Neck. Why? Why would anyone do that?

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  8. Avi Rappoport says:

    Remember that long series about how LA traffic isn’t as bad as we think? But here it has “33 of the top 100 congestion hotspots.”

    Not that the SF Bay Area is much better, but at commute time, our central area mass transit is at or over capacity. People would take it if there was room, if buses & trains came more often, if they were cheaper. I was hoping that the Stimulus money would at least let the transit systems stop cutting service and raising fares, but it’s not looking good. Not politically sexy enough, and too associated with poor people. Yes, I’m cynical.

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