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. Ben says:

    Mike B –

    I’ve always figured traffic on roads to be similar to water flowing through a system of pipes – it will naturally fill the available paths according to their capacity. Most of my experience trying to route around congestion shows that a sufficient number of others have chosen the same path, thereby negating any gains.

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  2. aaron says:

    I think the INRIX reporting has one major short coming. Because the data is for commercial vehicles, it doesn’t really measure the flow of passenger vehicle traffic.

    A look at fuel consumption suggests that commercial and passenger car traffic flows are not exactly the same. I believe traffic generally became worse for car traffic as we saw higher gas prices (until the last half of 2008) .

    See my post here

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  3. LisaNewton says:

    I beg to differ with you, but according to the Forbes site, LA does have the #1 worst intersection:

    http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/24/traffic-intersections-worst-lifestyle-autos_intersections_slide_2.html?thisSpeed=15000

    I’m a fairly new resident to LA, and thankfully, I don’t have to drive the freeways too often. I much prefer my bike and the Metro.

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  4. shaman says:

    Sorta runs contrary to the LA traffic apologist series you recently ran. Myths or no as to causes and dynamics, outcomes are the determinant and LA is clearly as bad as the apologist led us not to believe.

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