In Los Angeles, every day brings a new carmageddon. The portmanteau was originally coined to describe a weekend in July 2012, when a section of 405 Freeway was closed for massive widening project. The traffic apocalypse turned out not to be as bad as predicted, but the additional lanes of freeway did nothing to alleviate LA’s legendary traffic woes. In fact, one could argue they’ve only gotten worse. According to a study released today, the City of Angels held the dubious distinction of ranking No. 1 for traffic congestion in the entire world.
LA was the most gridlocked city in the world, with drivers spending 104 hours in congestion in 2016 during peak time periods, according to a massive review of global traffic data by analytics firm INRIX. That’s four whole days (plus eight hours) stuck in traffic. In that amount of time, you could watch Joel Schumacher’s 1993 Falling Down, in which an LA traffic jam spurs Michael Douglas into a spasm of rage-filled violence, over 50 times. Cool!
In LA, the car is king. Which is not to say that public transportation isn’t an option. Two new light-rail lines opened last year, and in November, voters approved a sales tax increase to nearly double the city’s rail network. But service is spotty, delays frequent, and ridership numbers for continue to drop, year over year. For many Los Angelinos, the Metro is not seen as a viable alternative, which explains why they chose to fritter their time away in traffic.
Not far behind LA was Moscow, where drivers spent an additional 91 hours in traffic, followed by New York City (89 hours), San Francisco (83 hours), and Bogota (80 hours). The US was the most congested developed country in the world, with 11 cities in the top 25 and drivers spending an average of 42 hours a year in traffic during peak hours. And congestion costs more than just your time — it also hits you right in the wallet too. The direct and indirect costs of gridlock in 2016 was $300 billion, an average of $1,400 per driver, INRIX estimates.
Based in Kirkland, Washington, INRIX studies traffic data, as well as builds apps for parking, navigation, and other mobility services. Its researchers analyzed traffic data in 1,064 cities across 38 countries — 500 Terabytes of data from 300 million different sources covering over 5 million miles of road — which the firm argues is the largest study of congestion data ever done. It hopes it will be used by the Trump administration to inform its $1 trillion infrastructure plan — if such a thing exists.
To be sure, gridlock is frustrating and economically destabilizing. But it can also contribute to bad driving, and even death. According to preliminary data, the roads in the US are deadlier than they’ve ever been. As many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, according to the National Safety Council. That marks a 6 percent increase over 2015, and a 14 percent increase over 2014 — the most dramatic two-year escalation in 53 years.
This is the part where I’d normally start lecturing about the importance of public transit and other options, like biking, buses, and trains. But honestly, I just don’t have it in me right now. Traffic is awful, it’s getting worse, and we have a government in Washington that will most likely focus the majority of its efforts on building more roads instead of rail lines. (President Trump’s transportation secretary already fired an opening salvo in the coming war against passenger rail, canceling a $647 million proposal to turn Caltrain electric.) Will self-driving cars be the panacea many claim they will be? Probably not. But if we’re going to be stuck in traffic for the rest of our lives, shouldn’t we at least be able to watch Netflix?