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Boston traffic congestion worst in the United States, study says

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Boston drivers lose 149 hours a year stuck in traffic—no wonder

A spaghetti-like vehicular intersection with a lone biker trying to navigate the converging car traffic. Boston Globe via Getty Images

Boston had the worst traffic congestion in the United States in 2019 and the second worst in North America, behind only Mexico City, according to an annual ranking from research firm and mobility consultancy INRIX.

What’s more, Boston drivers lost an average of 149 hours stuck in traffic in 2019. That was an improvement from the 164 hours lost in 2018, but not enough to improve Boston’s standing as the worst in the U.S. for commuting by private automobile. It beat every other U.S. city in terms of wasted hours in 2018 too.

That lost time also translates into lost money, according to the INRIX report. Boston drivers in 2019 forfeited $2,205 on average in lost productivity because of congestion, the highest total for any domestic city tracked. The average American wasted 99 hours last year in traffic and lost $1,377 on average because of it.

Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington rounded out INRIX’s top five most congested U.S. cities, with Chicago drivers each wasting 145 hours a year and losing $2,146 because of it. See the chart below for a better breakdown.

The INRIX ranking accounted for commutes to and from downtown Boston and other business districts. The study also accounted for peak and off-peak commuting hours.

The worst cities internationally for traffic congestion were Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, Rome, Paris, London—and then Boston.

There are, of course, many reasons for why Boston and Boston-area traffic is so bad. The region’s mass transit system is chronically underfunded and prone to delays and breakdowns; parking is relatively plentiful and comparatively inexpensive, encouraging driving; deliveries via sites such as Amazon have ballooned in recent years; the region’s population and economy have grown too; and then there’s the app-hails such as Uber, which account for millions of car trips annually.

And, unless they’re paying interstate tolls, it costs drivers the same to drive into downtown Boston at 7 a.m. on a Sunday as it does at 7 a.m. on a Monday—in other words, nothing, whether it’s rush hour or not. A push for congestion pricing—basically tolling motorists to drive into the central business district during peak hours—appeared to peter out in 2019.

Finally, the region’s perennially high housing costs contribute to its terrible traffic congestion. Both tenants and owners are forced farther from their workplaces to find decent housing, including to areas not easily serviced by mass transit.