Cities With the Worst Traffic Nightmares

A new study shakes the foundations of how Americans judge traffic.

September 29, 2010, 1:26 PM

Sept. 29, 2010— -- Which city has the worst traffic? For years we have been hearing about the notorious traffic jams of Los Angles, the worst in the nation. But now a new study is saying hold on -- Nashville, Tenn., actually has the worst traffic, and L.A. is all the way down the list at number 17.

Today's new report, backed by supporters of non-car based transportation, suggests that traffic engineers have been looking at congestion problems wrong for 25 years.

The problem with traffic isn't just congestion but the total distance that people have to travel. So cities with suburban sprawl -- such as Nashville, Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Ala., Richmond, Va. and Raleigh, N.C. -- top the list. The traditional traffic-nightmare leaders of L.A., Washington, Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco fall further down.

Using this new measure, folks in Chicago, Portland and Sacramento, Calif. spend 40 fewer hours in their cars in peak travel hours than the average American. In Nashville, for instance, longer trip distances add 80 hours a year or more to peak travel times.

The report, by a group called CEOs for Cities was written by a Portland, Ore. firm and paid for with the help of the liberal-leaning Rockefeller Foundation. The group calls it a "dramatic critique of the 25-year-old industry standard created by the Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Report, often used to justify billions of dollars in expenditures to build new roads and highways."

Carol Coletta, the head of CEOs for Cities, said, "This analysis, once again, shows that many of the assumptions driving big investments of taxpayer dollars that shape our communities are outdated."

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The conclusion of the report, called "Driven Apart," is that the key to reducing rush hour traffic is to shorten the distance traveled. The report cites Portland -- a biker's Mecca -- which has used smart land-use planning and has invested in alternative transportation, including a light-rail line, to reduce average commuting times by 20 percent.

America's Worst Traffic

"'Driven Apart' adds to the growing body of evidence that shows compact development that puts many destinations close at hand has unexpected benefits -- in this case, less time spent in traffic requiring less spending on highways," Coletta said. "If we heed its findings, we'll save time and money."

Tim Lomax, who oversees the Texas Transportation Institute's traffic report, told ABC News he wasn't sure why they were singling out his data.

"If we're being blamed for the problem of sprawl and the choices of where people choose to live and work, I think that's that great overstatement of our power," Lomax said.

Lomax said his report isn't perfect and that he's always up for a discussion about the methodology, but that his goal has been to produce data and let people draw conclusions from it.

"I don't think it's our job to advocate for any one solution," Lomax said.

CEOs for Cities, he said, is clearly pushing for alternative transportation, which might work in Portland but is not what other parts of the country desire.

So what are the worst areas to drive, according to the new report? Here they are from worst to best:

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