In my travels around the country over the past 20 years I have experienced agonizing traffic, confusion, stupidity, and recklessness. But these ten hotbeds of vehicular misery top the list. In ascending order they are…
#10 Cincinnati, OH
There’s more to a hellish traffic experience than massive traffic jams and recklessness. Cincinnati wins the honor of being the smallest city on our list by unleashing the most overzealous state troopers in the nation.
Cincinnati has been known to create Byzantine speed traps and random check points, all in an effort to snarl traffic and remind you of what it’s like to live under totalitarianism. If you’re travelling east or west, you’re sure to enjoy their jackbooted antics, and if you’re travelling south you’ll get the added pleasure of being squeezed down to a few lanes so you can cross over the Ohio River into Kentucky. Not worth it.
A few toll booths would raise the same amount of revenue without all the fear and loathing, not to mention the totally unnecessary back ups. Please.
# 9 Las Vegas, NV
The problem with Vegas traffic is that too many people coming from the same place are trying to get to the same place at the same time. Namely, a healthy portion of the state of California is coming on a four lane highway through the desert and over the mountains to arrive on the Vegas strip at 9pm on Friday, and to leave promptly at 5pm on Sunday.
More than once, I have seen bumper to bumper traffic stretching literally 150 miles from Las Vegas all the way to Barstow through one of the most barren and unpopulated regions of the country. This says nothing of the excruciating experience of crawling down the Vegas strip at 1am on a weekend night.
If you ever wanted to see the fountains at Bellagio, you will not be disappointed. You will see them cycle through their performance six or eight times while the ball of your foot grows soar on the brake peddle and some drunk from Chino hurls on your hood ornament while crossing in front of your vehicle. Jackpot!
#8 Tidewater Region, VA
Appalling traffic comes home to roost in those places where routes in and out of a city are reduced to narrow bottlenecks as they pass through tunnels and over bridges. It’s made worse when large groups of people are disgorged onto the highway system all at once, such as when tourists descend en masse to a seaside resort or when a large military installation releases its enlisted men for a holiday.
Tidewater has both these problems. A sprawling naval installation, situated on the Chesapeake and accessed via bridges and tunnels, is backed by a seaside resort town. Tidewater is the conglomeration of medium sized cities Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads, Chesapeake, Portsmouth and environs, and it’s cut through with rivers, waterways and harbors.
Woe betide you should you attempt to arrive or leave at the wrong time. You will sit idling in a smog filled tunnel or creep slowly over an endless bridge wishing that you were some place more amenable, like the streets of lower Manhattan.
#7 Washington, DC
A city’s orbital freeway is supposed to free up traffic and siphon off congestion; Washington DC’s beltway has the opposite effect. Given the lack of interior freeways, the beltway sucks up traffic like a sponge, creating a dense agglomeration of congestion that acts like a seal to hold traffic in, creating an ant’s nest of frantic drivers, trying to work their way out through neighborhood streets and parkways.
You will find few other places in the country where you will plod endlessly down a lovely 19th century tree-lined residential street trying to get to an intersection that seems tantalizingly out of reach, all to get some place that you can’t help feeling you ought to be able to get to by some more up-to-date thoroughfare.
But don’t get too overzealous, because one wrong turn could lead you to the beltway, and then your fun will really begin.
#6 New York, NY
Some cities have a worse reputation than they deserve. New York is a case in point. Given the fact that it’s shoved up against the Atlantic and perched on the prongs of various peninsulas, the traffic – which can be nightmarish to be sure – is remarkably manageable most of the time if you just use your head.
Don’t travel during rush hour, stay out of lower Manhattan and serve the taxis measure for measure. Don’t back down to them, but if they are giving you leeway, don’t be a jerk.
I have often been impressed how accurate the traffic timers are on the Long Island Expressway. If they say it will take you 12 minutes to get to the next exit, it will take you 12 minutes to get there.
One last word of advice: wear your glasses. Traffic moves at a pounding pace, exits come up fast and there’s no backing up. U-turns on surface streets can be prohibited for miles, and before you know it you can find yourself in Schenectady. Stay alert, find the rhythm and don’t be stupid.
#5 Los Angeles, CA
Although Californians love to complain about the traffic in L.A., it only rises to number five on our list. The problem with LA’s jack-in-the-box traffic? You never know when and where it’s going to pop up.
I have been in traffic jams on seemingly innocuous stretches of eight lane freeways at one in the morning for no discernable reason. The traffic just bogs down, lurches along, and then frees up, all for nothing – no accident, no cops, no construction – just a phantom traffic jam come to mess with you, and then, adios!
The good news is that the cops are reasonable, the alternative surface streets are many, the construction is virtually nil and the drivers are among the most competent in the country. L.A. may suffer from the nation’s weirdest congestion patterns, but lord knows it could be worse.
#4 Chicago, IL
Chicago has to contend with virtually every demon known to the traffic gods: endless construction, horrible weather, potholes, random lane closures and toll booths. But to make matters worse, the freeway layout in Chicago is probably the worst in the country.
Although they call it by different names in different stretches, all the traffic from the various interstates funnel down into a single expressway called the Kennedy/Dan Ryan. This enormous bottle neck that runs through the heart of the city is routinely backed up in both directions from 6:30am to 10:30am, and then again from 2:30pm to 7:00pm.
Blessedly the cops are mostly absent from this hell stretch, and the drivers can wheel and maneuver in even in the most appalling conditions. Chicagoans are nothing if not resourceful and if you ask they will reveal shortcuts and strategies that can keep you from taking your own life. Otherwise, it’s tedious brake-riding for you, my friend, and an hour long trip to go 15 miles.
#3 Atlanta, GA
One of the ironic truths traffic planners have discovered in recent years is that you can’t build your way out of congestion. If you add more lanes, you will only invite more traffic. Atlanta has learned this to its eternal grief.
No less than 16 lanes of pavement deliver traffic to downtown Atlanta, every inch of it is mired in trucks and cars. To make matters worse, any attempt to escape the sluggish metal river that crawls along past the Varsity Grill and CNN Tower will be met with an even more horrific experience of surface streets that twist and turn and bend back on themselves like a bowl of spaghetti.
If you have pride in your sense of direction and think you can beat this challenge, you will find yourself thwarted by the fact that every street has the same name. The civic masterminds that named the streets of Atlanta were plainly obsessed with peach trees, and while I have never seen a peach tree in Atlanta, I have seen the words many times, while I was pounding my temples with my fists and howling at my dome light.
#2 Boston, MA
The plain truth is that Boston was not built for cars. A 17th century seaside town of meandering cow paths has struggled to refashion itself for modern conveyance and it has done a poor job. Not only is it riddled with one way streets that carry you back away from where you want to be, its signage is an insult to anyone without 20/20 vision travelling less than 10 miles an hour.
I’m convinced there are people who have gotten lost in Boston and are still there, endlessly catching a glimpse of a tiny sign, covered in graffiti, telling them where to turn, just as they’ve committed to a ramp that carries them up and over their desired thoroughfare to some decaying stretch of roadway that eventually turns into a cobblestone alley that abruptly ends at a chain link fence.
Add to this, needlessly aggressive drivers, crappy weather, potholes and toll booths and you get a pretty good picture of why Boston is number two on our worst cities to drive in.
#1 Miami, FL
Miami tops our list of the worst places to drive in the USA for one very good reason: it has the worst drivers in the country. And we’re not talking just one kind of awful, but a cornucopia of bad driver archetypes.
In Miami you get the aggressive Latin driver in the roaring sports car weaving in and out of traffic at full speed, the tentative old lady in the oversized Buick driving under the speed limit in the left hand lane, the clueless immigrant who sees nothing wrong with parking his junker in the middle of an exit ramp while he looks under the hood, the alpha-jerk in the luxury sports car who thinks allowing another motorist to merge threatens his manhood, the shoulder rider, the tailgater, the joker who backs up when he misses an exit and the clown who slams on his brakes when he sees a cop.
As if this squirming snake pit of recklessness and stupidity was not enough, the nature of Miami’s geographical situation, sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Everglades, means that all of this gets dumped into a narrow corridor that cuts through one of the most densely populated regions in the country, a region whose population nearly doubles from January through April buttressed by yet another member of the bad driver club: the rubbernecking tourist.
Driving in Miami can take years off your life… if you survive the experience long enough to notice.
Cincinnati, Public Domain; Las Vegas, Malcolm Logan; Tidewater, Ben Schumin; Wasington DC, Public Domain; New York, Stefan Schulze; Los Angeles, Bart Everett; Chicago, David; Atlanta, Atlanta Citizen; Boston, Anthony Citran0; Miami, Infrogmation