Study: Traffic congestion is down nationwide, but at a cost

Story highlights

  • Honolulu drivers spent the most time in gridlock in 2011, the INRIX study found
  • Traffic congestion was down in 70 of the largest 100 U.S. cities
  • Weak employment and high fuel prices were contributing factors, researchers say
  • Most of the worst stretches of traffic congestion were in New York and L.A.

If you commute using one of the 10 most clogged highways in the United States, you could ride a bicycle to work faster than you could drive, according to a new study that evaluates the countless hours drivers waste in gridlock on roadways each year.

By using GPS-equipped vehicles to record commuting experiences on the nation's roads, analysts studied traffic from a database containing approximately 100 million vehicles including taxis, airport shuttles, service delivery vans, long haul trucks and passenger cars in 2011.

A 13-mile stretch of the San Diego Freeway outside Los Angeles ranked as the most traffic-choked freeway in the nation. But drivers in Honolulu spent the most time in traffic, averaging 58 hours a year stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

Researchers found urban areas are actually seeing traffic congestion decrease at a significant rate nationwide for the first time since 2008. Seventy of the country's Top 100 most populated cities showed a drop in traffic congestion last year.

The study was commissioned by INRIX, a software company based in Kirkland, Washington, that provides traffic- and driver-related mobile apps and online services.

Among the study's findings:

-- Overall, there was a 30% drop in traffic congestion nationwide, but it came with a cost. Due in part to weak employment conditions and higher fuel prices, there are fewer drivers heading to the office, and those who do drive are driving less, the study found.

-- Last year, only 890,000 of the 2.6 million new jobs were in urban areas, according to the research.

-- In cities such as Tampa, Houston and Austin, Texas, research showed improved jobless numbers led to busier roadways.

-- Eight of the 10 worst stretches of road for average travel time and delays were in New York or Los Angeles.

-- On average, Americans spend around 40 hours per year behind the wheel in commuter bottlenecks.

-- Both the best and worst weekday times to be on the road occur on Fridays. Between 6 and 7 in the morning is the best commute time; 5-6 p.m. is the pits.

-- The worst morning commute is on Tuesday.

So when's the best time to be on the road? The research says Monday.

"People tend to take a little more time getting to the office" on Mondays, said INRIX communications chief Jim Bak. "Also, when people take a long three-day weekend, it's often on Monday,"

The 10 cities with the worst commutes, including hours spent in gridlocked traffic and worst 15-minute traffic intervals, were:

-- Honolulu: 58 hours; 5:15-5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

-- Los Angeles: 56 hours; 5:45-6 p.m. Thursday.

-- San Francisco: 48 hours; 5:45-6 p.m. Thursday.

-- New York: 57 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Friday.

-- Bridgeport, Connecticut: 42 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Friday.

-- Washington: 45 hours; 5:45-6 p.m. Thursday.

-- Seattle: 33 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

-- Austin, Texas: 30 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

-- Boston: 35 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

-- Chicago: 36 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

Top 10 worst stretches of highway in the nation in 2011 for daily commutes were:

1. Los Angeles: A 13-mile stretch of San Diego Freeway/I-405 North from I-105/Imperial Highway Interchange through the Getty Center Drive Exit, which takes 33 minutes on average with 20 minutes of delay.

2. New York: A 16-mile stretch of the Long Island Expressway/I-495 East from the Maurice Avenue Exit to Minneola Avenue/Willis Avenue Exit -- 39 minutes; 22 minutes of delay.

3. Los Angeles: A 15-mile stretch of the Santa Monica Freeway/I-10 East from CA-1/Lincoln Boulevard Exit to Alameda Street --35 minutes; 20 minutes of delay.

4. New York: An 3-mile stretch of I-678 North (Van Wyck Expressway) from Belt Parkway to Main Street -- 13 minutes; 10 minutes of delay.

5. Los Angeles: A 17.5-mile stretch of I-5 South (Santa Ana/Golden State freeways) from E. Caesar Chavez Avenue to Valley View Avenue exits -- 40 minutes; 22 minutes of delay.

6. New York: A 10-mile stretch of I-278 West (Brooklyn Queens/Gowanus Expressway) from NY-25A/Northern Boulevard to the NY-27/Prospect Expressway exits -- 31 minutes on average, with 18 minutes of delay.

7. Los Angeles: An 8-mile stretch of I-405 South (San Diego Freeway) from Nordhoff Street to Mulholland Drive -- 22 minutes; with 14 minutes of delay.

8. New York: A 6-mile stretch of Van Wyck Expressway from Horace Harding Expressway to Linden Boulevard -- 20 minutes; 13 minutes of delay.

9. Pittsburgh: A 3-mile stretch of Penn Lincoln Parkway/I-376 East from Lydia Street to the US-19 TK RT/PA-51 Exit -- 13 minutes; nine minutes of delay in the morning peak period.

10. San Francisco: An 11-mile stretch of the California Delta Highway from Bailey Road to Somersville Road --16 minutes; 11 minutes of delay.