It’s an interesting phenomenon, but the amount of traffic on the world’s highways is directly related to the economy. Of course, it’s not surprising – high unemployment rates mean less people commuting to work and more people who can’t afford the soaring gas prices in almost every industrialized nation. The sixth annual traffic scorecard released by navigation services provider INRIX shows that along with a recovering economy, traffic jams in the United States are on the rise. In Europe? The dismal economic conditions mean traffic is falling rapidly, especially in countries like Spain and Portugal where unemployment is at 20 percent or more. Even though more traffic is actually good news economically, drivers waste an average of 50 hours a year in traffic, wasting billions of dollars in fuel in the meantime. These cities rank among the very worst for congestion. If you’re paying them a visit, think twice before you head out on the road.
1. Brussels and Antwerp, Belgium
These two Belgian cities rank as number one and two for the world’s worst traffic, with drivers spending over 80 hours a year stuck on the highway. They’re only a 40-minute drive apart, but on roads like these, who knows how long it really takes. Why so bad? It could be a combination of confusing French and Flemish road signs, wacky traffic laws, and the fact that licensed driving was not even a thing in Belgium until the 1960s. The steady flow of foreign travelers, including many large transport trucks, also contributes to the 2 percent of GDP that gets eaten up by traffic every year.
2. Los Angeles, CA
It comes as no surprise that Los Angeles is the worst city for traffic in the United States and second only to Belgium for traffic congestion in the world. Residents spend an average of 60 hours a year in traffic, and with the economy getting better, it’s only getting worse for drivers. The real reason for Los Angeles traffic may be simple – it’s the second-biggest metropolitan area in the country after New York City, but it has far fewer public transportation options. About 30 percent of commuters in New York take the subway, but only 6 percent of LA commuters use public transportation at all. The absolute worst time and place for traffic? An eight mile stretch of the 405 on Friday afternoon.
3. Milan, Italy
One of the reasons Italians love their Vespa’s so much is because of the terrible traffic jams in places like Milan, and the city doesn’t seem interested in curbing the problem. In 2012, the courts eliminated a plan to continue charging 5 euros for the 730,000 cars who pass through the city center every year. They aim to promote business instead of improve air quality, which is notoriously bad anyway due to Milan’s river basin setting. It’s highly encouraged for both visitors and commuters to avoid driving on working days, and there are several locations outside the major urban area where you can park and ride the metro.
4. London, UK
Despite some of the best public transportation options in the world, London still ranks fifth in worst traffic congestion. Though the city enforces a congestion charge, 35 percent of its roads still regularly suffer jams. Tiny roads, an explosion of tourism, and the increasing number of commuters from suburban areas are all cited as reasons for the problem, and the city isn’t all that sure of how to deal with its swelling size. The London Underground has already surpassed New York in sheer number of passengers – more than 4 million daily. Traffic is simply an unfortunate side effect of this bustling, international city.
5. Paris, France
London’s elegant cousin usually runs neck in neck with it for the most traffic jams, and on average, a commuter must add 10 minutes to a 30 minute journey. Since 2001, the city has worked hard to add bus lanes and bike paths, but traffic can still be overwhelming, especially during tourist season. Most visitors prefer to avoid the lack of on-street parking and huge hordes of pedestrians that keep driving in popular areas of the city at a standstill and take advantage of the metro and other public transportation options instead. The beautiful scenery is better to enjoy on foot than sitting in smog-filled traffic congestion.
Overall, traffic is present in the largest, most economically-diverse cities in the world, some of which might one day outgrow them. Luckily, the trend towards saving time and money by driving less is growing, and if the cities can implement better public transportation systems along with it, there might be a chance of staving off crowding on the highways. In many places, change is becoming more and more necessary.