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Boston second-most congested city in U.S., fourth in the world, traffic report says

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Time lost to traffic congestion in Boston increased by a whopping 72% last year, placing it second for worst gridlock in the country, and fourth worldwide, a new report found.

Boston is ranked behind London, Chicago and Paris, but ahead of New York City for cities with the “highest traffic delay times,” according to a report released Tuesday by INRIX, a global transportation data and analytics company.

The typical Boston driver lost 134 hours to congestion, up 56 hours from 2021 when it was ranked fourth in the U.S. and 18th in the world.

The Massachusetts capital is also home to the fourth-worst corridor in the U.S., I-93 southbound through downtown Boston to the Pilgrim Highway Interchange, resulting in 24.7 minutes lost on average per day at the 4 p.m. rush hour, the report stated.

Despite the significant year-to-year increase, time lost to traffic in Boston was still 10% below pre-COVID levels, a trend seen throughout the report with other major cities. The average American lost 51 hours to traffic congestion last year, up 15 hours from 2021 but still nearly 50% below pre-pandemic levels.

“Despite higher fuel prices, significant inflationary pressure, and supply chain problems around most of the world, in addition to a war in Europe, most urban areas experienced more delay in 2022 than in 2021,” the report stated. “However, most still lag their 2019 levels of traffic congestion, as commuting and work habits have shifted considerably.”

Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, adds that “while we do anticipate a gradual increase” in road travel and public transportation use “over the coming years, we may see a small decline in 2023 should a global recession strongly take hold.”

Only 12 cities comprising the top-50 ranked areas exceeded 2019 levels, “indicating it’s the smaller, less congested cities that have already ‘returned to normal’ in terms of traffic,” the report stated.

All this traffic congestion is costly, according to the report.

Time spent in traffic cost the typical American $869 in 2022, $305 more than the prior year, an expense driven by a return to the office, higher fuel prices and inflation.

Drivers commuting in major metros spent a lot more, led by Chicago ($2,618), Boston ($2,270) and New York City ($1,976). Congestion cost the City of Boston $4.3 billion in 2022, the report stated.

On average, Americans spent $129 more at the gas pump to commute last year, but much more if they commuted to work in LA or Chicago, at $350 and $288 more, respectively.

Chicago was the worst U.S. city for gridlock, with 155 hours lost, and was narrowly edged out by London, which lost 156 hours, for tops in the world. The most congested U.S. cities after Chicago and Boston were New York City, Philadelphia, Miami, LA, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Houston and Atlanta.

Washington, D.C. saw the largest jump in downtown trips compared to 2021, at 23%, followed by Charlotte (19%), Detroit (18%), New York (17%) and San Diego (17%). Boston saw a 13% spike, placing it in the top 10, which indicates more people were working at a downtown office last year.

In terms of worst corridors, Boston’s I-93 southbound was only out-ranked by Stamford, Conn.’s I-95 northbound, LA’s I-5 southbound, and the most congested, Stamford’s I-95 southbound, which resulted in 34.5 minutes lost on average per day at its 8 a.m. peak commuting hour.

The report also touches on the rate of traffic fatalities on U.S. roads, which decreased slightly to 1.27 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled for the first half of 2022 compared to 1.3 during that same time period in 2021. Deaths were still “relatively high” compared to the 1.07 fatality rate from the first half of pre-pandemic 2019.

And it highlights a return to public transportation, although with a caveat that rail ridership remains much lower than pre-COVID levels in the U.S.

According to INRIX, its data and analytics on mobility, traffic signals, parking and population movement “helps city planners and engineers make data-based decisions to prioritize spending to maximize benefits and reduce costs now into the future.”

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