New York is suffering from more traffic congestion than anywhere else in the country — surpassing car-choked Los Angeles for the first time in nearly four decades, a new study revealed.
According to the annual mobility report released this week by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the average driver in the New York region wasted 56 extra hours in traffic last year. Cumulatively, the region’s motorists produced a whopping 494,268,000 hours of gridlock, nearly 30% more than any urban area in the country.
Despite most New York City households not owning cars, the metro-area region now leads the way in every single measure of congestion tracked by the transportation institute. Perhaps most telling, New York ranked number one in the commuter stress index — which models the excess hours in traffic at peak periods — up from 14th in 2019.
The abrupt shift reflects the pandemic’s uneven impact on transportation habits across the country. While many metro areas saw their traffic cut by two-thirds last year, New York traffic slipped by less than half, the study found. By October, traffic was reaching pre-COVID levels, even as just 10% of workers had returned to Manhattan offices.
There are numerous factors for New York’s worst place finish, according to the study’s co-author, David Schrank, including the role of truck traffic in transporting supplies out of New York and New Jersey ports during the height of lockdown. But the most obvious explanation may be one that what we already knew: the pandemic pushed many New Yorkers into personal vehicles.
“People were reluctant to ride transit,” Schrank told Gothamist. “A lot of people who had to be at work changed modes. If they couldn’t walk or bike, they probably found their way into the [vehicle] tunnels.”
It remains unclear whether that modal shift will outlast the pandemic. Even before COVID, New York City roads were more clogged than ever, in part due to the explosion of for-hire vehicles.
Transportation advocates blame Mayor Bill de Blasio for not doing more to reverse that trend. After appointing experts to a Surface Transportation Advisory Council last summer, the administration ignored their recommendations to reduce vehicle traffic, and effectively disbanded the group, members said.
The city’s congestion pricing program, which was initially slated to begin this past January, also remains stuck in limbo more than two years after it was approved by the state.
“The fact that we have more traffic than L.A., where the car is king, is a testament to the failures of New York’s leaders to prioritize people over cars,” said Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “This is a predictable and preventable failure.”