5 Cities With the Worst Traffic

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- If you'd rather spend an hour in a dentist's chair than in a traffic jam, here's a look at five U.S. cities you definitely don't want to move to.

"Sitting in traffic is like watching paint dry -- it might only take seven minutes, but it sure seems like longer," says Jim Bak of traffic-monitoring firm Inrix, which recently released its sixth-annual Traffic Scorecard.

Inrix, which beams real-time traffic information to factory-installed global-positioning systems in cars built by Audi, BMW and other brands, ranked rush-hour traffic in America's 100 largest cities by analyzing data collected daily from some 100 million vehicles.

The firm found that rush-hour traffic rose 4% on average in the nation's biggest metro areas during 2013's first quarter, with congestion getting worse in 61 of the 100 communities studied.

Bak says gridlock increased because many metro areas' economies are recovering, boosting the number of people who have jobs to drive to.

He says better employment numbers lead in turn to more consumer spending, which increases the number of delivery trucks on the road to keep local businesses stocked with goods.

"It's a good news/bad news situation for drivers," Bak says. "It's no fun spending more time in traffic -- but at least it means that your city's economy is humming, some of your friends who lost jobs during the recession are back at work and your 401(k) is probably on the rebound."

Here's a look at the five cities that Inrix found had the worst rush-hour traffic during 2013's first quarter.

Researchers based their rankings on Inrix's Travel Time Index, a percentage figure that reflects how much time traffic adds to the average rush-hour trip. For instance, someone living in a city with a 30% Travel Time Index can expect rush-hour journeys to take 30% longer than the same trips require during traffic-free periods.

Fifth-worst city: New York
Travel Time Index: 20.3%

An improving job market means the Big Apple has big rush-hour headaches, with the average driver losing 50 hours a year to gridlock.

"New York is perennially battling it out with other cities for some of the worst traffic in the country," Bak says.

He says that while thousands of New Yorkers take public transportation to work, "a lot of people still drive -- and you've got lots of delivery trucks coming into town when the economy is buzzing."

Gotham also hosts four of the most-congested areas on Inrix's Top 10 Worst Roads for Traffic list.

The firm rates the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway as America's seventh-most-congested roadway, while the Long Island Expressway comes in sixth, the Van Wyck Expressway third and the Cross Bronx Expressway No. 1 worst overall.

Fourth-worst city: Austin, Texas
Travel Time Index: 21.1%

Low unemployment, cheap gas and the lack of subways add up to plenty of traffic jams in the Lone Star State's capital.

"Austin is a city that's continued to boom as a tech center, and you can make the argument that you're seeing traffic because employment there has outpaced infrastructure," Bak says.

With Dell ( DELL), Whole Foods Market ( WFM), the University of Texas at Austin and other major employers calling the metro area home, Austin had just a 5.3% jobless rate in March.

At the same time, the city has public buses but no subway system, while GasBuddy.com says gasoline costs around $3.28 a gallon -- some 23 cents below the U.S. average.

Bak says all of that creates a local "driving economy" that leads to lots of traffic. Inrix estimates rush-hour traffic adds 38 hours a year to the average Austin driver's travel time.

Third-worst city: San Francisco
Travel Time Index: 23.6%

If you've left your heart in San Francisco, don't go back for it until after rush hour.

That's because a relatively low unemployment rate, falling local gas prices and limited space for roads mean the average Frisco driver loses 49 hours a year to rush-hour slowdowns.

"San Francisco has a strong tech economy that keeps the jobless rate down, plus fuel prices that are stable enough to keep people from switching to public transportation," Bak says. "When you add in limited geography for roads, you end up with lots of frustration for drivers there."

In fact, two San Francisco routes make Inrix's list of America's 100 worst roads for traffic. A six-mile stretch of State Route 4 Eastbound comes in 25th place, while a four-mile section of Interstate 80 Eastbound ranks 46th.

Second-worst city: Honolulu
Travel Time Index: 26.3%

Say aloha to bad rush-hour traffic if you move to Honolulu.

Bak says Hawaii's state capital suffers from gridlock primarily because Interstate H-1 "is really the only major road you can use to get to one side of the island from the other."

A four-mile section of H-1 Eastbound ranks 19th on Inrix's list of 100 America's worst roads, while a seven-mile section heading west comes in 60th place.

All told, Inrix estimates the average Honolulu driver loses 50 hours a year to rush-hour traffic jams.

On the plus side, Honolulu drivers often enjoy pleasant views when stuck in gridlock. "I'll take sitting in a convertible in Hawaiian traffic over a long mainland backup any time," Bak says.

Worst city for rush-hour traffic: Los Angeles
Travel Time Index: 29.2%

The City of Angels is a real devil when it comes to rush-hour traffic, with the average L.A. resident losing 59 hours a year to gridlock.

Bak blames much on the problem on a "local car culture that's just very ingrained. People get in their cars to go everywhere."

He says a strengthening local job market and the lack of a real subway system only add to problems, creating "some of the worst roads in the country for traffic."

In fact, L.A. roadways make up half of Inrix's list of America's 10 most-congested roadways.

The firm ranks the Santa Ana/Golden State Freeway as the nation's 10th-worst traffic area, while Interstate 405 Northbound comes in eighth, the Riverside Freeway places fifth, the Santa Monica Freeway fourth and Interstate 405 Southbound second.

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