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Top Ten Worst Cities For Car Drivers

March 3, 2013
Personal Finance
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

According to the Alliance to Save Energy, the average U.S. household spends $3,400 on gasoline each year.  In addition to the cost of driving, there are a plethora of other non-financial hassles associated with driving, including getting caught in traffic jams, watching out for jaywalking pedestrians and circling your neighborhood for an hour to find a parking spot.  However, commuters should not be too afraid—many of these cities offer excellent public transportation options as an alternative to driving.  Public transportation  is good for the environment and may save you from feeling road rage.

We analyzed the data to bring you a list of the ten absolute worst U.S. cities to drive a car according to the following three questions:

1. Will you be stuck in traffic?  We included the annual hours of traffic delay per commuter in our calculation.  This number represents how many hours commuters spend in their cars, stuck in traffic, in addition to their regular commute time.

2. Is gas expensive? We incorporated the price per gallon of gas in our analysis; specifically, to what extent the price per gallon varies from the national average (across 304 urban areas).

3. Is the city overcrowded? We assessed this through the population density, the number of people per square mile.  Densely packed cities are difficult to drive in and tend to have less available parking because there are many commuters.

For more information, check out our Cost of Living Calculator and City Life tool.

To see what you’re missing out on, check out the ten best cities for car drivers!

Ten worst cities for car drivers

1.     New York, NY

The City That Never Sleeps is also the City That Never Drives—only 28% of New Yorkers drive to work, whereas 86% of commuters nationwide drive to work, according to the U.S. Census.  New York drivers are delayed by 59 hours each year, and gas costs 7.67% more than the national urban average.  New York City has an incredibly high population density as well—over 27,000 people live in just one square mile of the Big Apple.  Luckily for New York commuters, the city has an excellent and affordable public transportation system that extends to all five boroughs.

2.     Chicago, IL

This Midwestern hub has expensive gas—it costs 30% more than the national urban average, which is largely due to the strict environmental regulations mandated by the city.  The densely packed Windy City has the second largest public transportation system in the U.S., so commuters can avoid those 51 hours per year spent in traffic.

3.     San Francisco, CA

San Franciscan drivers spend a whopping 61 hours a year stuck in traffic, and while gas is not much more than the national urban average, the extra time spent in a car takes a toll on your gas budget.

4.     Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles is a notoriously terrible city for drivers.  The city is so sprawling that a car is often necessary for getting around, and since everyone is driving, there are record-long traffic jams.

5.     Boston, MA

Boston drivers are known for being aggressive, and it’s no wonder they get frustrated—Boston drivers sit in 53 hours of traffic per year.  The layout of the streets does not help the cause, either, as the city is not laid out in a grid.  The many one-way and non-perpendicular streets can add to a driver’s hassles, and with a high population density as well, driving in this city induces stress.  However, the city has excellent public transportation, so a Charlie card may be a better investment than a car.

6.     Washington, DC

Washington, DC has some of the worst commute traffic in the country, with drivers spending almost three full days per year in traffic.  With a high population density and an irrationally high prevalence of roundabouts, the city is not conducive to driving, particularly to those navigating the jam-packed commute from Northern Virginia.  Gas, however, costs slightly less than the national urban average, so there’s some silver lining there.

7.     Oakland, CA

Oakland is a fairly dense city, and although the gas prices are not high, commuters spent 61 hours per year stuck in traffic.  For those who commute into San Francisco to work, the Bay Bridge can be a time-suck, taking anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour if you’re driving during rush hour.  However, the BART provides quick public transportation into the city—you can cross the Bay Bridge in ten minutes.

8.     Honolulu, HI

Gas is very pricey on the island—with the high shipping costs, Hawaii has a higher cost of living than most cities.  The added traffic from Honolulu’s booming tourism industry makes it hard to get around the city.

9.     Portland, OR

Portland drivers sit in traffic for almost two full days per year.  Gas is pricey in the city, and while the population density is lower than other large cities, the average Portland resident will experience an auto collision every eight years, according to an Allstate study on car collision frequencies that ranked Portland as 151st out of 200 cities.

10.  Philadelphia, PA

The City of Brotherly Love is not ideal for drivers, given the traffic, high population density and lack of available parking.  Residents often complain of the unfilled potholes dotting the road, and car theft is common in the city, which leads to high insurance rates.

Rank City Annual hours of delay per commuter % Difference between cost of a gallon of gas and national urban average Population density (people per square mile) Overall score for car owners
1 New York, NY 59 +7.67% (more expensive than average) 27,012.4 23.2
2 Chicago, IL 51 +30.30% 11,841.8 29.1
3 San Francisco, CA 61 +5.75% 17,179.2 36.1
4 Los Angeles, CA 61 +7.24% 8,092.3 46.5
5 Boston, MA 53 +3.04% 12,792.7 48.7
6 Washington, DC 67 -3.07% (cheaper than average) 9,856.5 48.9
7 Oakland, CA 61 +5.38% 7,004.0 49.4
8 Honolulu, HI 45 +17.28% 5,572.6 51.3
9 Portland, OR 44 +15.16% 4,375.3 55.1
10 Philadelphia, PA 48 -2.71% 11,379.5 58.2


The overall score for car owners was derived from the following measures:

  1. Annual hours of delay per commuter from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute
  2. Percent difference between the cost of a gallon of gas from the ACCRA cost of living index and the national urban average of 304 cities
  3. Population density from the 2010 U.S. Census

50 of the biggest U.S. cities were included in this analysis.

 Frustration image from Shutterstock