CHICAGO — A new report places Chicago third in the nation for traffic congestion, with drivers losing 138 hours a year to backups.
Chicago rose to third from fifth place in the national rankings between 2017 and 2018, and is now considered worse for congestion than either New York City or Los Angeles, two cities notorious for their traffic tangles, according to a report released Monday by INRIX, a specialist in mobility analytics. Boston ranked No. 1, followed by Washington, D.C.
The report looked at severity of congestion, with a focus on last-mile speed and travel time, which is how long it takes to make the final mile to a destination during rush hour. In Chicago, the speed was 12 mph, so the time was 5 minutes.
The study found that congestion had worsened in the city by 4 percent in 2018 compared with 2017.
The tie-ups mean more than frustration — they cost money. INRIX figures the average cost per driver of congestion in Chicago is worth $1,920, and $6.2 billion for the urban area overall. INRIX got this figure by calculating how much an average worker's time is worth per hour, then multiplying by hours lost.
"Congestion costs Americans billions of dollars each year," said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. "It will continue to have serious consequences for national and local economies, businesses and citizens in the years to come."
The Chicago area had both the second and third spots on the list of most congested U.S. roads in 2018. The second-worst stretch in the nation is Interstate 94/Interstate 90 from the Stevenson Expressway to Interstate 294, with an average daily delay of 26 minutes, while the third-worst is Interstate 290 from I-94 to I-294, with an average delay of 23 minutes. The only city that had a worse stretch than Chicago was New York City, with the Cross Bronx Expressway, the INRIX study found.
Among the factors examined by INRIX was how far vehicles drop from the posted speed during rush hour, Reed said.
One cause of increased congestion could be that there are more cars on the road, due to a strong economy and low gas prices.
"The country has been coming out of the dip in travel it experienced as a result of the 2008 recession," said Ian Savage, a Northwestern University economics professor who specializes in transportation issues. "So it's not surprising that congestion is getting worse."
The increase in the number of ride-share vehicles also has been blamed for a rise in congestion, according to a study last year by Bruce Schaller, an expert on new mobility services.
Reed said that some medium-sized cities like Nashville, Tenn,. that have seen a population and development boom are also starting to see a rise in traffic jams. He said that some of these cities are getting hit hard because they do not have good public transportation, unlike older big cities like Chicago.
Reed said that cities cannot solve congestion just by building more roads, but must look at other solutions, such as improving public transit. "You can't cover everything in concrete," he said.
The most congested city in the world was Moscow.
In general, densely populated cities have low traffic speeds and shorter commute distances, in contrast to low-density cities with higher speeds but longer distances traveled. In both contexts, commuters spend about half an hour on average going to and from work, INRIX said.
One exception to this is Singapore, which is a tightly packed city with aggressive anti-congestion policies, including high vehicle ownership fees and congestion tolls, INRIX said. Cars can travel at high speeds in Singapore despite its high urban density. The report found that charging for road space helps to curb congestion.
Savage said he is not sure it helps much for people to know Chicago is third, or fifth, in congestion. Drivers just know that traffic is bad, and some people may move in order to get away from it.
INRIX said it analyzed data from 300 million sources, including mobile devices, to look at traffic patterns across the world.