The New York-Newark, N.J., region has outpaced Los Angeles for the worst traffic in the country, the first time in nearly 30 years the crowded California city has not held the top spot in the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute’s annual Urban Mobility Report.
The 2021 study released this week found that while total traffic delays substantially decreased last year in several cities due to the pandemic, the New York-Newark region saw 494,268 total hours of people stuck in traffic, compared to 365,543 hours in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim region.
Los Angeles was ranked as the country’s worst area for traffic each year since 1982.
New York-Newark also came in first for the average amount of hours a driver spent in traffic, at 56, followed by Boston at 50 and Houston with 49.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim and San Francisco-Oakland regions tied for an average of 46 hours of traffic per driver.
Los Angeles's drop from the top spot comes as an overwhelming number of area residents worked from home last year, with the total number of hours in traffic in L.A. in 2020 down 62 percent from the 952,183 recorded in 2019.
The report noted that while it is not yet clear what lasting impact the pandemic will have on transportation in large cities, 2020 saw congestion costs and travel delays at rates more closely mirroring 1997 trends.
In 2020, the annual congestion cost per auto commuter was recorded as $605, roughly half of the $1,170 recorded in 2019.
“Flexible work hours and reliable internet connections allow employees to choose work schedules that are beneficial for meeting family needs and the needs of their jobs," report co-author David Schrank said in a press release.
“And it also reduces the demand for roadway space, which is beneficial for the rest of us,” he added.
The report noted, however, that the root causes of travel delays and congestion, including frequent car trips, roadwork, crashes and weather-related issues, have not necessarily experienced a decline.
Tim Lomax, another of the report’s co-authors, said in a statement, “What’s different is that those elements have been eclipsed by plummeting traffic volume.”
Preliminary estimates released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) earlier this month revealed that traffic deaths rose by more than 7 percent in 2020, despite motor vehicles traveling less miles.
The NHTSA said at the time that the most frequent behaviors that led to traffic fatalities last year were impaired driving, speeding and not wearing a seat belt.