Arguably the U.S. city most closely associated with traffic congestion, Los Angeles ranks just sixth on a new list of the nation’s most traffic-clogged urban areas.
LA regularly claimed the No. 1 spot in previous iterations of the annual ranking, released by Inrix, but last year the transportation data tracker changed its method of calculating congestion on a citywide level. As a result, cities with denser downtown cores now top the list (Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia claimed the first three spots this year).
That doesn’t mean that gridlock in Los Angeles isn’t an issue: By Inrix’s calculations, the typical driver logged 103 hours in traffic during 2019. The metro area is also home to three of the 10 most-congested stretches of road in the United States, including the top two.
Per the report, the stretch of the 5 freeway between the 10 and 605 interchanges (located in Boyle Heights and Downey, respectively) is the most congested road in the country—with a typical rush hour delay of 20 minutes.
Coming in second, with an average delay of 19 minutes, is the segment of the 101 freeway running between the 134 in North Hollywood and the 110 in Downtown LA. The Sepulveda Pass stretch of the 405, connecting the Westside to the Valley, placed ninth on the list, with a daily delay of 14 minutes.
The 405 freeway has become a symbol of the inability of local leaders to address congestion through the addition of new traffic lanes. A new northbound carpool lane opened in 2014, after years of planning and construction. Five years later, drivers traveling through the Sepulveda Pass move even more slowly than they did before the project started.
Now, Metro is considering installing Express Lanes on the freeway similar to those already in place on the 110 and 10 freeways. These toll lanes, which charge drivers a per-mile fee based on the level of traffic at that time, are a limited form of congestion pricing—something transportation officials are considering implementing on a wider basis throughout the Los Angeles area.
Such a program could prove unpopular with drivers, who might have to pay to use certain roads at particularly busy times of day, but the Inrix report notes that cities like Singapore have managed to reduce gridlock with pricing systems while maintaining a dense urban core.
The report also rates Los Angeles’s public transportation and biking infrastructure as poor, compared to cities like Boston and New York, where rush hour traffic can be more impenetrable, but residents are also less reliant on cars.
The good news for commuters is that Los Angeles’s rapid transit network is expanding. Among other major projects, the transportation agency aims to build a rail line within the next eight years that would sweep riders through the Sepulveda Pass in as little as 15 minutes. The B (formerly Red) Line subway already parallels the most congested segment of the 101 freeway.
These options give residents a decent alternative to driving, but they may not cut down on traffic.
“It basically allows people to avoid exposure to congestion,” UCLA associate professor of urban planning Michael Manville said in a January interview. “But if you want to actually improve congestion on the 405, the unfortunate truth is that you have to toll the 405.”