The Worst Cities for Drivers: See How Your Town Compares

Traffic’s a bummer no matter where you live, but our writers all think their respective towns are the worst cities for drivers. The question is: Which really is the worst? Check out their arguments for San Francisco, Los Angeles, DC, and New York, and see how they compare to your hometown.

Worst Cities for Drivers: San Francisco

Hills, traffic, fog … and cyclists. Skip the car and take the ample public transportation.

Worst Cities for Drivers: Los Angeles

Traffic, lack of parking, and did we mention traffic? The City of Angels isn’t always so angelic.

Worst Cities for Drivers: Washington, DC

Nineteenth-century roads with twenty-first-century traffic. Watch out for that tourist on a Segway!

Worst Cities for Drivers: New York City

A city where no one is meant to drive, but way too many people do anyway. At least it gives New Yorkers something to complain about.

Do you live in one of these cities? What’s your experience driving there? Leave a comment about it! (And feel free to gloat or gripe about driving in your hometown.)

Worst Cities for Drivers: New York City

I don’t care where you’re from — L.A., San Francisco, DC, Wichita — the fact is, New York tops the list of worst cities for drivers.

There is no reason to drive in New York — especially if you live, like I do, in Manhattan. The traffic is horrible. The drivers are aggressive. It costs tons of money in tolls to get anywhere. But people still do it. I still do it. Why?

Because New Yorkers need something to complain about. Duh.

And here are my complaints. New Yorkers, back me up!

I can’t go anywhere — I’ve got a spot!

In the suburbs, people stay together for the kids. In most cities, they stay together for the apartment. But in New York City, they stay together for the parking spot. If you’ve got a primo parking place (hey, no street-sweeping ‘til Wednesday!) there’s little that anyone or anything can do to get you to move. That trip upstate you were planning? Fuggedaboutit. You’ve got a spot. Where would you park when you got back?

A bridge over tunneled waters

Living in Manhattan is impossible. Manhattan doesn’t want you to live in Manhattan. The only way in and out is through 1 of the 10,000 bridges or tunnels dotting the Hudson, Harlem, and East Rivers.

If you want to cross the East River without paying a toll, you have only one option: the Queensboro Bridge. And nobody wants to take that. Driving on the Queensboro Bridge is like going to the Museum of Modern Art on “free day.” Sure, you’re going to see the art, but what you’re mostly going to see is some guy’s bald spot.

Goodbye, grid

The only positive thing about driving in Manhattan is the grid system. But after driving around the city for a while (looking for parking, mostly), driving to Queens or Brooklyn is a confusing nightmare … especially once those street names you’ve familiarized yourself with in Manhattan start popping up in the outer boroughs.

And the Brooklyn IKEA? Just order online, dude.

There sure are a lot of Connecticuters parked on my block … and New Jerseyans

Another reason no one drives in New York: they can’t afford it! It costs so much to keep a car insured on the island of Manhattan that some people — tons, actually — register their cars where they have out-of-state family in order to save money on the insurance.

That plan works beautifully and saves tons of money … except for the fact that it constitutes insurance fraud. If the cost of proper insurance is that much of a burden, you should probably consider buying a MetroCard.

L.A. needs to stop complaining

Everybody knows Southern Californians have thin skin (believe me, I used to be one of them). While L.A. may be insanely congested during rush hour, getting to and from work is miserable anywhere you go. But at least the freeways (I repeat, freeways … no tolls to speak of) are plentiful and have tons of lanes.

L.A.’s infrastructure was designed with driving — or at least long-distance transportation — in mind. The city (or urban sprawl) has been spread out since the early days. While New York was building upwards, Los Angeles was building outwards. New York, however, is totally stuck in the horse-and-buggy days (proof positive if you get anywhere near Central Park South).

New York also has another thing Los Angeles doesn’t: a little thing called winter — nothing to shake a (frozen) stick at.

The winner of the worst cities to drive award: New York

What, am I wrong?

I keep my car because I love options. I need options. (Also, I’m aspiring to a Seinfeldian lifestyle, and you can’t do that without complaining incessantly about how having a car in the city is truly a double-edged sword.)

But if you’ve got a bone to pick, or think your city is worse, throw your gauntlet in the comments section below.

Related links

Worst Cities for Drivers: San Francisco
Worst Cities for Drivers: Los Angeles
Worst Cities for Drivers: Washington, DC

Worst Cities for Drivers: Washington, DC

Some cities are infamous for bad driving: Los Angeles is too congested, San Francisco is too hilly and foggy. And these cities are (deservedly) notorious for their drivers. But there’s a sleeper in this race to the bottom. It’s the place where thousands of people from all over the world bring their bad driving habits: Washington, DC.

Steeped in history (and good microbreweries), our nation’s capital is understandably a tourist mecca. And I’m here to offer you visitors (and heck, even you locals) a friendly piece of advice: don’t add another car to those already congested roads! There’s excellent public transportation, bike shares, and (sigh) even Segways.

Want to know how serious I am about this? Check out why DC ranks #1 on my list of worst cities for drivers.

The culprits

Tourists

No DC rant would be complete without tourists. Starting with the National Cherry Blossom Festival in March, the sightseeing hordes descend. Clad in T-shirts distinguishing them as members of the FBI or Witness Protection Program, they trudge along the National Mall from museum to museum, asking locals, “Is that the White House?” They clog Starbucks, they wait in line (for hours!) just to eat a Georgetown Cupcake. They pilot Segways clumsily around the Mall, offering comedic relief to all.

Fortunately, most tourists don’t actually drive in DC. But those who do have to park … and that means parking spots on the Mall can be scarce during Capitol staffers’ softball and kickball leagues (aka drinking clubs), raising the ire of many a bro.

Part-timers

Commuters flood the District on weekdays, nearly doubling its population for 8 hours and eliminating any chance of parking anywhere. Everyone knows Virginians drive too slowly! Marylanders too erratically! And blood pressure levels only skyrocket during those long drives home after a day spent running the country (or, depending on your viewpoint, ruining it).

But the worst drivers in Washington aren’t tourists or suburbanites. They’re not congressmen or lobbyists. They’re not even Capitol Hill interns. No — they’re diplomats. The tell-tale “DIPLOMAT” license plate — a symbol of consequence-free (and often careless) driving — strikes fear and rage into the heart of Washingtonians. Granted, I have absolutely no stats on this. But ask locals whom to avoid on the road, and often they’ll reply, “diplomats” (and usually offer some colorful language to boot).

The big guy

Then there’s the president. As if dodging diplomats, reckless cabbies, and clueless tourists isn’t bad enough, you even have to watch out for the leader of the free world. He is always in such a hurry, and the drivers of his 20+ blackout-tinted SUVs and limos aren’t big on yielding to pedestrians. Which one is carrying the nuclear football? I don’t want to find out.

The city

DC is so 19th century

The city is built around broad, diagonal avenues that provide great sight lines of icons like the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the White House. It’s gorgeous. But as brilliant as city designer Pierre L’Enfant was, he apparently wasn’t smart enough to anticipate the car. Cram a hundred of these space-hoggers into a DC traffic circle and you get one giant (and round) parking lot. (Speaking of round parking lots, have you ever driven on the Beltway?)

But the most calamitous of all DC circles — an entire neighborhood that should be completely avoided during rush hour — is Dupont Circle. Even Hollywood knows that. In The American President, the big-screen precursor to the small screen’s The West Wing (which is required viewing for all Washingtonians), Sydney asks the president to declare Dupont a federal disaster area. Drive through it at 5:30 p.m. and you’ll see that it doesn’t need a formal declaration to be considered a disaster.

Park it and leave it

Despite all this, I stayed accident-free during my 4 years in DC. I attribute that partly to my superior driving skills, but mostly to driving only when absolutely necessary (to get to Costco, of course).

Thankfully, more Washingtonians are choosing to ride public transportation, walk, or, increasingly, to bike — either on their own 2-wheeler or via the biggest bike-sharing program in the country, Capital Bikeshare.

And who can blame them?

(Okay, I admit, after living in DC, I might be a little biased. So if you think your city is worse, let me know by leaving a comment below.)

Related links

Worst Cities for Drivers: San Francisco
Worst Cities for Drivers: Los Angeles

Worst Cities for Drivers: Los Angeles

Though I’m fairly new to Los Angeles, I consider myself somewhat of an ambassador. A simple, “How do you like L.A.?” launches me into a monologue on L.A.’s finer points, like:

  • Dishing out authentic Mexican fare and tons of fresh seafood
  • Peppering a gorgeous landscape with top-quality museums, parks, and trails
  • Putting palm trees in your front yard

However, none of this good stuff (and we only scratched the surface there) can make you forget about the thing for which L.A. is truly abysmal: driving.

For those considering a visit to L.A. — or for those who live here but just want to therapeutically relive the misery — here’s one Angeleno’s personal guide to the worst parts of driving in the City of Angels. Read on to feel a little bit better about your commute.

You (usually) have no other choice

For such a sprawling place, public transportation in L.A. is surprisingly thin (no direct train to the airport? C’mon!). Although it has the seventh-highest square mileage of any U.S. city, the lack of public transit can often limit pedestrians and (non-Olympic) bicyclists to their immediate neighborhoods.

Alas, if you really want to take in all the city has to offer, driving (L.A. leads the nation in annual fuel use) is hard to escape. And it’s that feeling of helplessness that can really get under your skin.

The traffic (my God, the traffic)

Arrggghhhhhhhhh!

OK, as petrifying as that is, (and make no mistake, it’s 100 percent petrifying), what’s actually caused me more frustration than the hours parked on the freeway are the short commutes that sneakily turn long. You know, the 1.2-mile drive home from the grocery store at 1:30 p.m. that inexplicably takes 25 minutes. How many pints of ice cream have to spoil before we enact change? How many pints???

Overreliance on interstates

What’s the first sign you have too many eggs in the interstate basket? I don’t know … maybe if your main freeway closes down for a weekend and the entire town goes berserk and then, in a blaze of spectacular panic, dubs the event “Carmageddon.” Oh wait, that’s exactly what happened here.

In mid-2011, road maintenance briefly forced Angelenos off a key stretch of the 405 freeway. This prospect was so unthinkable, it led to weirdly foreboding billboards shooing people away, instilling (for many) a genuine fear of going anywhere. Clearly, the term “scenic route” is not part of our lexicon. When the interstate shuts down, you shut down.

(For what it’s worth, when Carmageddon II — oh yes, the sequel! — hit a year later, it inspired way fewer doomsday proclamations.)

The parking situation

You’re probably familiar with the Ancient Mariner’s famous adage: “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Well I’d like to give that line an L.A. tweaking: “Concrete, concrete everywhere, nor any space to park.”

I confess, moving here from Chicago, I fell for the mirage — look at all this room! Parking in L.A. will be a piece of cake! Little did I know that when you mix millions upon millions of frustrated drivers with some of the most cramped parking lots you’ve ever seen, things actually get more stressful. To this day, the words “Hey, can you stop at Trader Joe’s?” still cause me, like a dysfunctional Pavlovian dog, to shake uncontrollably for several hours.

The weather (hold on, hear me out)

For fear of getting sucker punched by the nearest local, any sentence beginning with “The weather in L.A …” usually needs to finish with something like “… has reaffirmed my faith in the world.” So I’ll take this slow: “The weather in L.A. … creates a driving issue.”

Now, no one’s debating L.A.’s beauty. Yet, it’s precisely because Los Angeles exists in a vacu-sealed, warm and sunny, hyperbolic chamber that trouble can occur. Because, frankly, when that rare rainy day does arrive, people just lose their minds.

I’ve been stuck behind someone doing 10 mph in a 40-mph zone during a light drizzle; I’ve feared for my life looking in the rearview mirror as someone swerves lanes during a downpour; I’ve watched in awe as drivers tailgate aggressively on slick roads only minutes after a storm.

In essence, I’ve come to L.A. (Now … do you validate?)

Do you live in one of the worst cities?

What’s the most frustrating thing about driving in your town? Would you rank it among the worst cities in the country? (And could it possibly be worse than L.A.?) Leave a comment below.

Related links

Worst Cities for Drivers: San Francisco
Worst Cities for Drivers: Washington, DC
Worst Cities for Drivers: New York

Worst Cities for Drivers: San Francisco

If you’re one of my loyal readers (hi Mom!), you know that I have a soft spot for public transportation. But even I’ll admit that the train can’t get you everywhere. Though I survived without a car for 4 years, when I moved away from the convenience and questionable odors of downtown, I had no choice but to embrace the convenience and slightly-less-questionable odors of a new car.

That said, every time I have to drive downtown, I cringe. The City-by-the-Bay was clearly not built for drivers. In fact, it may be one of the worst cities for drivers. If you’re planning a visit to San Francisco, here’s a quick rundown on reasons you may want to skip the rental car and try the cable car instead.

1. The hills

San Francisco is known for its near-insurmountable hills (a source of big-time bragging rights for walkers and cyclists). As a result, I’ve become the master of 2-footed driving. The trick? When my car comes to rest on a hill, I keep my left foot on the brake and my right foot just above the gas so I’m ready to gun it before I start rolling backward (gulp!) downhill.

I liken driving on hills in San Francisco to taking off in a rocket ship (though, admittedly, my experience with rockets is limited to riding Mission: SPACE at Epcot Center): both place you in a near-vertical position staring at the skies above and praying for dear life that nothing goes wrong. In other words, you can’t see a dang thing at the top of the hill … until you reach the top. San Francisco pedestrians, consider yourselves warned.

True, going downhill’s easier, but still torture on your brakes.

You win this round, SF topography!

2. The traffic

According to the latest census, the San Francisco Bay Area is the second most densely populated urban area in the country. And a lot of those people have cars. In fact, in 2012, there were 466,448 registered vehicles in our 7-mile-by-7-mile city — not to mention all the people who commute in from surrounding suburbs each day! Perhaps it’s no surprise that the entrance to the Bay Bridge toll plaza is nicknamed “The Parking Lot.”

San Francisco ranks third on the list of cities with the most traffic congestion. Add to that the cyclists, pedestrians, buses, and cable cars (plus the occasional double-parker, parade, or fender bender), and you’ll soon realize that Top 40 stations play the same 10 songs over and over.

3. The parking

Ugh. Where to begin?

There’s street parking, which is so hard to find in some areas that many people just give up and double-park (see traffic section above).Then there’s lot parking — about $20 a day gets you a spot that’s always just a little too small for your car (see dings on passenger side of Camry).

And then there are the tickets: street cleaning, not curbing your wheels, parking over the time limit, not having the right parking permit, hanging a smidge into the red zone (just an inch, I swear!).

4. The fog

San Francisco is known for having its own microclimates (and even submicroclimates). While some areas generally stay bright and sunny, others are socked in with fog on a regular basis. And fog makes for terrible visibility (duh). My colleague has provided some nifty tips for driving in fog, but if I can’t see the car in front of me, I’d just as soon stay home.

5. One-way streets and no left turns

Since I generally travel by public transportation or on foot, I’m usually immune to one-way streets and turning restrictions. So it’s that much trickier to navigate these same roads from behind the wheel.

“Wait, I can’t turn there!? I have to go 6 blocks out of my way?!”
“Yes, Jessica, you do. And you’re probably going to get stuck behind a bus, too.”

I can’t tell you the number of times my “shortcuts” have ended up adding 20 minutes to my drive.

Is San Francisco one of the worst cities to drive?

Having lived in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, I’d have to say it’s a bit of a toss-up as to which driving climate is worse. Tomorrow, we’ll provide you with reasons why driving in L.A. is the pits. But I’ll leave you with this food for thought: on more than one occasion, it has taken me over an hour to drive across my 7-mile-long city.

P.S. Don’t let this diatribe poison you against San Francisco. It’s a lovely city with tons to do and see (just be sure to use public transportation to do it).

Tell us about driving in your town. How does it compare? Would you rank it among the worst cities in the country for drivers? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Related links

Worst Cities for Drivers: Los Angeles
Worst Cities for Drivers: Washington, DC
Worst Cities for Drivers: New York