Five places where soul-crushing gridlock is a way of life.
- By Jared MondscheinJared Mondschein is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
View a slide show of the world’s worst traffic
Claim to fame: A 60-mile traffic jam on an expressway heading into Beijing has lasted since Aug. 19 and might continue for another month
Life in the slow lane: The ongoing jam on National Expressway 110, which links Beijing and North China’s Hebei province, caused by construction and a number of accidents, has shocked the world. But Beijingers are used to epic-scale gridlock. Despite the city’s six surrounding ring roads, numerous expressways, and the government’s restrictions on car use, urban planners simply can’t keep up with the massive influx of new cars that many of Beijing’s approximately 20 million increasingly wealthy people (many of whom have never driven a car before) have recently bought. Some 248,000 new cars were registered in the first four months of 2010, according to the Beijing municipal tax office, a rate of 2,100 new cars per day.
Driving in Beijing, which came in first on IBM’s latest survey of “commuter pain” among major world cities, is a truly frustrating experience: 69 percent of Beijing motorists admitted that on occasion they have just given up and gone home, 84 percent claimed traffic affected work or school performance, and the average commuter suffers through almost an hour of traffic just commuting to work. The city is pinning its hopes on one out-of-the-box solution: an enormous, solar-powered bus that literally drives over traffic.
Claim to fame: Muscovite drivers face the longest traffic delays in the world, with waits averaging about two and a half hours
Life in the slow lane: Drunk driving, bad weather, streets designed only for military marches and Communist officials in limousines, and well-connected individuals skipping traffic continue to make driving in this city an exasperating — not to mention costly and dangerous — experience. The Russian Transportation Ministry claims that $12.8 billion — more than the GDP of Iceland — is lost every year due to the miserable traffic conditions. Overall, Russia’s road-accident mortality rate is more than twice as high as some members of the European Union — despite the fact that Russians have about a third the amount of cars.
The Kremlin has addressed the traffic issue on numerous occasions, but with the country’s road infrastructure ranked 111th in the world and falling rates of public spending — despite the Transportation Ministry’s pleas to add almost 250 miles of road to ease congestion — Muscovites are not happy. One study showed that over the past three years, two in five residents of the capital have had to wait at least three hours for traffic to clear (an impressively low figure considering there are 650 traffic jams on average every day).
Claim to fame: In 2006, a single political protest caused a backup of half a million cars
Life in the slow lane: Some might think that freeway-clogged Los Angeles is North America’s worst traffic nightmare, but according to IBM’s survey, Mexico City is almost four times as tough for commuters. The Mexican capital has become famous for Darwinian traffic habits (an average of 1,500 pedestrians are killed in accidents a year) and pollution so heavy that it likely shortens life spans. Despite city initiatives to decrease the heavy traffic congestion largely caused by simply too many people and too few roads, more than half of Mexico City drivers said that the traffic has negatively affected school or work while 62 percent said that traffic is getting worse in a city with streets first designed by the Aztecs.
One uniquely Mexican trait is definitely not helping matters: The city averages about eight and a half street protests per day, further clogging the streets with demonstrators from all over the country. The city even has a website specifically designed to note every protest and the likelihood of resulting traffic blockages.
Claim to fame: The city holds the world record for the world’s longest traffic jam at over 165 miles on May 9 in 2008
Life in the slow lane: A traveler to Sao Paulo might wonder why so many drivers can be seen doing such menial tasks as shaving, watching movies, or playing video games while at the wheel. Given that Paulistas regularly spend three- to four-hours each day in traffic jams that can be over 100 miles long, it should not be too surprising that motorists are making themselves feel at home. Not only do Sao Paulo roads handle the city’s more than 20 million people poorly, but the city has simply not done enough to fix matters. The fast-growing and sprawling, decentralized megalopolis — spread across more than 3,000 square miles — suffers from extra traffic due to its lack of any fully functional ring roads.
Designated bus lanes, subway additions, and a car-restriction system that allows only a limited number of drivers on the road each day have done little to lessen the massive traffic congestion that costs the city an estimated $2.3 billion a year. The gridlock has gotten so bad that Sao Paulo’s well-connected and wealthy have made the city home to the second-largest helicopter fleet in the world.
Claim to fame: Frequent massive car accidents cause fatalities in the dozens
Life in the slow lane: Driving in Lagos is characterized more by the act of sitting — the standstill nature of driving in this booming city is so ubiquitous that Lagosians have created their own term for their city’s traffic: “go-slow.” Near the top of many lists for fastest-growing city in the world, Lagos for many years lacked any overarching plans for infrastructure, as its infamous traffic attests.
Overcrowding is not the only problem afflicting Lagos’s roads, however — vehicle-wrecking potholes, few working traffic lights, carjacking, corrupt traffic police, and flooded roads are also common. Traffic in Lagos, a coastal city on the Atlantic Ocean, is plagued by the fact that drivers are often forced to take narrow bridges, causing bottlenecks. Worst yet, according to urban lore, it’s dangerous to try to buy any items from street vendors while stuck on a bridge because there is a good chance that they or others nearby — knowing you have nowhere to move — are armed and looking to steal all your belongings.