The World's Worst Cities for Traffic

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    The World's Worst Cities for Traffic

    Aerial view of Mexico City
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    Americans spent a whopping 8 billion hours stuck in traffic in 2015, according to a survey conducted by roadway analytics company INRIX. But that’s nothing compared to the rest of the world. Even frequently gridlocked Los Angeles only just makes the top-ten on Dutch navigation company TomTom’s Traffic Index, which looks at traffic data from 295 countries to determine which are the world’s most congested. In this article, we look at the traffic rates in each of TomTom’s top-ten cities for 2016, as well as some of the reasons that they’re still well worth visiting.

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    Mexico City

    Mexico City at night
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    For each country, TomTom creates a congestion level percentage, which represents the amount of extra travel time drivers endure because of traffic. Mexico City is the worst offender on the 2016 list, with drivers spending 59 percent more time behind the wheel on any given journey. During peak times, this figure increases to as much as 97 percent, meaning that commuters waste up to 219 hours on extra travel time each year. Despite its poor traffic ranking, chaotic Mexico City boasts a rich culture embodied by highlights like the Frida Kahlo Museum and Museo Nacional de Antropología. 

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    A tuk-tuk drives by in Bangkok, Thailand

    Coming in second overall, Bangkok has the worst evening rush hour traffic in the world. At its peak, drivers can expect a 114 percent increase in travel times, while the morning rush hour is slightly better with an increase of 85 percent. In total, these statistics translate to approximately 61 extra minutes in the car every day. For visitors, Bangkok’s traffic is arguably part of the city’s frenetic charm, with local tuk-tuks providing high-adrenaline transport between the city’s street markets, temples and shopping districts. Alternatively, a cruise on the Chao Praya River offers a way to escape the melee.

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    City traffic in Istanbul
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    The Turkish capital is also at its most congested in the evening, with traffic increasing after-work travel times by up to 94 percent. Overall, TomTom estimates that the city’s traffic is responsible for increasing average annual travel times by as much as 178 hours per person. Istanbul’s overall congestion level percentage shows an 8 percent improvement from last year. The city is also planning a new monorail network, which will reduce traffic even further and enable visitors to enjoy highlights like the Grand Bazaar and the 6th Century Hagia Sophia in relative peace. 

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    Rio de Janeiro

    A busy street along the water in Rio de Janeiro
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    The only country with more than one city on the top-ten list, Brazil’s 200 million-plus population is a big part of its congestion problem. Rio tops the national leaderboard with an overall congestion level percentage of 47 percent, translating to an additional daily travel time of approximately 43 minutes. Rio, nonetheless, is a spectacular city, with golden stretches of beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema, and the outstretched hands of the monumental Christ the Redeemer statue. The annual Carnival celebration also deserves a place on every traveler’s bucket list.

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    Moscow at night
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    The Russian capital may be fifth on the list, but its congestion level percentage has seen a 6 percent improvement in the last year. Nevertheless, drivers can add a 44 percent increase to all travel times, with a 91 percent increase during evening rush hour. Still, it’s well worth braving Moscow’s grid-locked roads to experience the unique flavor of a city caught between the Communist past and its cosmopolitan present. Of all Moscow’s sights, the panorama created by the Red Square, the Kremlin, and the fantasy architecture of St. Basil’s Cathedral is undoubtedly the most impressive.  

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    Bucharest, Romania

    Sunset at Dambovita River in Bucharest, Romania
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    Bucharest is more congested today than it was last year, with a 2 percent increase in its overall congestion level percentage. Morning and evening rush hours see an almost equal amount of traffic, with an increase in travel time of 83 percent and 87 percent respectively. The capital’s poor traffic ranking could explain why visitors to the country tend not to linger there, but there are unexpected treasures to be found by those willing to look for them. These include leafy parks, authentic cafes and architectural gems like the Orthodox Stavropoleos Monastery. 

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    Salvador, Brazil

    Salvador, Brazil's old town
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    The second most congested Brazilian city on the list, Salvador drivers spend up to 74 percent longer in the car than necessary during peak evening travel times. Over the course of the year, that amounts to an extra 160 hours spent behind the wheel. Those statistics shouldn’t act as too much of a deterrent for travelers, however, as the beauty of Salvador’s rainbow-colored colonial architecture more than makes up for its congested roads. The city is also known for its rich Afro-Caribbean culture, which lends a unique flair to its festivals, its music, and its cuisine. 

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    Recife, Brazil

    Aerial view of Recife, Brazil
    Americo Nunes/Getty Images

    Recife’s statistics are very similar to Salvador’s, with both cities recording an overall congestion level percentage of 43 percent. Like Salvador, Recife’s travel times increase significantly during the evening rush hour, with journeys taking 75 percent longer than if there were no traffic. The similarities between the two cities end there, however, as modernized Recife is better known for its nightlife than its architecture. It’s got it all within easy reach, however, with the pretty colonial town of Olinda and the spectacular beaches of Pernambuco province just a short drive away. 

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    Chengdu, China

    Anshun Bridge in Chengdu, D
    Haitong Yu/Getty Images

    The Chinese city of Chengdu is the top-ten’s worst performer in terms of improving its traffic situation, thanks to a 5 percent increase on last year’s overall congestion percentage of 36 percent. Heavy traffic, an uninspiring skyline of high-rises and a record number of overcast days combine to make Chengdu an unlikely tourist destination. However, those that do make the trip will find plenty to love about the city, including its atmospheric teahouses, its mouthwatering regional cuisine, and the furry residents of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

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    Los Angeles

    An aerial view of Los Angeles's highways
    Predrag Vuckovic/Getty Images

    No surprise here: Los Angeles is the worst city for traffic in the U.S., with congestion causing a 41 percent increase in overall travel time. On average, Angeleno drivers can expect to waste 43 minutes sitting in traffic every day, adding up to a total of 164 hours each year. Despite its terrible traffic record, Los Angeles continues to be one of the most popular destinations in the country. It’s a city of icons, from the film industry heartland of Hollywood, to the world-famous entertainment venues that populate Downtown.