The “Worst Cities for Driving” Include a Lot of America’s Best Cities

Don’t you just hate going to a really lively city with a pulsing street life? Where there’s a lot going on and people can walk from one place to the next? You might if you’re trying to drive there. And once again, NerdWallet has delivered the windshield perspective on America’s cities.

Isn't Seattle such a horrible place? I mean, where would you park here? Photo: ##
Isn’t Seattle such a horrible place? I mean, where would you park here? Photo: City-Data

The pop-finance website’s new ranking of the worst cities to drive in includes, predictably, some of the country’s best cities to walk, bike, take transit, or otherwise be in.

So, your worst cities? The real hellholes for drivers? They are:

  1. New York
  2. Detroit
  3. San Francisco
  4. Chicago
  5. Washington, DC
  6. Seattle
  7. Boston
  8. Miami
  9. Honolulu
  10. Oakland

Population density counted heavily against a city in the ranking, because it makes car ownership expensive and the streets more congested — not to mention more chaotic to drive in because you’re “weaving though trolleys, cab drivers, pedestrians and cyclists,” as NerdWallet puts it.

Also factored in to a city’s rank are the cost of gas and insurance (high insurance costs landed Detroit near the top) and hours of motorist delay, measured exactly the same way the Texas Transportation Institute measures it. Oh, and NerdWallet also holds it against a city if it has seasons, with precipitation.

35 thoughts on The “Worst Cities for Driving” Include a Lot of America’s Best Cities

  1. NYC is a hellhole for any mode of surface transit. That’s one big reason the subway and commuter rail lines are so popular.

  2. Interesting that two of the three comments so far at NerdWallet agree that these include “some of the country’s best cities to walk, bike, take transit, or otherwise be in.”

    At least NerdWallet included two whole sentences acknowledging public transportation. I can just imagine how the article would be slanted in Forbes.

  3. I question Detroit’s inclusion anywhere on this list. It is filled with wide open overbuilt streets with two to three completely empty lanes in each direction. The depopulation of the place has removed a lot of the traffic the streets were envisioned to carry, to the point that signs at certain intersections allow you to go straight against a red light “once traffic has cleared.”

  4. Insurance is high, winter sucks, and roads are in bad repair.
    Most traffic seems to be construction related and can be bad. (though not a bad a Chicago the only other city on the list I’ve driven in).

  5. The D is a piece of cake to drive in, but Detroit is there because of the weighting assigned to theft risk, which is quite high in the city, and cost of insurance, which is very high as a result of both the theft/damage risk and MI being a no-fault state.

  6. That’s a hilarious list! According to them, the best state in the union for a military retiree to live in is Wyoming and the worst is…. California.

  7. Ahh, I see. Thanks to both of you. Good points. I still think they should have weighted lack of congestion more highly.

  8. In all fairness, the article is linked directly from Streetsblog, and anyone can comment on it.

    Source: I am one of the two commenters you are referring to.

  9. I go to Detroit pretty regularly and it’s one of the few places in the US where I regularly drive, rather than cycling or taking public transit. One recent time I was in the area, I stayed in Troy, Michigan, on the outskirts of Detroit. It struck me when I went through Detroit on the freeway later how congested it was and I wrote a blogpost commenting on that and other aspects of the area’s road culture: It wasn’t the first time I’d been stuck in congestion in the area. My feeling is that there’s congestion in the area precisely because the inner city is so depopulated. There are jobs in downtown Detroit but everyone drives to them from Troy, Warren, Auburn Hills and other suburban towns. The result is that the traffic that should be on those empty streets in midtown and other depopulated bits of the city is on the freeways, fighting to get to the handful of off-ramps that lead to economically vibrant bits of the city.

  10. The first sentence of the original Nerdwallet article is: “There’s nothing worse than spending your precious time finding a parking spot only to fork over a small fortune to park your car for a few hours.” You know what’s worse than looking for parking? Being run over by a driver…

  11. Note to tourists: San Francisco is a horrible, horrible city to drive in. You don’t want to do it. There is no place to park that isn’t ridiculously expensive, it’s congested with pedestrians and bicyclists everywhere, and this city can be very unforgiving if you don’t know where you’re going and you make a wrong turn. (It can take you literally 15 minutes to recover.) There are bike lanes, transit-only lanes, and forced turns that can be confusing to out-of-towners. There are streets where you will crawl along at 8 mph. There are regularly parades, road races, and Critical Masses that tie up traffic. You will be frustrated, you will be confused, you’ll likely get a parking ticket or two, and you’ll possibly hit someone.

    So don’t drive here! Don’t rent a car! Take BART from the airport to downtown. Once in San Francisco, take taxis, bikeshare or public transit to get around. Or walk. (It’s easy to walk from Chinatown to Coit Tower to North Beach to Lombard Street and yet people drive this route and then complain about the congestion and lack of parking.) You’ll save money! You’ll see more! You’ll enjoy yourself more! You’ll be healthier at the end of your vacation than when you started it! Tip: do rent a bike, ride over the GG Bridge to Sausalito and take the ferry back. Fabulous experience.

    Note: members of my family have been hit by cars in San Francisco twice, both times by tourists driving rental cars.

  12. Reminds me of something even funnier I read yesterday, Texas Governor Rick Perry has said recently that he is thinking of moving to California after he leaves office next year. “It is great place to be.”

  13. Seattle isn’t terrible though trying to drive thru downtown is. It’s almost like its stupid to have a car and the people here do almost to keep you from getting one. From the high insurance rates to the lack of free parking to the Mass Transit, there’s a definite conspiracy to keep you from driving!

  14. Last few times I’ve visited The City, I’ve taken Amtrak from Los Angeles and stayed at a hotel near the Ferry Building (where the Ambus stops). When I have driven in, I’ve stayed at a motel, usually one on the N-line, and the car doesn’t move until I’m ready to leave town.

  15. I never liked driving in SF for various reasons, but Seattle sucks even worse. They never anticipated how much it’d grow and so much of its road system is very poorly designed (I-5 being a prime example) and the congestion up there in the 1990s rivaled LA. UGh!

  16. There is a ‘lack of free parking’ because there is something called ‘high demand for parking’. Giving it away for free wouldn’t be very wise, would it? People would park their cars for free all day with no incentive to move them, and people like you and me would never find a spot! Fortunately, there is this century-old invention called the parking meter that helps mitigate this situation.

  17. To paraphrase our right-wing friends on health care… there is no such thing as “free” parking, there is only subsidized parking.

    Parking always has a cost, a cost of buying the land, paving it over and maintaining it to allow parking on it. If the one who uses the parking doesn’t pay that cost, that means someone else picks up the bill. Why should all of society be on the hook to provide “free” parking for car drivers? What social benefit exists to justify these subsidies? Especially when we consider the adverse effects parking has on pedestrians (making everything farther), cyclists (making it more dangerous to bike near parked cars) and transit.

  18. The city found out that it can accommodate more buildings and more people by limiting the space devoted to cars, so from the city’s perspective making driving hard pays off.
    Had the city made driving easy it could just as truthfully be considered a “conspiracy” to keep people from walking.

  19. If they make it walkable or transit friendly then the blacks and the poor can walk or take the train over to you.

  20. If you’d pay attention he said “free parking to the Mass transit”, one criticism of the BART is that simple solutions to make life easier and efficient is to allow parking on the Mass transit.

  21. Did you read the post carefully, sometimes politicians and other folks don’t want easy solutions that are sensible, take amtrack that makes you wait in an unpleasant area but does not do so in smaller cities making their security claim ridiculous.

  22. NYC has decent public transportation, if not one of the better ones , although in recent years it’s gotten a bit worse and rush hour trains are hectic, still its manageable without a car and runs more often that probably many other cities.

  23. That can be biased also although I forbes can be biased too.
    One problem with cities is sometimes its the downtowns that are often better accessible with transit

  24. I don’t understand why Detroit ranks so poorly. I live in San Francisco but have been to Detroit several times. It is in no way more difficult to drive in than San Francisco. In fact it’s a rather easy city to navigate, traffic tends to be light compared to many American cities, and there is an easy grid system, parking is inexpensive and the roads are in great condition compared to San Francisco.

    I think the author just placed New York as #1 simply because it’s the largest city in America.

  25. I didn’t realize that the cost of insurance in Detroit was so high. However, they are justifying that on car theft rates. I think that is a poor excuse. Oakland has a higher rate of auto theft, robbery and car jacking than Detroit.

  26. Seattle is loosing the tax base because people cannot afford to live in the city anymore. So Mayor Murray is coming up with creative ways to tax the residents. First of course a soda tax and next on the list a way to tax coffee prepared by a barista, they haven’t figured out how that one is going to work yet and the next tax on the agenda is a tax on you when you drive into the city. The end result of all of the cities on the list is to make it impossible to own or drive a vehicle but of course this will make more room for the limo’s so the billionaires can watch over us minions and keep us in our place in their brave new world. I avoid Seattle like the plague, homeless junkies panhandling you where ever you go it is JUNKIE TOWN USA now thanks to Ed Murray the worst mayor in the country.

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