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Internet Ranking: Driving in Washington Still Terrible

But at least we're not Boston.
It stinks! Photograph by Flickr user cherryblossomwatch.

Washington is the second-worst major US city for motorists, according to from personal-finance website NerdWallet. Traffic jams, insurance costs, and out-of-towners all contribute to DC trailing only Boston for the nation’s worst driving experience.

In doling out its ignominious rankings, NerdWallet cites a 2013 report from Texas A&M University that found that Washington drivers spent an average of 67 hours a year—nearly three full days—stuck in traffic, higher than anywhere else in the country. The site also takes into account average fuel costs ($3.57 per gallon when the data were compiled), average car insurance premiums ($1,391 per year), and the weather (111 days of precipitation a year). In those categories, DC lands in the middle of the pack.

Washington actually does far better in one metric NerdWallet values: the availability of parking garages and surface lots, with 3.29 facilities for ever 1,000 commuter vehicles. Defenders of DC’s parking-heavy, Eisenhower-era zoning code can grin that the next-closest city in parking abundance is New York, with a relatively puny 1.59 parking lots and garages for every 1,000 cars. (New York ranked tenth overall.)

So just how does Washington end up trailing only Boston for the United States’ worst big-city driving experience? A couple of numerical factors play key roles: those 67 hours spent in traffic jams, and the fact that the likelihood of getting in a traffic accident in Washington is 97.3 percent of the national average, according to data culled from Allstate. Most cities on NerdWallet’s list are actually well below the national rate. Washington stays out of the top spot thanks to Boston’s drivers, who are 30 percent more likely to hit something with their cars than the national average.

While NerdWallet’s sources use data from 2013 or earlier, recent reports from city officials do not suggest Washington’s streets are getting any safer. The District Department of Transportation recorded 21,526 vehicular collisions last year, 2,013 of which involved pedestrians or cyclists. The number of crashes was up from 19,454 in 2013.

But DC has one more—and slightly less quantifiable—knock against its motoring culture: all those pesky visitors who can’t figure out a French-influenced plan that blends a Cartesian street grid with busy roundabouts.

“They’re often lost on the city’s confusing traffic circles and one-way streets,” NerdWallet writes of Washington’s car-dependent tourists. “Those who want to avoid driving can take the Metro, the regional subway system.”

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.