When not being used for poorly thought-out political revenge, traffic jams are making the lives of commuters suck on a daily basis. But sometimes, bad traffic can get spectacularly bad—even worse than fake traffic study bad. In honor of those times, we've collected some of the worst traffic jams in history.
And these spectacularly bad traffic jams? They could become become an everyday occurrence. According to the US Travel Association, a number of highway corridors could reach Labor Day-like traffic congestion on a regular basis in the next twenty years. Our love affair with cars turning into nation-wide pileup stretching from sea to shining sea.
Frustrating, blood-boiling, and road rage-inducing—sure, but the scariest implication of traffic jams is how much our cities and surrounding suburbs depend on their concrete arteries. For example, the most damning details about the Chris Christie's Fort Lee bridge scandal are how it came to affect the work emergency responders: a 91-year-old woman waiting for paramedics, a missing 4-year-old girl. Highways can be the lifelines that connect us, but only when they're not ensnared in traffic.
Sao Paulo, Brazil—November 2013
Traffic backup in Sao Paulo by AP/Agencia Estado
Already dubbed the city with the world's worst traffic jams, the Brazilian city recorded its longest traffic jam ever last November, stretching out over 192 miles. The city regularly gets 100 mile-plus traffic jams on Friday evenings, but this Thursday, before a holiday weekend, really pushed traffic over the top.
The traffic in Sao Paulo has taken on a culture of its own: People read, shave, put on make up, and watch movies right in the car. One woman even met her husband during a traffic jam: "'I was with a friend in my car and he was in his car also with a friend. In the stop and go of the traffic jam we started driving side by side and then he started looking at me,'" says [Fabiana] Crespo. After some flirting through the car windows, Mauricio managed to convince Fabiana to give him her phone number. He called, and an enduring love story began." What's remarkable is that traffic has created a roving bar or coffee shop of sorts, inching oh-so-slowly along the highway.
Chicago, Illinois—February 2011
Traffic on Lake Shore Drive during the blizzard and a day by AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, Charles Rex Arbogast
Being stuck in traffic is bad enough; being stuck in traffic in white-out conditions and freezing temperatures as snow piles up to your windshield is downright scary. This happened during blizzard that hit the midwest in winter 2011 dumped over 20 twenty inches of snow onto Chicago.
As drivers abandoned their cars in the cold for their own safety, Lake Shore Drive became a car graveyard. The city then had to tow the cars to empty lots for drivers to reclaim. Poor records of where the towed cars ended up, however, turned the traffic nightmare into a bureaucratic one.
Beijing, China—August 2010
Traffic in Beijing by AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan
The 11-day, 62-mile back up—caused by road construction along the Beijing-Tibet-Expressway—turned into a business opportunity of its own. As hungry and thirsty drivers sat in their cars for days, vendors came by to sell instant noodles at four times their usual price and water at ten times.
Some took the price gouging even more seriously. "The sellers come offering to sell water at crazy prices, but if you said 'no' or complained about the price they threaten to break your shields," said one driver. Others reported thieves stealing gas and money.
Border of East and West Germany—April 1990
Border control in East Germany via G. Mach/Wikimedia Commons
During the first Easter holiday after the fall of the Berlin Wall, some 18 million cars were stuck on the road. The first holiday weekend of the spring is traditionally a time for family visits, and this was the first chance in forty years for many. "Friday's flood of motorists demonstrated once more how closely bound the two Germanys remain on a personal level despite nearly two generations of political division," wrote the LA Times in 1990.
Despite the only cursory border checks, backups stretched over 30 miles. The wait at gas stations totaled four hours. But that's nothing compared to forty years of separation.
Woodstock festivalgoers via Ric Manning/Wikimedia Commons
With half a million music fans—ten times the expected 50,000—descending upon upstate New York, the roads were bound to be a mess. Making matters even worse, the New York State Police did not set up the traffic rerouting plans recommended by the concert's organizers.
As things go, alternative "traffic" plans by foot and by air sprung up on their own. Fans abandoned their cars and simply walked. Performers, on the other hand, got helicoptered into the festival.
Experienced some truly epic traffic jams yourself? Tell us in the comments.
Top image via chungking/Shutterstock