The U.S. Census Bureau has just released city-level survey results for 2002 commute times. Metros and cities are large areas and it is hard to generalize. Ask people which U.S. city has the worst commute and most would probably answer L.A. Yet, L.A. is at the bottom of the worst top-ten list, placing at #9 in 2002 (it placed #5 in the same survey in 2001 and #10 in 2000). What was consistent over the last three surveys was #1, New York city. In fact, NYC was the outlier in all three years -- 38.4 minutes one-way vs 28.5 minutes in L.A. vs the median 23.3 minutes (Las Vegas and St Louis), in the latest survey.
NYC has too much transit use and downtowns that are too densely packed -- if we care about time spent commuting.
It has long been a mantra that the "solution" to traffic congestion and long commutes is to "get people out of their cars" and promote higher densities. This prescription is even called "Smart Growth" by many smart people. The real problem is that Smart Growth garners huge subsidies across the country. Spending other people's money on good causes is inevitably politicized and survives with the skimpiest of covers.