Is there anything worse than traffic?
I don’t mean just a large volume of vehicles – as long as it’s moving, it doesn’t matter if there are two cars or 2,000, I’m not bothered by busier roads. It’s the stop-and-go or outright stopped a kind that spikes my blood pressure. It gives me a headache and changes my breathing and makes me say very, very unladylike things.
Let me be clear: very unladylike.
And yes, I know I should just go with the flow (or in this case, the lack of it). I’ve read plenty of stories about how it’s bad for my health to get so worked up over something I can’t control and yadda yadda yadda. We live in a region where mass transit isn’t really a thing and most people travel by car, so everyone is in the same boat, and it’s a boat that isn’t going to change any time soon.
Considering my work is a four minute drive from my house, I’m sure my complaint will come off as a spoiled howl to the people who commute. It’s common for people from this area to drive 30 minutes and more to work every morning, and in the city that commute is even longer. My friend who works in Toronto invests two hours a day coming and going from her office, and that’s when there are no accidents, road construction delays, or weird cases of escaped livestock on the highway. Yet, I’ve noticed that in most cities I visit, rush hour has elongated to mean pretty much most of the day, not just mornings and late afternoons.
When I travel to Halifax, it seems like it doesn’t matter if it’s after lunch on a Tuesday or on a Saturday evening, the volume of traffic isn’t noticeably lighter with any regularity. I always feel like I’m idling, waiting for a light to change or waiting to get into an exit lane, stuck between an 18-wheeler and a massive SUV; late to an appointment, desperate to use the bathroom, wasting my life away.
It’s not my imagination, either. A study from Texas A&M University confirmed my worst suspicions. It basically warns that our concept of rush hour is outdated. Traffic is now bad no matter the time of day, no matter the configuration of the downtown core, and no matter how many apps we use to skirt it.
“Approximately 33 per cent of total delay occurs in the midday and overnight (outside of the peak hours) times of day when travelers and shippers expect free-flow travel,” the report states. In other words, there are no longer good times to drive in our cities, only slightly less awful ones.
The report, in general, is pretty depressing. The average American commuter wastes 54 extra hours a year in traffic delays. Researchers define “extra hours” as extra time spent traveling at congested speeds rather than free-flow speeds. Those 54 hours are more than a workweek. More than what many people sleep over seven days. Can you imagine? It makes me anxious just to think about it.
There was construction at the end of my road over the course of the past year, which delayed my commute every morning and every afternoon. The delays were seldom longer than five minutes, 10 at the most. I am not proud of my state of mind when I found myself waiting for that stop sign to turn to slow – I’m a horrible wait-er, in every context, but never more than when I’m stuck in traffic. (That’s not true; I’m actually the worst when I’m in line at a store, even more so than in traffic. But traffic is a close second.) If my disposition deteriorates to that extent with less than two hours sitting in traffic in the run of an entire week, I can’t imagine what I’d be like to be around enduring 54 hours. Not fit, would be my guess.
At least it isn’t just me. A recent automobile association report revealed that about 80 per cent of North American drivers “expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the previous year.” The most common reactions include purposefully tailgating, yelling at another driver, honking to show annoyance or anger, and making angry gestures and trying to block another vehicle.
Thankfully my poor attitude in traffic hasn’t translated to any kind of dangerous behaviour. Still, clearly I’m meant for rural driving over city driving.