Traffic. I hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it.
I don’t mind traffic that moves, but the stop-and-go kind spikes my blood pressure. It makes my temples pound and my mouth froth. 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 — and heard plenty of tales — about how it’s bad for my health to get so worked up over something I can’t control. Over a condition that is a result of living in a region where mass transit goes nowhere and residents appear unwilling to give up their cars.
Here’s the thing: I don’t commute to an office, so my complaint might come off as a spoiled howl to all the people I know who invest two hours a day coming and going. (And that’s when there are no accidents, road construction delays or escaped livestock.) Yet, I’ve noticed that in my hometown of Miami, but also in most large cities I regularly visit, rush hour has elongated to mean pretty much most of the day, not just mornings and late afternoons.
There are times, in the middle of a weekday and even on a Saturday morning, when I feel like I’m idling on the right hand 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. The latest report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute confirmed my worst suspicions. It basically warns that our concept of rush hour is outdated. Traffic is now bad no matter the time, no matter how many apps we use to skirt it.
“Approximately 33 percent 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 less worst ones. We’re doomed to live in our cars if we continue our love affair with the automobile.
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.
The situation is more dire for those of us living in large metro regions. If you resided in the 15 most-congested cities, you would’ve been stuck in commuting molasses an average of 83 hours in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available. Of the dubiously honored top 10, Los Angeles is the most congested metro area (119 hours), with Miami bringing up the bottom (69 hours).
Why even bother getting out of the house? Might as well watch YouTube the entire day.
But I digress.
The Transportation Institute study also points out that bad traffic is costing us big bucks. Time spent on Congestion Road wasted $8.8 billion dollars and 3.8 billion gallons of fuel in 2017, for an average of $1,010 per commuter. And it’s only going to get worse. By 2025, the average commuter will waste 62 hours in traffic and the cost of congestion will mushroom to $200 billion, a 20 percent increase in less than a decade.
While those are the quantifiable consequences, we can’t forget the effects bad traffic has on our mood. A recent AAA report revealed that about 80 percent of 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, making angry gestures and trying to block another vehicle.
Right now I’m blushing with guilt. I’m not proud of my Mr. Hyde impersonation behind the wheel, but maybe admitting to it will help me recover. That, or a course in self-soothing meditation.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.