“Ooh, this looks bad,” says my passenger. Novice.
“This?” I reply. “We made it past the half-mile till merge sign before it slowed to a crawl. This is actually pretty normal.”
For a moment, I feel like a seasoned veteran, a guy who knows to expect brutal traffic as four lanes merge to two before the tunnel on Highway 24, but that moment passes, and I’m reminded that traffic is a travesty.
Think about it: every day, millions of people idle in a line of cars, wasting their time, the car’s engine, the atmosphere…. It’s the first of those that is the biggest disgrace: many of us devote an hour or more a day to just sitting in our cars, going nowhere. Yes, it’s a means to an end, but it’s a costly means, and we brush that fact away to stay sane. If it weren’t for audiobooks and podcasts, I’d have lost my mind by now.
Yes, I appreciate that I can just sit in a metal box that I would have no chance of building on my own and whiz to a destination miles away in a temperature-controlled environment while listening to any publicly available or privately owned audio. I’m not complaining about cars. I also get that bottlenecks are a necessary evil some of the time. Our roads can’t be expected to handle all our traffic all the time.
No, the purpose of this rant is to point out that traffic is a problem. It’s worth solving. Mass transit, improved city design and eventually self-driving cars all help. So does telecommuting, abnormal work schedules and biking. So does your big idea that the rest of us haven’t thought of yet (though if it’s the world-circling moving walkway, my late grandmother has you beat).
It's also true that some people actually relish their commute, because it is one time that they are not expected to do anything, but taking back our actual lives is a separate issue. It's the equivalent of wanting to get sick so you can take off a day from work or school: we've all been there, but it's okay to just choose to take a day off. When illness or idilng in a line of cars becomes a refuge, that means there are bigger problems to deal with.
Traffic feels inevitable and unavoidable, and maybe it is, but it's a high price to pay for the "convenience" of our daily lives. That's worth acknowledging once in a while.
One day we’ll be telling our kids about how we used to spend an hour of every day going almost nowhere, and they won’t entirely believe us.