As roads become increasingly populated with cars, the congestion that results tends to encroach upon the freedom most people enjoy while driving their own automobile. I recently experienced this “infringement” on my personal freedom, or so I thought, while driving in Boston, Massachusetts during rush hour traffic.
Everyone has been there, regardless of the city, so I will spare you from many of the boring details. Basically, I sat and waited. I remained put for several minutes and judged the distance I had traveled by monitoring the green “Exit 25” sign as it slugged by me. Fellow drivers honked, swerved, rushed, flipped the bird at one another, all the while still going nowhere fast. Meanwhile, because I wasn't from the area, I took the safe route... In the slow lane. I began thinking about how much time we, as a society, waste while sitting in traffic as I watched this scene of rush hour madness unfold before the steering wheel. Not only are we wasting time, but we also waste large amounts of nonrenewable resources (money and gasoline) just to sit idly on the overcrowded expressway.
Luckily, I was only a visitor there. I didn’t have to deal with this traffic daily like most of the others on the highway. If I did have to, I imagine I would not be the happiest
or healthiest man in the world. In fact, according to a study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, a strong positive association was found between the time one spends commuting and levels of hypertension, depression, anxiety, and social isolation. The greatest percentage of time we spend in our cars, the study says, is for the purposes of commuting to and from work.
To rectify the traffic situation I found myself in, and to be sure I wasn’t being biased, the following day I decided to utilize Boston’s well-known public transportation subway system known as the “T.” I planned to compare, unofficially, how the two different modes of transportation affected me and the other citizens who were en route to various locations in Boston proper. On the subway, commuting men and women dressed in their business attire sat happily reading books for leisure, creating Excel spreadsheets, writing memos for clients, listening to their iPods, or just quietly meditating, happy to be avoiding the rush of traffic on the highway, I presumed. It was an entirely different atmosphere than I had encountered the day before on the expressway.
People were being productive; they seemed happy. No birds were being flipped, no yelling, no beeping, and no traffic. All you heard was the sound of the subway on its rails delivering folks to their destinations. What I found most interesting about my ride is that most people were using their time wisely. Rather than having to pay attention on the highway, commuters could devote more time to their respective business duties and to themselves.
Now, what businesses wouldn’t want their employees to have nearly an hour (if commuting from the suburbs) on each end of their day to be spent productively, rather than angry and stressed out in traffic? Imagine the difference in attitude as you arrive at the office or home to your family.
Join the conversation. Do you think Western New York needs a better public transportation system to combat the effects of sprawl? GrowWNY would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!