How to Cope With the Trials of Traffic
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN SPAIN
YOU have an appointment with the doctor, so you leave home with what you think is plenty of time to spare. But you did not count on running into a traffic jam. As the minutes tick by and your car slowly crawls along, you begin to get more and more anxious. Finally, you make it to the doctor’s office a half hour late.
One of the greatest frustrations of city life is traffic, especially the bumper-to-bumper traffic that clogs the streets and poisons the air. Unfortunately, this daily tribulation experienced by millions of city dwellers shows no sign of letting up.
The Texas Transportation Institute reported concerning the United States: “Congestion has grown everywhere in areas of all sizes.” The report added that the authorities are simply not able to devise solutions adequate for coping with the growing demands of city travelers. The situation is similar all over the world. Several thousand motorists in China recently found themselves stuck in a 60-mile [100 km]-long traffic jam that took the police several days to unravel. In Mexico City a 12-mile [20 km] drive through the city center can take over four hours—longer than it would take for the average pedestrian to walk the same distance.
The reason why city roads are clogged is not hard to find. Cities keep on growing relentlessly, and now about half the world’s population live in urban areas. As cities grow, so do the numbers of vehicles. One writer put it this way: “Too many people own too many cars, and they want to drive them in the same constricted space.”
Why Traffic Problems Are Hard to Solve
Mankind’s reliance on the motorcar means that cities must cope with growing numbers of vehicles. With a population of about four million, the city of Los Angeles, in the United States, now has more cars than people! Other cities may not have gone that far yet, but few can cope with the growing influx of vehicles. “Cities have not been conceived for the automobile,” states Carlos Guzmán, president of Madrid’s Urban Commission. Ancient cities with narrow streets suffer the most, but even in modern metropolises, wide roads quickly become snarled, especially during the morning and evening rush hours. “Large cities are now congested most of the day, and congestion is getting more acute,” observes Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue in his report “Urban Transport Problems.”
Since cars sell much more quickly than governments can build highways, a rapid growth in the number of vehicles can overwhelm even the best road system. “In the long run,” explains the book Stuck in Traffic—Coping With Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion, “building new roads or expanding existing ones does not reduce the intensity of peak-hour traffic congestion to any extent.”
Lack of sufficient parking facilities also leads to congestion. At any given moment, a significant number of the cars on city streets may be circulating merely for the purpose of finding somewhere to park. It is estimated that air pollution caused by traffic—mainly in cities—causes the death of some 400,000 people every year. According to one report, air contamination in Milan, Italy, is so bad that spending one day breathing the air of the city streets is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes.
The cost of traffic congestion must also be measured in the hours wasted and the stress suffered by drivers. The emotional toll is hard to quantify, but one study in the United States calculated that the economic cost of traffic jams in 75 of the country’s largest cities amounted to about 70 billion dollars a year. Can anything be done to relieve the situation?
Some Solutions That Ease the Burden
Various cities have already taken drastic measures. Singapore, which has one of the greatest concentrations of vehicles in the world, controls the number of automobiles that consumers may purchase. Historic cities, including a number of Italian cities, have banned cars completely from the city center during most of the day.
A solution proposed by other cities is a “congestion fee,” whereby drivers must pay to enter the city center. In London this plan has managed to reduce traffic delays by 30 percent, and other cities seem keen to follow suit. In such places as Mexico City, Mexico, cars are allowed access to the center only on certain days, based on the registration number of the vehicle.
City authorities have also invested huge sums in updating public transportation systems, improving highways, and building ring roads, or beltways. They use computerized systems to control traffic lights and to alert police to handle accident bottlenecks quickly. Special bus lanes and lanes that change direction according to traffic needs also help ease the flow of traffic. But success still depends largely on the cooperation of citizens.
What Can You Do Personally?
Jesus Christ said that you should “do for others what you want them to do for you.” (Matthew 7:12, Today’s English Version) This wise advice could help alleviate some of the worst traffic problems. If, on the other hand, everyone just thinks of his own personal convenience, even the best schemes may flounder. Here are a few suggestions to help you to cope better with the traffic congestion in your city.
For short distances, walking or cycling may be the best solution. In many cases either alternative will prove quicker, easier, and healthier. For longer distances, public transportation might be the ideal option. Many cities are trying to improve bus, metro, and rail services to entice people to leave their cars behind. Using these services may also mean saving money. Even though you may have to drive part of the way, you could possibly use public transportation for accessing the city center.
If you must drive, consider the possibility of carpooling. This is one of the most effective ways of reducing rush-hour traffic. In the United States, 88 percent of all commuters use automobiles, and about two thirds of these travel alone. Convincing a significant percentage of people to travel together to work “could produce dramatic effects on the levels of delay and congestion during peak periods,” states Stuck in Traffic. Furthermore, in many places fast lanes have been designated for cars with two or more persons. Cars with only one person are not allowed to use such lanes.
If you have some control over the time when you travel, try to avoid rush-hour traffic. This will make things easier for you and for other motorists. And if you park properly, your vehicle will not impede the free flow of traffic. Of course, even the best plans will not guarantee that you don’t get stuck in a traffic jam. At such times, having the right attitude can do a lot to ease the frustration.—See the accompanying box.
Clearly, if you live in a large city, you will have to live with traffic congestion. Nevertheless, by individually taking responsible measures and by displaying courtesy and patience toward other drivers, you can learn to cope with the trials of traffic.
[Box/Picture on page 23]
Keeping Calm in Traffic Chaos
Jaime, a taxi driver in Madrid, Spain, has had to live with traffic jams for over 30 years. Here is how he keeps cool in aggravating situations:
▪ I take something with me to read. Then if the traffic doesn’t move at all, I don’t get so frustrated.
▪ When the traffic is crawling along, I listen to the news on the car radio or to a recording of the Bible. In this way I have something other than traffic to think about.
▪ As a rule, I never use the horn, since it just disturbs others and serves no purpose. By showing courtesy to other drivers, I avoid stress and help others to do the same.
▪ I try to be calm when I encounter aggressive drivers, and I give them a wide berth. There is no substitute for patience.
▪ Although I attempt to find alternative routes, I let my clients know that sometimes the heavy traffic will cause a delay in their schedule. City driving and punctuality are not always compatible.