Traffic Psychology and The Commuters Paradox

There aren’t many people, I believe, who are able to drive and who are not inter­ested in traffic dynam­ics. Jonah Lehr­er, in a recent column for Seed, takes a brief look at traffic psy­cho­logy; includ­ing ‘the com­muters para­dox’ and the ‘crit­ic­al dens­ity’.

They found that, when people are choos­ing where to live, they con­sist­ently under­es­tim­ate the pain of a long com­mute. This leads people to mis­takenly believe that the McMan­sion in the sub­urbs, with its extra bed­room and sprawl­ing lawn, will make them hap­pi­er, even though it might force them to drive an addi­tion­al forty-five minutes to work. It turns out, how­ever, that traffic is tor­ture, and the big house isn’t worth it. Accord­ing to the cal­cu­la­tions of Frey and Stutzer, a per­son with a one-hour com­mute has to earn 40 per­cent more money to be as sat­is­fied with life as someone who walks to the office.

Appar­ently, the reas­on we dis­like com­mutes so much is because “the flow of traffic is inher­ently unpredictable”–once on the roads we are at the mercy of the traffic all around us.

For more inform­a­tion on this top­ic, Wil­li­am Beaty’s Traffic Waves site is full of inter­est­ing the­or­ies and obser­va­tions on traffic ‘phys­ics’. Lehr­er sug­gests Tom Vander­bilt’s Traffic–a book I’ve seen recom­men­ded many times.

2 thoughts on “Traffic Psychology and The Commuters Paradox

  1. Paul

    This is one reasno I’ve nev­er owned – and made sure that I’ve nev­er really needed to own – a car.

    It involves sac­ri­fices, like mov­ing home when you move job but its worth it. I like cyc­ling too but cyc­ling through traffic tends to make me rather mil­it­ant and intol­er­ant of cars “not see­ing” me. I fre­quently used to kick car doors when they got dan­ger­ously close and all (but one) drivers used to take the hint.

  2. boyhowdy

    Of course, if you’re not a nine to fiver, then traffic is emin­ently pre­dict­able & light 99% of the time. Teach­ers like myself, for example, have no prob­lem with the long com­mute, though the vast major­ity of us travel 45 mins or so to get in; it’s the 7:20 arrival that makes it stress-free.

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