What causes Traffic?

It's all about you.


Whilst hell is other people, if you’re sitting in traffic that is not really the case. You literally are (part of) the problem.

This is a bit depressing but, given it's a grey January day, you're probably not super cheery to start with. So you decided that you wanted to get from A to B at pretty much the same time as all these other people did and you all (unless your new year's resolution was to walk to work) decided to drive. And you all ground to a horrible stationary situation because only so many of you will fit through a roundabout or traffic light cycle at once.

And there’s generally a pretty good reason for people to all be driving at peak times – because that’s when the bulk of the population is desperately trying to get to work on time. Or away from work on time. Not to mention dropping children at school (what’s wrong with letting the little darlings walk these days?) or picking them up again at the end of the day.

The thing is, people are generally travelling fewer miles per year than 20 years ago, but we don't get to feel the benefit as they just all seem to want to do it at once. Peak hours of congestion in some areas are so stressful that people rate their commute as more stressful than their actual jobs. Research found that an extra 20 minutes on a commute created the same amount of distress as a 19% pay cut. Yet people still often to choose the bigger bucks as though they don’t value their own time – or happiness.

Obviously a big part of the issue is peak rush hour. If employers can offer more flexible working hours so that employees can commute outside peak hours it can make a massive difference to their journey times. If you’re not all arriving at the car park at the same time, it can really reduce the need to queue.

Then there’s the issue of how people travel. Not everyone enjoys driving. You might find this hard to believe, but only 9% of the population actually consists of petrol heads that love driving and owning a car. For most people its more that there isn’t an alternative that will get them to work or where they need to be so they become ‘default drivers’.

Car Users

The UK Traveller needs study showed 9% of people actually enjoy driving and car ownership

All these people crowding onto the road because there isn’t really an alternative are making themselves and each other miserable – although sometimes they don’t realise it.

Better and more flexible transport would work for them – a better network of buses, trams and trains would take the peak hour strain. After all, you can fit vastly more people onto a bus, tram or train than if the same number of people were driving their own car. Even a bike lane can make a difference - so that people can get to and from (for instance) train stations without driving a short distance and then needing a space in the car park. And that’s before we get into any of the weird and wonderful world of new mobility – buses that come to you, ride sharing and taxis that appear at the touch of an app. All of these things could provide ways for people to avoid the stress of driving, finding parking spaces and becoming traffic.

Reducing congestion really means taking a percentage of cars off the road and finding better ways for people to get to work – enough for the peak to flow more freely. And this means that the alternatives need to be there for the huge number of rush hour drivers who would be happier using them.

We do have such a system in London – with buses and tubes that mean very few Londoners drive during rush hour. Travel costs are capped and anyone can use their contactless card to tap in and out with the guarantee that it will never cost more than a daily travelcard (or weekly if they do it for a week). Outside London this kind of system is a bit of a dream. But if we’re not all to spend miserable rush hours sitting in traffic – we need to demand it.

And for now? If you want to drive a nice car, don’t pick the rush hour to take it out. I’ve heard the M62 is quiet at 2 in the morning.


by Beate Kubitz at 7 Jan 2019, 00:00 AM