Traffic Psychology and The Commuters Paradox

There aren’t many people, I believe, who are able to drive and who are┬ánot interested┬áin traffic dynamics. Jonah Lehrer, in a recent column for Seed, takes a brief look at traffic psychology; including ‘the┬ácommuters 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’.┬áLehrer suggests Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic–a book I’ve seen recommended many times.



2 responses to “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. 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.