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.