Thinking Traffic

Picture is courtesy of

Picture is courtesy of

Picture is courtesy of

Picture is courtesy of







Go, go, go. My family and I hurried out of the house shortly after I got home from work on Friday. Our destination was the Philadelphia suburbs.

We left our house in North Jersey at 4:45. Drives on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpike would comprise the mass majority of our trip. This 100 or so mile trip typically takes approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. Our arrival time on Friday was 7:55 or 3 hours and 10 minutes after we departed.

Picture is courtesy of

Picture is courtesy of

I have a question: Why?

I’m not clairvoyant, but I know your answer: Rush Hour. Yes, I knew we were traveling during the terribly inappropriately named rush hour where movement is often nill.

Despite that, I don’t understand why the traffic moves so slowly if everybody wants to move fast. The speed limit on both highways is never below 55 and is often 65. Now, of course some people are willing to go faster 75, 80 and even higher while some go as slow as 50. So if everyone is willing to travel at least fifty miles per hour, why does the traffic slow down?

There were no accidents (Thank G-d) that I noted. There were no crews working on the highway (anybody else flash to the Springsteen song?). So, there was no need for a mass of cars to merge into another lane.

So, I am still left with the question why. These days there is one action people take when faced with such a dilemma: GOOGLE it! So, I did just that.

According to one website (, “Drivers should be looking well ahead instead of concentrating on the car that they are following too close to. It’s easy to see the big picture if you are not tailgating. When you tailgate, all you see is a back door.” He goes on to note that people who try to go faster than the flow of traffic can cause traffic jams.

Wikipedia ( stated, “Traffic research still cannot fully predict under which conditions a ‘traffic jam’ (as opposed to heavy, but smoothly flowing traffic) may suddenly occur.”

Freakonomics ( discusses Japanese scientists to shockwaves. “One driver’s slowing down creates a ripple effect that moves backwards through traffic, grinding everything to a halt for miles.” It goes on to note that as human error causes the problem then humans should be able to come up with the solution. In this case, “the classic ‘slow down and keep a constant speed’ method, which seems to be effective in breaking these shockwaves.”

Well, if traffic experts who have spent years researching the topic can’t come up with the solution, my simple Google search surely won’t lead me to an answer either.

However, I have learned a few things from my research that can be applied to real life.

First, it is necessary to consider the big picture. If we only worry about what is going on right in front of us at each given moment, we will not be able to go beyond said moment. If we want something grander, we need to step back and think about the greater possibilities.

Second, we are all in this together. Sometimes, we get so involved in our daily lives – often for good reason – we forget about the world around us. Despite what we may be dealing with, life is not me, me, me. If we give greater consideration to those around us – weather they be less or more fortunate – we will all ultimately benefit.

Lastly, sometimes issues come up that seem insurmountable and problems arise with no answer. Yet, if we consider how we got ourselves tangled up in the problem, there is a good chance we can unwind the situation and make it solvable.

I’m certain my greater understanding of traffic jams will not allow me to avoid them. Hopefully, though the next traffic jam will lead to similar thoughtful helpful, philosophic moments. That and the car snacks my wife has packed will get me through.