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.


18 thoughts on “Thinking Traffic

  1. well…there is nothing slowing down more traffic than rain here in Greece. It’s unbelievable. Thank God it’s not raining too often.
    Oh & I absolutely hate traffic jams. I used to be stuck in traffic every morning for 8 years while driving to work (public transport pretty much sucks around here). I so NOT miss those days.

    • I don’t like traffic jams either. Sometimes, I can go batty with impatience though I was relatively calm on Friday. Thankfully. It wasn’t good on the way home either and the ride seemed so long!

  2. I think that whole “me, me, me” thing is the root of all problems in the whole world!! Every unkind word, every bad attitude, every bad choice.

    And I’m so often guilty myself!

    • Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy – remember that skit.
      Anyway, I didn’t have all those thoughts while I was driving. It was pretty much why do we have to stop if everyone wants to go. You ever wonder that too?

      • I think that thought every single time I’m stuck in traffic. per my dad it has to do with too many cars and not enough road. but I still don’t get it. Just drive darn it!!

  3. “Me, me, me”, yes, unfortunately, I think like this every day, I think most of us do! but I’m glad that you got to think about it because of the traffic jam! 🙂
    & love what you said about if we think about how we got tangled up in the problem, there is a chance we can unwind the situation. Again so true! 🙂

    • I think we do as well – it’s natural to think inward.
      Glad you liked the line about tangled up in problems.

  4. I read a good article on traffic patterns once. There are actually people who study them from their helecopters. Often things become delayed because someone up ahead has put on their brakes. Then the person behind them puts on their brakes, and so on. If you think about it, sometimes you have to put on your brakes because you were going too fast to begin with. If people were to maintain steady speeds, traffice would flow more smoothly. Now, I’m sure there’s a metpahor in there to tie this in to your life lesson.

    I hope you enjoyed your weekend trip!

    • Yes, I did read something like that – the chain reaction. Apparently, it is better to keep space.
      The lesson work together – and steady as you go gets you there just fine, thank you.
      It was a nice trip – thanks for bringing that up.

  5. Interesting how one thought leads to something else … I’m right there with you about that traffic. And snacks in the car. I think we’d all be happier if we had more snacks 🙂

    • When I wrote the piece, I remembered your post a few weeks back about that horrible traffic you ran into. I think I would have torn out the little hair I have.

  6. That’s a lot of thinking going on there. Funny how the most boring things, like traffic jams, could lead to interesting thoughts.

    • Truthfully, only some of that thinking occurred while in the car. However, I certainly had the time to think at that time.

  7. It’s wonderful when life gives you teachable moments and you actually learn from them. Very insightful writing, thank you for the reminders.

    • You are welcome. I didn’t quite think of all of this while driving. In fact, I just had the initial thought why do we have to stop if everyone wants to go fast.

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