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Thoughts In a Traffic Jam

It’s a familiar picture.  You’re sitting in a traffic jam going along at a crawl during rush hour wanting to get home, and you start thinking “This is crazy – why don’t they make decent roads so we don’t have this problem?”

Well, rest assured that all the experts at Austroads and all the consultants they contract for research are keeping busy dealing with all these problems and are always working to make sure that Australia – and New Zealand – has good roads.  Congestion is viewed as a problem not just because it drives the average citizen nuts: all those cars sitting there going nowhere with their engines chugging are putting out a lot of pollution… unless they’re electric cars that are designed to use electricity rather than diesel or petrol in just this situation. Take a look at this pic.  Rest assured, this is not in Autsralia, yet!  It’s in China.

Sometimes, the findings of all these experts may come as a bit of a surprise to the average driver.  To take one example, I’m thinking of an intersection near my place.  At the moment, it’s got a roundabout (with a single-lane circuit) that gets a lot of cars, trucks, pedestrians and cyclists going through it every day, plus a few buses.  During the morning and evening rush “hours”, the traffic backs up for several hundred metres, and more than one driver looks at all the cyclists and pedestrians whizzing past them and wonders why on earth the local Powers That Be don’t put in a set of traffic lights instead. 

Well, the reason why they won’t put in traffic lights is probably for a very simple reason: sure, the traffic’s really bad during rush hour, but the rest of the time, there’s no problem.  Traffic lights work all the time, so even if things go a bit more quickly during these busy periods with the lights installed, you’re going to end up with someone sitting at a red light waiting for ages with nothing on any of the other roads – another thing that really bugs drivers.  So don’t stew next time you get stuck in a queue of snails – the experts are doing their best and it’s impossible to please everybody all of the time.

So what can you do to prevent the dreaded snail crawl and the frustration of sitting in a long queue of traffic?  Sometimes, you just have to be patient and put up with it, frustrating as congestion may be, but at times, you can take action.  How about the following?

  • If your work situation allows it, change your travel time to avoid the busiest period.  Depending on where you are, half an hour can make a huge difference between traffic going at a crawl and almost empty roads.  Web cams on traffic websites (such as this one for Sydney) can help you plan when to go.
  • Look for alternate routes, even if they go through a few more twists, turns and corners.  It may be longer on the map, but you won’t take as long driving.  You may need to switch off the GPS for this, depending on the type you have.
  • Car pool to work or when taking kids to school.  If fewer cars are using the road during rush hour, less congestion is likely. 
  • Look at other transport options – can you or your kids bike, bus or walk to your destination? If the traffic’s busy and the journey’s short, walking or biking can sometimes be quicker than using the car.

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