In Tokyo, where the Traffic Control Center uses over 17,000 vehicle detectors, traffic jams are still inevitable. Chinese drivers trying to get into Beijing were stuck in a massive gridlock last August, due mostly to increased truck carriers and road construction. The drivers lived in their vehicles for over a week.
One would think that Los Angeles, the top American city for commuter pain according to the annual IBM Index, would have the longest average commute times, but that status is reserved for the city of Poconos, in Monroe County, with an average commute of 38.1 minutes. Extreme commutes run along the Northeastern seaboard with Athens, Texas in the top five cities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey released last week.
These are average times but many drivers, public transit riders and frequent fliers dread far longer commutes and how it tears through their world.
"It takes your life away from you," said bookkeeper Gillian Holder, who commutes to Manhattan from Bushkill every day. "You have no life. You leave early in the morning and you get back late in the evening."
The stress of sitting for long hours can lead to long term health consequences as well, building up over time into sciatica, bulging discs, high blood pressure, loss of sleep and even depression. "It's tough on the body. On my back from all the sitting," said Richard Daly, a Canadensis-to-Manhattan commuter and secretary treasurer of the New York Newspaper Printing Pressmen's Union, in a recent interview for the Pocono Record
You may be feeling the pain and you know that you're not alone. How to stay healthy when you can't change your work circumstances is the challenge and commuters need new tools for relief.
Tom Vanderbilt, in his book Traffic, Why We Drive the Way We Do, speaks about how our cars are one of our few private places in a public place. It may be possible to rekindle your love of driving by turning your car into a refuge and using the time you're there to your advantage. Many turn their cars into mobile offices, made so much easier with the electronic gadgets over the past few years, due to work pressures. Balance is the key, as well as staying safe. Using headsets for phone calls or driving a new car with smart connection software, can make your commute productive but why not take it further?
Set aside part of every drive, perhaps a segment of road that is particularly frustrating, to turn off all the interference and listen deeply. Instead of distracting yourself, roll through each of your senses slowly with awareness. It will help you to become a safer driver as you free yourself from distractions and address pain points before they begin to take your attention from your driving.
Driving is really an automatic skill and most of us drive the same roads day in and out. This can be dangerous as we become less aware of our surroundings and can reduce reaction times. Consider increasing your awareness for a few minutes each trip. Take a little time out of your commute to check into your body, practice a few deep breathing techniques to calm and invigorate. If driving, at a stoplight try a few back arches or hip tilts to work your spine. Then get back onto the road knowing that you have the choice, the power, to transform rush hour into your road refuge.