3 Scientific Reasons Why Toronto Traffic Seems so Unbearable
How was your drive into work today? If your job is in or around Toronto and it was a 15-minute cruise, you must have received a blessing from the traffic gods. The reality is that it sucks to drive in Toronto. You’re most likely familiar with the long lines of cars, crawling for miles ahead of you while digital road signs remind you about the “express and collector lanes moving very slow beyond next transfer”.
How do you escape the gridlock? How do you stop the road rage and keep your blood pressure from rising? How do you keep your sanity? Avoiding Toronto traffic altogether might take a miracle, but making your commute bearable is within your power to accomplish. Until those infrastructure changes (HOT lanes, LRT, TTC expansion) lighten our cramped freeways, consider the psychology behind your traffic misery, and the hacks to make your commute less burdensome.
You’ve Got a Bias
Your morning routine isn’t complete if there’s no traffic report in it. Those words may echo those vintage ads for breakfast cereal you saw as a kid. But seriously – you’re sabotaging your commute (and potentially, your job) by ignoring road conditions. And you may not want to admit it, but skipping the traffic report has probably made you late for work at least once.
Always Late? Don’t Blame Traffic
Checking the traffic hacks your brain by eliminating the tendency to have unrealistic expectations over your commute. To start, we’re not insulting you here – it’s science. But your brain circuits may have a faulty pattern that’s making you leave later than you should.
There’s something out there called a Recency Bias (a type of cognitive bias). It’s the tendency to assume that past events or patterns will occur in the future, similarly to how they did in the past. For example, think about the weather. We tend to expect certain temperatures or precipitation depending on the month we’re in. However, as our erratic Toronto climate has shown, weather conditions can shift from the expected to the bizarre overnight, prompting us to bring out our coats or heavy boots when they should remain tucked away.
A similar thing can happen with traffic. Let’s say you need to get to work for 8am, and leaving home at 7am is the best time to do so. However, you have decided to leave at 7:30 now, because you left at that time yesterday, and was lucky enough to reach work before 8. You might use that day as justification to keep leaving at 7:30am, even if it means punching in late every time (which obviously isn’t a good thing).
But you’re forgetting about the accidents, the construction, or the weather, all of which may turn an otherwise free-flowing drive into a tortoise-like crawl. Yes, Toronto traffic is bad and arguably getting worse, but it may also be time to change your expectations. Fortunately, hacking a recency bias towards traffic is as simple as tracking every morning and leaving earlier!
Look in the Future, Not the Past
- Watch the news – Don’t wait to jump on the highway to hear the traffic report. While eating breakfast, tune into a channel like CP24 to get a traffic update.
- Check an app – Pretty much all of you have fancy phones now, so make it a goal to download a traffic app. There are plenty of options out there, including Waze, which has received great reviews. Or you can stick to others, such as good ole’ Google Maps.
You’re Not Listening to Music
There will still be the odd day when you’ll leave early, and have to race against time to get to work. You will have to stay sane somehow. One of the easiest ways to reduce the stress of not moving, is by listening to music. Some of you may might not think it makes a difference. But science proves otherwise.
Music mellows you out
When we’re stuck in stressful situations, we’re usually so focused on trying to change things that we can’t, such as the flow of traffic. When stuck in a traffic jam, all you can do is calm yourself down, and music is the easiest means to do so.
Studies demonstrated several times, that music lowers blood pressure and the stress hormones that often spike in traffic (and other unwanted circumstances). Another study compared the stress levels of patients who were about to undergo surgery, which can be far more stressful than traffic, with one group taking anti-anxiety medication while the other listened to music for relaxation. The group who calmed their nerves with music had significantly lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) than the group that took the drugs.
Amazing isn’t it? And the beauty of music is that it comes with no side effects! By not listening to music, you’re depriving your body of its natural stress relieving power. You can also indulge in your favourite tunes without getting distracted by setting up a playlist ahead of time, whether it’s on your phone’s music player or a streaming service like Spotify or Google Music.
Sing alongs have even added benefit. Studies shows that singing releases endorphins, your body’s natural “feel good” chemicals, which are also released by exercise and massage therapy. That’s much healthier for you than the road rage-induce yelling which raises your stress.
Don’t forget the genre of music too. Although some genres of music are associated with particular emotions, you most likely have your go-to style which calms you down or takes your focus off of the road. So whether it’s the Madonna’s groovy club jams, Carlos Santana’s guitar riffs or Drake’s catchy flows, your playlist can keep you sane when stuck in Toronto traffic.
You’re Driving Alone
The way you feel about situations changes drastically when you’re around others. For that reason, you should consider driving with others. Researchers from various disciplines agree that carpooling has a list of benefits. And yet, few people are taking these words of these wise minds seriously.
For starters, carpooling can benefit your wallet, the environment and road conditions. But let’s take a look at the social benefits.
Sharing a ride can heal your mind
One of the most touted advantages of carpooling is forging new friendships, or at least strengthening the bonds you already have. But science has found what socializing does to your brain. The effects are of course positive – socializing benefits your brain by reducing anxiety. Since we’re social creatures, our brains are wired to release oxytocin, the “love hormone”, when we interact with others.
Anxiety levels drop when oxytocin rises, self-confidence improves and your sense of well-being increases. It’s the reason why we have BFFs, shrinks and significant others. The reverse also seems to be true. Constant loneliness can trigger hormonal changes and alter gene expression, possibly leading to many chronic illnesses that plague mankind.
In all honesty, you don’t really need science to prove this. Just look back at your life. You’ve probably had at least one experience of someone cheering you up, or vice-versa. Whether it was kind words, clever jokes or just a random conversation, the act of speaking may have changed your mood for the better. And if you’ve felt compelled to yell or shout in response to a situation, the presence of others may have kept you from having an outburst.
Now imagine if the majority of Toronto drivers took this to heart. Physically, there would be a huge reduction in the amount of cars on the few highways we have, cutting down on the congestion. Mentally, Torontonians would have an optimistic view of their commute, rather than the prevailing gloomy attitude that most possess. Emotionally, a headache-free commute could translate to a better mood needed for work.
Beating Traffic is a Mind Game
As it stands, we can’t do much to avoid Toronto traffic, except work from home (which is possible for some) or take public transit. And driving a Jetson-style flying car won’t be on the table for a long, long time. But you can cope with traffic starting now. By taking a closer look at your habits and thinking, you can see the patterns that affect your perception of traffic. You’ll realize that even if the city has a major problem with gridlock, there are hacks to help you handle it without losing your mind. Now as the clichè goes, the grass may seem greener on the other side. But remember, there are cities that have far bigger traffic problems than Toronto.