I Love Traffic Jams


You may think that I am being sarcastic when I say that I love traffic jams, well I am not. I happen to be one of the few people in Costa Rica that can honestly share this opinion. In my society, just like societies around the world, my fellow citizens are united in their common hate for a particularly phenomenon. Independent of your social status, level of income, age, or gender the almost constant vehicular congestion in the streets and highways is an inescapable fact of life in San José.  

I am aware of the provocative stance that I am taking with regards to this topic. This is actually a phrase that I do not dare to say in public or to some of my closest friends, and I no longer want to keep this secret to myself. I love traffic jams. I do, no question about it. The reason is actually quite simple and complex at the same time. I am not crazy, nor am I trying to be sarcastic, I just happen to notice several important social consequences produced by the almost daily traffic congestion problems in my city. 

I use a bicycle as my primary form of transportation and this means that although I generally share the same infrastructure used by motor vehicles the way that I navigate through it is completely different. Although motor vehicles and bicycles shared the same roads in San José, we clearly inhabit drastically different worlds.

Traffic jams, clogged streets, and blocked intersections are not a significant problems for me. I am generally able to make my way pass endless lines of trapped cars without much of a challenge. Even the very common problem of vehicles that block an intersection after the light has changed have little effect on my commute as I am always able to squeeze my way through.

There is nothing like the feeling of navigating your way through an endless line of stuck cars. It is invigorating and empowering at the same time, since I can take full control of my commute instead of being limited or forced to use only a certain number of already clogged streets and highways. The feeling that you can move when almost everything and everyone else around you is trapped in their vehicles is almost magical to me. 

At times I even see it as fun, almost as game in which I need to make my way through narrow spaces between cars and squeeze pass obstacles, blocked intersections, and even accidents.   

However, in my opinion perhaps the most ironic consequence of the continuous congestion of streets and highways is that they make the roads safer for those who chose alternative forms of transportation. The biggest danger for cyclists and pedestrians when crossing or using a road are those objects that move much faster than them.

Motor vehicles not only move fast, but they are heavy as well, which means that a collision will most likely end with a sever injury or death for the cyclist or pedestrian. Interestingly, a traffic clogged street means that cars and other large motor vehicles like trucks or buses are unable to move at a high velocity resulting in a decrease in the likelihood that a cyclist or a pedestrian will be involved in high speed collision. Naturally pedestrians and cyclists still need to pay constant attention because the much longer commute times tend to make motor vehicle drivers much more aggressive and impatient while driving. However, I always prefer to scratch the side of a vehicle or to hit a side mirror, rather than to be run over by a speeding truck.

Interestingly, traffic jams are also one of those rare occasions when slower moving commuters can almost interact or at least get a chance to observe the people inside of the glass and metal bubbles that are motor vehicles. You can look at their faces, their expressions, their eyes as they stare out of the window in despair. This applies both ways, since motor vehicle drivers are also forced to slow down and actually observe their surrounding environment. 

There is one final positive consequence of the ever-increasing presence of traffic jams in cities around the world, and I would argue that this is perhaps the most important one from a social and environmental perspective. Traffic jams are without a doubt the most powerful and effective reminder to my fellow citizens that the challenges of urban mobility cannot be solved by an approach focused primarily on the motor vehicle. 

The famous mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa summarized this beautifully when he stated that no city around the world has solved the problem of urban mobility through the use of the motor vehicle. Few people are actually conscious of the fact that more highways, more elevated bypasses, more parking space will quickly be consumed by more and more vehicles. The traffic jam is a constant and unavoidable reminder that if we continue to rely on the motor vehicle for our mobility needs we continue to destroy our cities and the environment in the process, and we will have to pay ever more with one of the most precious things that we poses; time.

My heart goes out to the people that have to rely on public buses for transportation on a daily basis. For me vehicular congestion is just further proof that segregated bus lanes are undoubtedly essential in any major city or urban area. There are clear ways of keeping buses separated from traffic jams and flowing freely through designated traffic lanes. There is simply no justification why buses must remain constantly stuck in traffic just as often as other motor vehicles.

I guess few motor vehicle drivers will agree with the majority of the views that I expressed in this article. I do not blame them, as I mentioned at the beginning the world of cyclists and pedestrians is very different from that of motor vehicle drivers. It has been a bit over 2 years since I decided to stop being a regular vehicle driver and I made the switch to a different form of transportation. I now live in a very different world; perhaps you might be interested in experimenting with a change in your daily life.