Yet another report has been published, reminding all of us once again that we have to cope with traffic. Several organizations produce such reports - this one comes from the Bureau of the Census -- so although they're "annual," we can be treated to another one at least every couple of months. They're all duly parroted in the news of the day, and produce endless groaning about the gridlock, the time we "waste" in traffic, and so forth. They try to distinguish themselves, make the "news" that there's traffic on our streets and highways seem novel in some way. Thus the current one invents the phrase "megacommuter" to describe people who drive more than an hour each way from home to work. The underlying message of such reports is that somebody - governments I suppose - needs to "do something" about traffic.
But really, can't we just accept this basic reality of urban living? It's just common sense that the new road warriors described by the phrase "megacommuters," who typically live 50 miles or more from their work, might have to drive an hour or more each way. Even if they average 60 mph from the second they jump in their cars -- surely an unrealistic expectation -- that would still take 50 minutes! So in most areas, heavy traffic is no more than what a reasonable person should expect. I'd say if you do a fifty-mile commute and only take a little over an hour for it, you're doing very well indeed.
All of which suggests that traffic isn't itself the problem, it's the symptom of other problems, such as our propensity not to factor commute time into our homebuying decisions; our insistence on the dream of a detached house surrounded by a big yard that will generally be used for absolutely nothing; our urge to enjoy urban living yet escape it at the same time; our often mistaken calculation that the cost of closer-in housing is higher than the costs of commuting long distances. We confuse "jams" with other spreads. The hours we spend commuting are not delay, they're not wasted, they are just the side effect of other decisions we make. And we can usually avoid them if we try.