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The Traffic Paradox, How Getting Ahead Hurts

Traffic, it’s something everyone can relate to. There’s not one driver out there who hasn’t experienced the frustration and annoyance of sitting in traffic. The lane next to you moves faster than yours, the guy in front of you is watching Tik Tok on his phone and not moving when the pressure in front finally eases. The seemingly endless amount of tractor trailers slow to move and relentlessly close together, preventing anyone from getting in a different lane. Needless to say I could go on and on with this wildly infuriating part of our existence. 

I-75, familiar to anyone in the surrounding area, is one of the largest interstates in the US, crossing six of the lower 48 states. The Brent Spence Bridge, when open, takes anywhere from 140,000 cars to 39,000 cars daily. More on this later. It is a major artery from the north to the south in the United States. Carrying millions, if not billions of dollars up and down its corridors every single day. 

With those kinds of numbers means things are bound to get bottlenecked, crunchy and downright maddening at times. For a short time when Lauren and I were dating we both lived at home with our parents, as we were waiting for a time to move in together. I was living in Colerain and commuting to Florence daily. Having to leave an hour plus early for a trip that should have taken no more than 35 minutes. The choking of I-74 merging to I-75, other’s jockeying for position in lanes and people weaving in and out of traffic as if they had a pregnant woman in the back about to give birth was a daily occurrence. Once you finally got to the bridge, well that’s where the fun begins. 

Did you know that tractor trailers have anywhere from 10-18 gears? For perspective, most modern cars have 5-6 with some more expensive models having upwards of 8. Additionally, a tractor trailer weighs roughly 35,000 lbs empty and around 80,000 lbs fully loaded. Or the same as over 22 RAV4’s. This requires tractor trailers to be in the precise gear going up the cut in the hill, otherwise they’ll be stuck crawling at well below the speed limit trying to make it up the steep grade. 

What is my point for telling you all this? We’ve all seen, or maybe have been the person weaving in and out of traffic. Or possibly cutting across three lanes because we’re waiting till the last minute to get off our exit. While we’re busy, in our little glass bubble of our cars, we’re leaving a wake of more frustration, traffic, road rage and slow downs in our path. I’m not saying stay in the slow lane and just let life pass you by, but weaving in and out, cutting others off and generally thinking solely about your travel plans isn’t ideal either. 

When we only think of ourselves it can produce adverse effects. Take this scenario for example. You’re walking into the store, late and overwhelmed from your day. You also see a mother with a young child taking up all the upper body real estate she has to offer. Her hands are full and eyes you walking to the door. Logically, the right thing to do is to wait and hold the door. Instead when we’re in our vehicles there is a disconnect of humanity. On the opposite spectrum, the entitlement of those who believe their trip is vastly more important than others seems to amplify. 

When we put ourselves in front of others, the gain may be short lived. We may push ahead slightly, but leave a wake of destruction in our path. When that car swerves across 4 lanes on the Brent Spence to get ahead in traffic it sets in motion a domino effect. The tractor trailer misses a gear, slowing it down. Others have to brake hard, slowing them down, the process repeats behind them and traffic builds. In a real world context, If I act unethically, or do something to put someone down for my own gain, the short lived success may be high, like getting ahead in traffic. But what’s left after that success is broken relationships, shattered trust and possible deteriorated reputation. In a world littered with “look at me” statements, when now more than ever we should be supporting those around us. 

Take a moment when you’re in life’s traffic to think, “should I just stay in my lane” and let others pass? Sometimes, it can be the answer that lets others succeed. 

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