You aren't stuck in traffic. You are traffic.

Written by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S

Shortly after moving to a new part of town, I found myself in one of two left turning lanes going under the highway and onto the frontage road of northbound I35. Now once you get onto the frontage road, it goes from two lanes down to one before the off ramp traffic is introduced. Since I like to be the one with the right of way, I try to position myself in the farthest left lane so that I don’t have to be the one to yield. It’s just efficient. Well, one day, I was making my daily left turn onto the freeway, when this dude starts honking at me from his clearly inferior right lane position, and then rudely cuts me off. “Asshole!” I think. And then I think, “Man, people should really learn to respect the road rules in this community.” Then I remember how I want to be toward others, and I think, in a patronizing, holier than thou kind of way, “Well, I hope he gets where he’s going safely. God knows I’ve been in a hurry before, so I’ll be the bigger man and let it go.” This helps me to feel better about myself instead of feeling victimized. 

It wasn’t long after this incident that I happened to notice a street sign right after making the left turn onto that frontage road, and this is what it said: Lane Ends MERGE  RIGHT I’m the asshole! And now that incident comes back to me and it replays from this new humbling perspective. Next I remember all the right lane people I’ve waved to go ahead of me because I thought I was being such a kind and friendly motorist, when they had the right of way all along!  In Austin, we have 110 new people moving here EVERY DAY! That’s 3,300 people a month. Of the top 10 worst cities for traffic, Austin ranks #4. Worse than New York, Boston, and Washington D.C. I hear it every day. “Man, traffic was bananas today.” “I’m going to be a few minutes late. Mopac is a parking lot.” Have you ever considered . . .  You aren’t stuck in traffic. You ARE traffic. Why do we always assume that the world around us is not only separate from us, but imposing itself upon us? When you see a line of ants, or a flock of birds, or a school of fish, it’s natural to assume that these animal communities are family, or at least all on the same team. We see them as an organized whole, not as separate, individual animals with their own problems.  Imagine yourself in your vehicle looking out at the cars around you. Notice all the judgments you have about the other motorists and how they’re wasting your time. Now slowly zoom out, up and over your car until you can see the entire stretch of freeway. You can see the on and off ramps, the connecting freeways, and finally the whole citywide system of interconnected roadways. Can you even still see your car?  The flow of blood in your veins is made up of individual cells. You are a single cell flowing (albeit not very quickly) down the veins of your city’s transportation infrastructure. You are traffic. I’m not calling you out. It’s not a bad thing. Taking this perspective, how might it change how you respond in situations where you have little control. Knowing that you are part of a larger whole and that your frustrations and goals are probably shared to a large degree with everyone else’s. We’re all in the same boat. We are all trying to get somewhere. We all have time constraints. We all make mistakes.  Research indicates that 90% of drivers, myself included, rate themselves as more skilled than other motorists on the road, even if they have recently caused an accident! We need to turn that finger back onto ourselves. Not to beat ourselves up or take unnecessary blame, but to acknowledge that we aren’t in fact better than anyone else. Our problems are no more significant or urgent. Other people matter at least as much as you do. And sometimes it’s your lane that’s ending and it’s your turn to merge right.

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