WHAT IS TRAFFIC CONGESTION?
Canadians have a mobility mindset, in that we have grown to expect the freedom to go where we want, when we want, using the transportation mode we want. As transportation is a fundamental part of how we live and do business, the ways in which we move people, goods and services have a wide range of unintended and harmful side effects. This is best observed through the increasing occurrence of traffic congestion on Canadian roadways. Many of us have personally experienced traffic congestion, but what exactly is it? The term “traffic congestion” is used to characterize a road system in which one experiences increased trip times, slower vehicle speeds and increased vehicle lineups.
It is caused by traffic having a demand for space that is larger than the available capacity of the road. As a result, traffic speed is reduced for the maximal number of vehicles to occupy the available road space, thereby resulting in the increased time and lineups associated with travelling. However, other events, such as poor weather conditions, construction and accidents, can also contribute to traffic congestion. The occurrence of traffic congestion is detrimental to the environment, as vehicles will be idling for extended periods of time, resulting in more emissions being released and contributing to smog formation.
How does traffic congestion affect us?
The impact that traffic congestion has on an individual’s physical health is damaging. As traffic congestion results in increased traffic time, a study by Washington University at St. Louis has reported that individuals exposed to increased periods of time behind the wheel tend to have larger waistlines and higher blood pressure. This leads to strain on an individual’s heart. Furthermore, those experiencing longer commutes are more likely to report less frequent participation in physical activity, decreased cardiovascular fitness and possess a greater body mass index.
A Canadian study found that, for each additional hour in a car, there is a 6 per cent increase in the likelihood of obesity. These impacts are from a long commute alone and do not include the health impacts – such as fatigue, digestion difficulties, pains and increased heart rate – associated with stress brought on by traffic congestion.
Not only does traffic congestion influence physical health, but it also negatively impacts mental health and well-being. The Ontario Chapter of the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) reports that traffic congestion impairs health, psychological adjustment, work performance and overall satisfaction with life. Traffic congestion has also been found to disturb mood, frustration tolerance and work absences.
How does traffic congestion affect the economy?
In addition to harming humans and the environment, traffic congestion also has devastating effects on the Canadian economy. The Toronto Board of Trade estimates that gridlock is the greatest threat to economic prosperity in the Toronto region. The underfunding of infrastructure is resulting in traffic congestion that costs the region $6 billion annually. It is predicted that the annual economic loss due to traffic congestion will reach $15 billion by 2031. The impact of traffic congestion has also forced some businesses to alter the manner in which they operate, such as by moving to more costly night deliveries to avoid traffic jams, time and fuel lost in tie-ups and missed deliveries.
For additional information on transportation and how you can help reduce traffic congestion, check out these other Pollution Probe materials:
- Primer on Automobile Fuel Efficiency and Emissions
- Guide to Purchasing Fuel Efficient Vehicles
- Electric Vehicle Primer
- Driving Electric – Understanding Electric Vehicle Technology and Environmental Benefits
- Promoting and Sustaining Consumer Demand for Highly Fuel Efficient Automobiles
- Destination Sustainability – Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Freight Transportation in North America