Tuesday, April 14, 2015

#14 on the Top Ten List of Life Thieves - "Traffic/Congestion"

Do you live in any major city in the U.S. (or most foreign countries, for that matter)? How much time do you spend in traffic, congestion and gridlock? I have driven through rush hours and Saturdays in the cities and metro areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland (OR), New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Boston, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Phoenix, Columbus, Virginia Beach/Norfolk and many other large and medium sized cities and metro areas all over the U.S. The all have one thing in common . . . traffic, congestion and gridlock.

I grew up in the New York City metro area in suburban northern New Jersey. As a kid, growing up, learning to drive and spending my first five years of driving experience in that area, I just accepted the traffic, congestion and gridlock as standard operating procedure. Then, living in Syracuse for two years, another good sized city, and finally in the Washington, DC metro area for four years and having a business there for seven years, I just accepted this massive loss of my life sitting in my vehicle navigating the traffic, congestion and gridlock as a way of life.

Then, one day I moved to the more rural area outside the small (at that time) city of Annapolis, Maryland. Wow! What a difference. I actually began wearing my tires out from driving on them rather than having them dry rot from sitting still in traffic. But, alas, over the next ten years Annapolis was discovered. People began migrating there from the DC and Baltimore area. Bummer! They brought the traffic, congestion and gridlock with them.

So, I moved to the rural area of Winchester, Virginia in the northern Shenandoah Valley. Winchester was about 25% smaller than Annapolis when I moved to the home of the U.S. Naval Academy. It was wonderful. I could get almost anywhere in mere minutes. But, after some 25 years or so, the federal government began moving a number of government agencies into Winchester and turning the small valley city into Ground Zero. Along with it, the traffic, congestion and gridlock. To be sure the traffic, congestion and gridlock was nowhere close to the DC metro area. When I moved to Winchester you never had to wait to get through a traffic light intersection more than one turn of the light. When I left it wasn't uncommon to take three to four turns of that same traffic light to get through the same intersection.

The Traffic Life Thief

So, how much of your life is being stolen sitting in traffic, congestion and gridlock? Most likely, like most of the people I know who either live in or near medium to large cities or mega metropolitan areas, you probably don't spend much time thinking about this daily (even on weekends, these days) theft of your priceless life and time. You simply accept that this is part of life and you accept it to enjoy the privilege to pay higher housing costs, higher energy costs, higher cost of living expenses, higher real estate taxes, etc. But, you do have all the "conveniences, the great shopping, a plethora of restaurants of a broad range of cuisines and so on.

When I lived in Clifton, New Jersey, just ten miles from Manhattan Island, the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel, it took about a half hour to drive approximately six or seven miles to the huge (for the time) new Garden State Plaza shopping mall in Paramus, New Jersey. When I moved to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, I could drive from my home, about three miles west of Winchester, Virginia, to my office in Front Royal, Virginia, a distance of approximately 27 miles, in the same 30 minutes with no traffic, beautiful country landscapes and I'd arrive at work refreshed. When I went home it was the same thing.

This brings back memories of my days when I served at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, DC. I lived just 1 1/2 miles from the DC border, half a block off Pennsylvania Avenue (yes, the same Pennsylvania Avenue the President of the United States lives on). There were three routes I could take to and from Bolling Air Force Base. Each one was approximately seven miles. On a good day, a day with normal traffic and congestion, I could make it to or from my office/recording studio at Bolling and apartment in about 30 minutes. On a bad day, the day I chose the wrong route, it could take me an hour to an hour and a half to traverse the seven miles. By the time I arrived at the base or my apartment, I was exhausted and literally wiped out. I was in my mid 20's at the time and it already took that toll on my life.

What do you feel like going to and from work? Do you enjoy going shopping and dealing with the masses of congestion? How much of your life is stolen each week by this insidious thief? What is your justification or rationalization for giving permission to allow this theft of your life? Is it money? That's the justification/rationalization I hear most of the time. So, you make a lot more money. However, you also pay more income taxes, more for housing, your cost of living and all the other items I enumerated earlier, not including the loss of more of your priceless life.

The other justification/rationalization I hear is about all the conveniences of living in the middle of such locations. But, if you're reading this blog, the chances are you are downsizing, minimalizing and economizing, so is all the shopping, restaurants, etc. really worth the theft of your life?


Are there any viable alternatives to traffic, congestion and gridlock?


Most people are not willing to entertain the alternatives. This is obvious by the growth of cities and metropolitan areas. Interestingly, there was a long trend to moving to the suburbs. The suburban creep moved further and further out into the outlying rural areas and brought the invasion of McMansions on postage stamp lots to replace the livestock and agricultural lands that once supplied food to the cities. Currently that trend has reversed and people are moving back into the cities, supposedly to counteract the theft of their lives and enjoy all the conveniences of the cities.

There is a price to pay for everything. As the old saying goes, "There is no free lunch." Cities are expensive places to live. The cost of installing and maintaining a city's infrastructure is not inexpensive. Someone has to pay for it all. They are, of course, the citizens of the city. Perhaps the city may get some funds from the county and state the city is located in. In some cases, the federal government even provides some federal taxpayer money. Personally, I object to this. It's not the federal government's responsibility. It was clearly outlined at the formulation of the United States what the federal government's responsibilities were and maintaining the cities is not one of them.

So, if you choose the alternative of living in a city or the outlying suburbs, expect to pay a significantly higher price for it. Thus, the higher pay you may receive, when adjusted for the cost of living will usually equalize the discretionary funds left with that of earning a lower salary, paying lower taxes and living in a lower cost of housing and living area. The chances are also greater that you'll reduce a lot of the stolen life and time imposed by the traffic, congestion and gridlock experienced in the city and suburban lifestyle.

Another alternative is to make the changes I've made by downsizing (on a large scale), becoming a minimalist and living very frugally. The result is to reduce the life and time losses from traffic, congestion and gridlock to very nearly zero.

But, let's be really honest. Most people are not going to give this lifestyle a second thought. Many people tell me and my like-minded friends that they "envy" us. Then comes the "but." "But, they couldn't live like this." That's followed by a plethora of stock excuses the individuals rationalize as being justifications  for why they can't make this change.

Your Time! Your Life!

It's your time and it's your life. You actually can do anything you want with it. The only people who have control over your life and your time are you and the committee of "They." "They" include your spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, business partners, some facets of the local, state and federal governments and anyone else you listen to. That's right. They control your life and time because you give them permission to do so. Most people are consumed with - what will "They" think?

Well, here's my take on it. I don't pass judgment on anyone else. Everyone has the right to choose the life they want and who they will allow to influence/control their life. Regardless of whether you're happy/content and enjoying whatever freedom you desire based on your definition of freedom or unhappy, feel trapped and discontent. It is your choice and I'm pleased for you. It's no skin off my nose or any of my growing circle of like-minded friends. We don't choose nor envy your life. Life is all about choices and decisions. You've made yours and we've made ours.

The positive thing from our perspective is that we never expect the huge majority of people to choose our lifestyle. First, it would be detrimental to the economy of the entire country (the U.S. and other countries as well). The country, counties and cities need you to keep spending money on all the stuff you accumulate and the taxes you pay to keep the economy rolling.

Also, if huge masses of people decided to join us in our lifestyle choice, it would negatively impact us. It would be harder for those of us who are mobile to find free places to park and camp. For those of us living in tiny houses or simple lives in small living quarters, the cost of housing would rise. Since most of us choose to live in less populated areas with much lower costs of living, all our costs of living would increase and there would be a new form of traffic, congestion and gridlock created.

But, if you are truly attracted to the idea of living with less traffic, congestion and gridlock and losing a lot of your priceless life and time to this life thief, there is still room out here for you. Yes! There will be some sacrifices and compromises. Yes! There will likely be some "culture shock." And, yes, your life will be different. But, I seldom find anyone who has made an informed decision to embrace this lifestyle who would ever go back to allowing the traffic, congestion and gridlock to steal their life and time, again. 


Rob said...

I'm not a city person, never have been but I recently some time in the Portland Oregon area and rode their public transportation several times. I was impressed!
I'm not planning on moving there :-) but it was useable.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

You certainly bring up a good point, Rob. I was raised in the shadow of the Empire State Building in northern NJ. They've had all kinds of public transportation in that region for more decades then I am old. But, even with that, people, in my opinion, spend an inordinate amount of time (life) commuting to and from work. But, again, using some form of public transport at least relieves a certain amount of stress. I for one and happy there are so many people who are willing to live that lifestyle. That makes it easier and less congested for you and me to live our lifestyle.