All the Ways Congestion and Long Car Commutes Are Bad for Public Health

The status quo is unhealthy for everybody.

Read Time: 2 minutes

January 25, 2019, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Houston Traffic

Donald Rogers / Flickr

Austin Frakt, director of the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System; associate professor with Boston University’s School of Public Health; and adjunct associate professor with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, takes to the pages of The New York Times to provide a literature review, of sorts, of all the evidence for the negative health impacts of long, congested commutes.

There is a lot to unpack here, but research suggest that congestion and long-commute times has negative outcomes on stress, respiratory health, aggressive behavior, and domestic violence.

While there is plenty of bad news to deliver about the consequences of the daily realities of most people in the United States, Frakt also provides a few examples of light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. For instance, charging drivers for access to express lanes has shown positive results on the stress levels of commuters:

Los Angeles has put in a system that charges solo drivers more to use certain lanes of the I-10 and I-110 highways during periods of heavy traffic. This encourages drivers to move their commutes to less congested times or routes. A study of congestion pricing on Seattle’s SR-520 Bridge found that drivers using the route and its alternatives were less stressed and more satisfied with their commutes after the pricing change.

Frakt also lists increasing options for remote work, bike and transit commutes (in some cities), and the potential of autonomous transportation for further mitigating some of the negative health outcomes connected to driving and congestion.

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