Essay: Road rage and the science of happiness

Graphic that accompanied the essay
in Momentum Magazine.
(Illustration by Chris Bentzen)

The always interesting Momentum Magazine (based in Vancouver, BC) has published a timely essay in their July/August issue.

Bike Rage by Charles Montgomery is a provocative look into the psychological, cultural and infrastructural origins of road rage.

Montgomery bases his insights on the research of “road rage guru” Dr. Leon James. James literally wrote the book on the subject and he says that rage on the roads is “quite predictable” due to several factors.

Here’s a snip from Montgomery’s essay,

“…the driving experience primes car drivers for meltdowns.

They are conditioned by popular culture to see cars as symbols of freedom, yet city driving is a slow-motion trap that subjects drivers to constant restrictions on their movement. Drivers are thwarted from enjoying the promise of motion by traffic lights, by congestion – and yes, by cyclists – and they suffer the natural but impossible desire to escape and move forward…”

Montgomery also touches on something I’ve also been thinking about in various contexts — the idea that how we act on the roads (both with the potential for stress and traffic law compliance) is a direct result of how those roads are designed. He writes:

“…road rage is a symptom of the corrosive effect that modern commuting has on urban culture. Aggressive streets are not just dangerous, they change the way we feel and the way we treat each other, even when we’re not commuting.

… the problem is that city planners have mixed bikes and cars together in ways that offer little certainty about how each should operate, and lots of chances for conflict. Cyclists feel threatened in traffic, just like drivers. Many of us feel hard done by and under attack. I sure do. The average arterial road is an engine of conflict.

Montgomery also touches on the success of Bogota, Colombia. As we learned at the recent Carfree Conference, Bogota has seen a precipitous drop in reported crimes (and many more happy people) since transforming their city with more public space and miles of physically separated bikeways.

So what’s the solution to calming tempers on the road?

Montgomery writes that he plans to, “ease up on the outrage and channel my frustration into urban design activism.”

“Call the city’s traffic department, paint a bike lane, write a letter, vote, keep riding, breathe, feel the sheer joy of movement in every commute. And let that joy flow out through an open smile.”

Read the full article here.

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