Opinion Marina View: Addicted to Driving

Posted January 6, 2016 by The Argonaut in Columns

Before we ask the government to fix traffic, we should study our own behaviors

By William Hicks

Traffic isn’t just a problem, it’s a choice we can make

Traffic isn’t just a problem, it’s a choice we can make

My father, retired LAX Operations worker John Hicks, tells me that before construction of the northernmost LAX runway, two tunnels that would have connected to Lincoln Boulevard were built around 1960.

The tunnels were intended to reduce the amount of traffic from the present one-way-in, one-way-out setup off Century Boulevard. Although the tunnels still exist today, he says, the plan to use them for traffic management was buried.

There have been many plans to alleviate L.A.’s traffic, including monorails, people movers, delivery drones and more bike lanes, but like the tunnels most don’t seem to get very far. A friend of mine even suggests more bridges for pedestrians — especially the ones who take their dear sweet time crossing the street!

Which brings me to the Holy Grail of traffic solutions: mandatory telecommuting. We should pass a proposition requiring that all desk jobs be performed from home. Since 86% of all jobs are desk jobs, then this means that 86% of all autos would be off the road!

Imagine that.

Imagine the time that we would get back, the money that we would save on gas and auto expenses. Imagine the reduction of pollution, stress, auto accidents and response time for emergency and utility vehicles. Imagine the millions of dollars saved on road repairs.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. In this Information Age of high-speed Internet, Skype and smart phones, this is the biggest no-brainer in the history of mankind.

So what’s the hold up?

Is it those darn oil, tire and auto company lobbyists? Is it our politicians? Is it those annoying control-freak bosses still living in the Industrial Age, who think that most people are lazy and need to be constantly monitored?

These folks obviously aren’t aware of the study by Stanford University that found productivity increases by 13% when workers are allowed to work from home.

While certainly the above reasons are factors, I see them more as effects of the main cause, which is the man or woman in the mirror. That’s right; we’re the holdup because we’re addicted to driving.

Before you casually brush off this idea, why do you think that millions of people have decided that sitting in their cars for hours per day is acceptable, when they could be doing something else far more productive?

Sure, we may curse at traffic and sometimes joke about it, but it’s probably one of the few times in the day when we’re actually in our right minds — driving is a right-brain activity, just like meditating and watching television.  Sleeping is also a right-brain activity, which often gets disturbed by the over-active left brain.

When a driver cuts you off, you get irritated because he or she has interrupted your meditation and forced you back into your left brain. Searching for an address and hunting for a parking space are left-brain activities, but sitting in traffic allows our minds to drift.

Many of us have experienced having a momentary lapse of time while driving. It’s a little unnerving, and we are hesitant to tell anyone. That’s the right brain taking over.

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had a left-brain stroke that forced her into her right brain. In her compelling TED Talk video about the experience, Taylor says she “felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.”

So how do we implement solutions to traffic when we are addicted to it?

Therein lies the rub.

The solution isn’t just “out there in the matrix.” It’s in our heads. The only remedy that I can suggest for all of us addicts is this: begin exercising our right brains in our spare time so that we don’t need a driving fix.

Instead of picking up the remote, pick up a pen or paintbrush. Instead of listening to music, play or write it. Instead of starting the treadmill, start dancing. Instead of eating out, cook something in. Instead of planning the next getaway, get creative, meditate and contemplate your navel.

Many people are not aware that we also have an abdominal brain — a network of nerves located at the celiac or solar plexus near the diaphragm — that is very active for dancers, athletes, and people who work with their hands, but not for us auto, desk and couch junkies.

Since childhood we have been trained in school to memorize facts with our left-brains and to prepare for left-brain jobs. But the brain is a processor, not a memory bank.

Now it is time to step out of the looking glass and retrain our brains so that we can live more in our right minds.

Only by overcoming our addiction to driving can we get serious about implementing successful traffic solutions.

William Hicks lives in Marina del Rey. Reach him at williamhicks.columnist@gmail.com.


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