The day we got back from Nova Scotia — a trip that got off to a rough start because traffic kept us from making our flight out — the Toronto Star published an article titled “East-enders seeing red over ‘postapocalyptic hellscape’ on Lake Shore. How will they cope with years of traffic turmoil?”
Given our travel woes, this line seemed topical:
It’s not just that their trips takes longer, but they are unpredictable. Sometimes it’s a few extra minutes. Sometimes it’s an hour or worse.
YOU DON’T SAY.
Anyway, the article did a good job of describing the very specific east-end commuting pains (“As Aaron McIntosh inched forward, he tried to make sense of the chaos. He was in the lane destined for the Gardiner, but cars kept zipping by on his left, turning on their indicator light for the last-minute merge. It was every person for themselves, and it was infuriating.”) while also articulating the conflict of feeling drained and exhausted by the tumult even while knowing the work is (largely) necessary.
Building in a city is disruptive, but we desperately need these projects, says Matti Siemiatycki, the director of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities. It’s easy to say from a position of remove, but much harder when you’re experiencing it, he says, speaking as an academic and east-ender.
“You can know that this is all so critically necessary,” he says, but you can also be “immensely frustrated” by the longer and less-predictable commutes.
The brain is wired that way. “We think of ourselves as one person, but really, we are two distinct individuals at all times,” says Steve Joordens, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough. In the frontal lobes of the brain, a person might think, “I support this infrastructure work, even though traffic is bad,” he says.
But lurking just below those rational thoughts, is the older and more powerful limbic system, constantly scanning for threats.
“It’s where all of our emotionality kind of resides,” he says. When it senses danger, cortisol and adrenalin flood the body, preparing for fight or flight mode. Blood flow in the brain switches to favour the limbic system, and “those lofty left-wing ideas started to recede,” he says.
I can’t even tell you what a joy it was to drive when I was back home in Nova Scotia. I remembered that “the open road” is actually still a thing in some places.