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Making the Most of Houston’s Traffic

Pooja Salhotra
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On average, Houstonians spend more than two full days per year sitting in traffic. (Photo: 

For all that Houston has to offer as a vibrant city, there’s one problem that only seems to be getting worse: traffic. 

Houstonians spend, on average, more than two full days per year sitting in traffic. According to a 2019 study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the Houston metro area has the seventh highest level of traffic congestion in the country, among 494 urban areas analyzed. To make matters worse, we can expect even more traffic jams in 2020, as the Texas Department of Transportation shut down the popular on-ramp to the 610 West Loop by the Galleria, and the main lanes in both directions of Loop 610 will be closed at I-69 for the next four weekends, from Friday night to Monday morning. Many roadwork projects slated to finish in 2019 also experienced delays, pushing them into 2020.

It can be depressing to think about all you could have done during those precious hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic. But there are actually several productive things you can do during this time. Check out these ideas to make your time in traffic a little less agonizing. 

1. Make a List
If you’re like me, when you’re in traffic, you find yourself thinking of all the tasks you have to get done, the items you have to buy from the grocery store and the emails you need to send. Instead of trying to keep all of that in your head, try making a to-do list on your smartphone using a voice assistant like Siri. If you have an iPhone, simply say, “Hey Siri, create a new list” to get started. Here are some helpful instructions on how to work with Siri. If you have an Android, check out this list of voice assistant apps for Androids.  

2. Sing!
Studies show that singing makes you happier. Choral singing seems to have the most dramatic effect on people’s lives, but even singing your heart out solo in the car will release endorphins (i.e. the brain’s “feel good” chemical). You don’t even have to be any good to get the benefits. So, blast your favorite tunes and combat that traffic stress by singing.

3. Call your Mom
Odds are, your mom (or aunt, or grandma or any other family member) complains that you don’t call her enough. Give her a call on that ride home. Just be sure to use a hands-free device so you can keep both hands on the wheel! 

4. Listen to a Podcast 
We are truly living in a Golden Age of podcasts. You can find podcasts on your mobile device – iPhones come with a Podcast app, and Android users can find them on Google Play Music. Whether you’re interested in hearing about today’s news, science, true crime, comedy or the law, there’s something for you. I find that podcasts entertain me on a long commute and make me feel like I used my time productively. See podcast recommendations here and here.  

5. Practice Mindfulness 
We’ve all heard about the benefits of practicing mindfulness through meditation, but many of us struggle to find the time to squeeze a regular meditation practice into our schedule. Mindfulness is really about being present in the moment, avoiding unconscious thinking and training your mind to be more focused. Driving – a time when you should, really, be focused on the singular task of driving – is a perfect time to practice mindfulness. Read more about how to integrate this into your driving here.  

Editor’s Note: For more on the topic of Houston roads, read The Road Much Taken: The history and future of Loop 610 by Cheryl Ursin.  

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