It’s 6:45 am, still dark on this winter morning, but six floors below me on the major thoroughfare which is the street that I live on, a loud, persistent HOOOOONK awakens me.
It’s like this every weekday morning on my street. In my mind’s eye I imagine it’s the same person, each and every morning, who has simply grown impatient with life.
The gridlocked routine of it all. The 7:30-3:30 blasé of cubicle working conditions. Those same grey cloth walls just high enough to block anything of visual interest but too short to block out your co-worker’s endless phone conversations.
And every morning, without fail, the stop and go frustration of bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic.
the horn has become a symbol of frustration—a weapon, not a tool
The person trying to turn left at a light, ignoring the “No Left Turn” sign or perhaps simply unaware of it. HONK.
The driver pulling out of my condo’s garage, insisting on jamming up traffic by turning left instead of a cleaner right-hand exit. HOONK.
The cyclist who is slowing you down. HOOOOOOONK.
The cabbie who just cut you off. HOOOOOONK. HOOOOONK.
Alone in the bubble of your car, the horn is your sword; your first line of defence and offence.
Meanwhile, I cannot be the only person in my six-floor condo building who is jolted awake by that car horn. There are 72 units in my condo building, with 1-2 people per unit. Across the street from me there are three more condo buildings.
For every morning that HOOOOONK awakens me, I’m imagining hundreds of sleepy condo dwellers on my street are rudely awakened, too.
It’s not just one driver who starts his day with the HOOOONK. By osmosis, it’s all of us. We all feel his pain as those sound waves bounce against our condo buildings; the blare of a horn creating ripple effects in other drivers, too.
Honk. HONK. HOOOONK. And my personal favourite HOOOOOOOOOOOOONK.
There is nothing subtle about the horn. I’ve been thinking about how we humans use the horn on the roads. How the horn was invented as a helpful tool. A short honk to let a distracted driver know they’re about to back up into you. A gentleman’s honk, more like a beep, to let a pedestrian know you’ll wait for her to cross. A honk to warn an animal off the road. A courtesy bike bell alerting you to the cyclist right behind.
And how the horn has become a symbol of frustration—a weapon, not a tool—in communities whose governments fail to invest in enough public transit to entice people out of their cars. Cities like mine, where rush hour on major thoroughfares last three hours in the morning and three hours at day’s end.
In this excellent essay Stuck and Stressed: The Health Costs of Traffic, New York Times journalist Austin Frakt writes about how a small thing like sitting in traffic can be bad for your health.
How idling cars contribute to pollution, respiratory problems, and stress.
Frakt writes: “Stressed-out people can take out their frustration on others. We’ve probably all experienced or seen road rage, but aggressive behavior can carry over beyond a commute. A recent analysis of Los Angeles traffic, published in the Journal of Public Economics, documented a link between congestion and domestic violence. From 2011 to 2015, the study found, extreme evening traffic on two major highways — I-5 and I-10 — increased the incidence of nighttime domestic violence by about 9 per cent.”
According to the 2016 Census, the number of Canadians who commute to work increased from 3.7 million people in 1996 to 15.9 million people in 2016—a 30 per cent increase.
Multiple studies suggest that commuting can be more stressful than the actual work day and that the longer you commute, the less satisfied you tend to be with work and life.
A McGill University study, however, shows that if you walk, bike, or take the train to work, it’ll make you happier than if you drive or take public transit.
A UK study showed that commuters in general have less life satisfaction and higher anxiety, though a shorter commute can make a difference between happiness and stress.
As for me, I’ve given up the work commute and work from home, listening to the cacophony of HONKS and HOOOONKS of the street below me; grateful for the extra two hours in my day that used to be eaten up with crowded, standing-room-only streetcar and subway rides to the office.
As for you commuters, honk if you’re angry, but know this: we can hear your misery.
Trish Hennessy is executive director of Upstream. Follow her on Twitter: @trishhennessy