If you live in the Houston area, you are probably well familiar with how long commutes and being in your vehicle can impact your life. At one time or another, we have all come across articles from the Internet, newspapers, or magazines that discuss how long you can impact so many years off of our lives. On a micro level, I will often talk to my wife about how living in the back of our neighborhood will cause us to lose so many hours every year because we have to drive from the beginning of the community to the end of the community every day. While this may offer some degree of an advantage for us in terms of safety, the overall point I try to make is that time spent in vehicles is time spent away from doing things that are more beneficial for us.
When people think of what you said, they tend to think of two things, at least when it comes to negatives: the humidity and the traffic. Houston is notorious for its traffic, and that is due to several reasons. The most obvious reason is that Houston is among the most spread out cities in the country. Not only do millions of millions of people call the Houston Metropolitan area home, but we have spread ourselves out many miles from the city center. Think about it this way: I have lived my entire life in the city of Houston and the surrounding areas but have only on rare occasions been to various suburban communities in the city. I live in northwest Houston but do not venture out into northeast Houston with any degree of regularity.
Another primary reason why we use Tony and spend a great deal of time in traffic is that we have no public infrastructure of any note. I do not say this as much of a negative thing, either. Public transportation works well in certain cities but probably would not work well in a town like ours that is spread out. From what I can tell, call-in public transportation relies upon taking a lot of people a relatively short distance drops them off, and then pick up new people to do the same thing. When Houstonians are traveling upwards of 40 or 50 miles to get to a particular location, the public transportation angle probably does not work.
On a somewhat limited level, we see that public transportation works well with park and rides and bus services. There are parking rides dotted around the suburban areas in Houston where people who travel downtown can park their cars come on, get on a bus, and proceed directly to downtown. These methods of public transport became more widely utilized in the 1980s and 1990s when many more businesses were located downtown. However, in the intervening 30 or 40 years, we have seen fewer businesses located downtown and more located across the suburban communities in Houston. This makes the parking rides less functional and practical for many people.
The coronavirus and its impact on traffic in Houston
There are all sorts of data out there for us to look at concerning the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on traffic patterns in Houston. There were considerable decreases in the immobility of persons in our city in late March and early April during the initial weeks of the government-mandated shutdowns. From there, we can see that traffic in the town has slowly increased week by week to where we are now in late October 2020. Wild traffic is nowhere near what it was in February of this year; we can be sure that there are more cars on the road now than there were even during this year’s summer.
Businesses in our city and across the world have decisions to make regarding whether or not they want to return to a world where almost every employee they had worked on-site in an office or physical location rather than remotely. Some employers will understand that their employees cannot be kept on a perpetual schedule of working remotely. Specific fields work well remotely in certain areas that do not. When employers begin to understand that their bottom line is taking a hit and the risk of the virus is not as significant as it was in months past, these people will likely be returning to work in earnest. That means more cars on the road. More cars on the road mean more time for all of us to spend in traffic during peak hours.
On the other hand, some businesses will find out that they do not need employees to be located inside an office environment where they can be monitored. Their work progress can be kept under review on an hourly basis. It is cheaper and more efficient for some businesses to have employees work remotely for the most part, wow, keeping only essential workers on site. Some corporations may find that having large corporate campuses is no longer necessary, especially when the costs of maintaining these campuses can run relatively high. Limiting the number of corporate employees who need to be on the road traveling to and from work will indeed limit the number of cars on Houston highways always committed and surface streets.
Besides the obvious connection between fewer people working in a non-remote environment and commuting to and from work each day, we also have to consider that many of our neighbors are not comfortable yet with going out into public. For some of us, who have been more or less operating as usual for many months now, this may seem hard to believe. However, from speaking with clients and other people in our community, I understand that not everyone is comfortable yet in public and functioning as they did before the pandemic. These folks will go out to their local grocery store for the essentials but will do everything else as remotely as possible.
It is my assumption and, in actuality, my hope that these people will begin to gain confidence in our ability to manage and assess risk and will begin to leave their homes with greater frequency. We do not want a situation where a relatively large percentage of people are afraid to leave their homes instead of living in isolated and atomized bubbles. This society functions better when people are willing to work together and interact on a face-to-face basis, in my opinion. Virtual togetherness is fine during the worst of a pandemic but may need to be set aside for the betterment of everyone at all other times.
Finally, we need to think about traffic regarding whether or not schools are holding in-person classes. In my suburban environment, the mornings where traffic is the worst depending on school schedules and how many parents are out and about dropping their kids off at school. A familiar sight on the street with many schools in my area is parents lining up hours before the end of the school day to pick up their children from class. Rather than send their children home on the school bus, parents will wait and spend time in their vehicles to pick their children up from class and take them home. As someone in my 30s, I can tell you that this is a relatively new phenomenon that was not near as widespread when I was in middle school or high school.
Wherever we are with the pandemic and other societal changes, we can see that the need to think critically about travel in traffic in our area is no different now than it was months ago. This is still an important subject and can be one that affects you and your family shortly. To that end, I would like to spend some time discussing how a long commute can impact your marriage and could we need you towards a family law court if problems related to traffic persist in your life.
Spending time in traffic means spending time away from home.
The simple truth is that the more time you spend in your car, the less time you have to pay at home. This is not earth-shattering or groundbreaking news, but it is relevant and essential in many ways. First of all, whether your marriage is vital or weak right now, it is beneficial to spend time at home. Allow me to explain why this is and how traffic can impact this discussion.
If your marriage is going through hard times, those times will not improve unless you are at home. We can talk about how distance makes the heart grow fonder, but I would disagree. In actuality, what I would tell you is that if your marriage is struggling, you need to be at home to communicate with your spouse about those problems so that you all can arrive at solutions. I have found that a large percentage of the issues in marriages typically stem from problems with communication. You physically being at home can go a long way towards being able to solve those problems.
Whether those problems involve you and your spouse sitting on the couch with one another working out problems or involves you and your spouse attending counseling, these are things best done with both of you physically present. If you are in your vehicle traveling to and from work, you have a precious few hours to devote to saving your marriage. We underestimate just the impact sitting in traffic has on our ability to engage with those around us. When you get out of the car, you can feel fatigued even if it is at a reasonable hour due to sitting in traffic for extended periods. Your ability to exert effort and take the time necessary to save a marriage through dialogue can severely be cut due to your time battling traffic in our city.
On the other hand, if your marriage is strong and you still spend a lot of time in traffic, you need to keep in mind that there is no such thing as a stable relationship. Your relationship is either improving or getting worse. That is not judging you or your spouse but is more or less just an observation of how these things work in the real world. As such, you cannot rest on your laurels even if you have a strong marriage.
The most relevant aspect of this discussion is that you may have ready to move or take new employment due to the pandemic. I could think about people that live inside the loop; they have chosen to live outside of the city limits to give themselves more room in avoiding problems with government shutdowns and just the increased likelihood of the disease spreading inside of a city rather than in the country. I am also considering people whose jobs have been outsourced due to the prevalence of remote employment or eliminated, such as in the oil and gas field. An increased commute may cause a solid marriage for supper to a certain extent.
Questions about the material continued in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in this blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are an excellent way for you to learn more about Texas family law and our law office’s services to our clients.